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Google loses adult supervision

Probably the biggest industry story this past month was the announcement that Eric Schmidt is being kicked upstairs at Google, with Larry Page taking the wheel. The triumvirate (along with Sergey Brin) that has managed Google throughout its life as a public company has always been a bit shadowy, in terms of how the decisions have been made. Sergey and Larry are the majority owners of the company and it stands to reason that they would sign off on any important decision, but investors insisted on “adult supervision” for “the boys” and Eric Schmidt provided it. What now?

Well, first off, Larry and Sergey are now well into their 30s, which means calling them boys and insisting they need adult supervision is so 2002. Second, for all we know, Sergey and Larry have been calling the shots all along, which means you shouldn’t see much change in direction.

Still, the trade press has been awash in rumors that this leadership change was made because the founders feel that Google has been losing its edge, ceding its reputation for innovation to the new darlings of Silicon Valley, Facebook and Twitter. I’m not sure what power Larry now wields that being the owner of the company did not afford him, but I guess we will see.

To me, the real issue is not over how the company will go in new directions (or not), but it’s how well-suited Larry is to the new role he is taking on. Page is by all turns a brilliant man, but he has not been a stirring public speaker, nor someone who has seemed all that interested in being the public face of Google. I have felt all along that the founders would rather be the people calling the shots rather than making loads of public appearances and taking the brunt of criticism for every erroneous syllable.

Perhaps I underestimate the founders—after all, Bill Gates was the top dog at Microsoft and somehow made it work for many years. But I think that the minutiae that dogs a CEO of a large company makes it very difficult for that person to be the visionary, too. Perhaps Steve jobs puts a lie to that, but I think generally it is true. That same Mr. Gates stepped away from the CEO role when he thought Microsoft was losing its edge, so it is curious to see Larry jump into the role for the same reason.

Not that Eric Schmidt was doing such a hot job of being Google’s public voice. His recent gaffes have been well-documented, so perhaps the founder decided that they don’t need him any more because they can’t do any worse.

What does it mean for digital marketers? Despite all the punditry over this issue, I suspect that it will mainly be fodder for people deciding whether to buy or sell Google’s stock than for any other reason. This leadership change may prove in a few years to have made a big difference (good or bad) to Google’s fortunes, but it is unlikely to have a big impact on yours—which is true of most of the industry comings and goings that we all like to focus on. Keep working on what works for you and let Google sort itself out.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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