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How to avoid Google’s huge mistake

As my Biznology colleague Chris Abraham recently pointed out, sometimes Google is a lying liar that lies. The search giant often adopts a “Do what I say, not what I do” approach to its business, telling you not to do the very thing it’s doing. And at some point, this approach is going to do the company far more harm than good, possibly hurting its preeminent position among search and mobile customers.

In this case, you actually should listen to Google and do what it says, not what it does. What is Google’s huge mistake, why is it so damaging, and how can you avoid doing the same thing? Read on, friends, read on…

Chasing Competitors vs. Helping Customers

In its “Steps to a Google-friendly site,” Google advises webmasters and business owners to “Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site.” [Emphasis mine]

Google tells you to create content that’s useful and helpful to your customers. Don’t worry about your competitors, they seem to say, just focus on customer needs.

And, yet, Google does precisely the opposite all the time.

For instance, what customer problem did Google+ actually solve at the time of its introduction? Though the social site has evolved into a useful network for various communities — the site has proved popular for picture-hosting and information-sharing among avid photographers, to provide one example — its initial release offered little more than an under-used Facebook imitator. And, as a result, Google+ has done little to dethrone Facebook as the go-to social network for most customers. Google is slowly recognizing its mistake, as its recent shift away from requiring customers to create a Google+ account when using key services suggests.

In another classic—though little-remembered—example, Google introduced its “Wikipedia-killer,” Knol, way back in July 2008. By October 2012, Knol was dead. Like, really, really dead. Google even went so far as to delete all the content its users created. So, yeah. That went well.

Now, Google appears ready to make the same mistake again, supposedly creating a WhatsApp clone to compete in emerging markets. Not because WhatsApp doesn’t work in emerging markets, mind you. But, it appears, because Facebook won the bidding war with Google for WhatsApp’s talent, tools, and customers. That’s not to suggest Google won’t build an effective alternative to WhatsApp. But their motivations here seem lacking.

What these examples of Google’s failed projects (and potential WhatsApp clone), share is a fundamental lack of attention to actual customer needs. The world didn’t need a Facebook replacement when Google introduced Google+ (or, if it did, Google missed the mark on exactly what problem that replacement should solve). The world didn’t need a replacement for Wikipedia. And the world doesn’t really need a replacement for WhatsApp. It certainly doesn’t need one whose whole reason for being stems from sour grapes.

Google should take its own advice. Mountain View needs to focus less on what its competitors are doing and more on what its customers need. To paraphrase Google, they should provide high-quality content and services. This is the single most important thing to do. When your pages contain useful information and functionality, they will attract many visitors and links.

When you focus on customer needs — whether in your products and services, in your content marketing, SEO, paid search, and promotional activities around those products and services, or ideally, all of the above — you help your customers solve their problems. You attract awareness, attention, and action. Maybe you’ll even “…attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site.”

For these reasons, this is definitely one of the times where you want to do what Google says, not what they do. As you may have heard, this is the single most important thing to do.

Do you want to learn more about how to improve sales, increase conversions, and reduce the costs from your search marketing? Then take a moment to check out our Biznology Jumpstart Workshop: On-site Search Marketing Training. Taught by three Biznology search marketing experts, you’ll learn how to make your search marketing work for your business. Interested in learning more? Check it out.

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Tim Peter


Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs.

Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line.

An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association.

Tim currently serves as Senior Advisor at SoloSegment, a marketing technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies.

Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at tim@timpeter.com or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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