I can count on one hand the number of SEO consultants I have met who understand Google’s perspective on brands. That’s not a good sign for those of you hiring SEO consultants. And, given Google’s recent public statements about brands, it’s also not good for the majority of the SEO industry still trying to optimize web sites to rank for target keywords via “SEO techniques”.
Google loves brands because brands do all the heavy lifting when it comes to easy money on the web. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Google is a leverage play of massive proportions. Oh sure there are some good people at Google; hard-working innovators with good hearts and good intentions. But the business model is a scheme. As a business, Google seeks maximum profits with minimal effort, always keeping an eye on the long term vision : maximum profits with minimal effort, ad infinitum. Whenever possible, via leverage of other’s work.
Everything Google does has been justified as a means towards that end. Every web service, web app, widget, search feature and acquisition is strategic. Even the illustrious “making the Internet better” is part of the plan to enable more, easier commerce over the web, which leads to higher, less-costly revenues for Google (and its partners) without having to do the work. Everything is about leverage for money, even if the minutia (and the individuals working on implementing the minutia) don’t know it or can’t believe it.
And brands cost a fortune to create and maintain.
Google’s past behavior suggests it will never pay that cost for any brand other than it’s own. In fact, from what I have seen, Google hasn’t even invested much in its own brands (Picasso, UTube, FeedBurner, etc). Google doesn’t forsee an adequate return on the costs of building a brand. Oh sure Google values the Google brand (how could it not?) but if that brand were a pure brand (built not on substance but, well, marketing and branding), the Google Brand would never have been built. The people behind Google would never have justified the costs of building such a brand. On the contrary, they perfectly understand the value of exploiting brands on the web.
Think it through - if Google says the value is in brands, but Google doesn’t invest in building brands, and then Google tells brand builders that their brands are “the answer”, what else could it mean but Google is poised to cash out everyone’s branding efforts?
As with any costly adventure, brand building is a very inefficient process involving large advertising spends. Google hones in on the cash flow associated with such inefficiencies like yellow jackets chase high fructose corn syrup. The yellow jackets are driven by instinct - they can’t help themselves.
Advertising Age is reporting that Google’s Eric Schmidt called the Internet a “cesspool”, noting that brands are the answer to that problem. For the majority of the US population connected to modern sewer systems and unaware of the meaning of “cesspool”, it’s a big hole rich people dig in their back yards to hold what they flush down their toilets. Because they live on large parcels of land outside of town, they would rather place cesspools on their property than pay to connect to the city sewer pipes.
A typical cesspool lasts 20 years or so before either filling beyond capacity or failing to “absorb” any more “solid waste“. At that time most cesspool owners like Eric either pay a pump trunk to come and suck their solid waste out of the cesspool (carting it away to .. well I don’t know, actually, but certainly off their property) or they dig new ones as necessary and leave the old ones buried out of view. Anyway, Eric’s (Google’s) view of the Internet is that it is a big hole filled with liquid crap ‘n stuff (a cesspool). And at a meeting of magazine executives at Google’s campus, Eric Schmidt encouraged the brands to jump into the cesspool with him and help make it better.
It’s been obvious over the years how much Google benefits from brands, and it’s become painfully obvious over the past year how much Google relies on brands to measure relevance in SEO. Trademarks are brand protections. All of the trademark issues associated with Google, including AdSense and AdWords trademark exploits including arbitrage, trademark SEO efforts, keyword stuffing and typo squatting on trademark domains, and certain so-called “Quality Score” initiatives, demonstrate how Google makes tons of money off of brands. It makes great sense that, now that intellectual property protection efforts are picking up steam world wide, Google would try and “make friends” with brands. But in typical brand-stupid and Google-arrogant fashion, Eric Scmidt suggests that those brands jump into a cesspool with him.
In the process Eric Schmidt gets quoted saying things like “If you’re going to criticize us, criticize us correctly” and “We don’t actually want you to be successful“. I know these are probably taken out of context, but if they are accurate quotes then they demonstrate brand-stupidity and arrogance nonetheless. According to Google, Google is right, and everyone else needs to catch up. Yet, as most of us can plainly see, as brands go, Google is the bad guy. If Google is in denial on that issue, who then is right and who needs to “catch up”?
If you are in the SEO game, you need to understand how Google treats brands on the web, and how branding fits into Google’s value perspective. I’m not going to teach that here, because I make a living implementing my understanding of Google’s determination of relevance in search. Contact me if you know of a way we might work together. And if you work in search but not at Google, I suggest you think through the eventual outcome of Google further exploiting brand value on the web, with or without cooperation from the brand builders. There is opportunity in there, and we desperately need someone to pursue it.
The very worst thing we have on the Internet today is an arrogant Google unrestrained by competitive pressures. As our society suffers the current Google monopoly, our core productivity is threatened. The various avenues we have had for exchanging work for revenue are being eliminated by Google, as it degrades them in favor of more lucrative stored-value assets like established brands. But if it is merely aiming to cash out those brands, as it has demonstrated repeatedly with it’s AdWords/AdSense trademark practices and its evident lust for the revenues associated with trading on such marks, what will be left in the future?
Even Google’s new Chrome web browser threatens brands by eliminating the location bar and thus the domain name from the consumers toolbox. In our economic ecosystem, Google is a massive consumer, eating our producers and starving our decomposers. Life according to the modern Google is simply not sustainable.
Established brands are in a rare position. Google is becoming a brandivore, a carnivore feeding on brands. Now Google wants to cash in on your brand investment. It is starting to look like Google needs your cooperation to do that. Will you allow it? Or can you resist, and see what other value might be available in exchange? Or better yet, are their other options for earning honest value from your established brands, without feeding them to an insatiable Google middleman?
I suggest you take a look at domaining with a new perspective. Mont Blanc is one of the greatest brands in the world. Every visitor to MontBlank.com, MountBlanc.com, MontBlancPens.com, BuyMontBlancPens.com etc. is a targeted, interested consumer Mont Blanc has already reached through its considerable investment in branding. Why not serve those customers? Is it possible to develop (perhaps with the help of the expert SEOs and domainers) all of those potential traffic magnets, instead of trusting Google as a middle man to all consumer traffic?
If Google is suggesting that brands are the solution to Eric Schmidt’s cesspool problems, can you see opportunity in the very trademark domains you have been harboring to “protect” your brand? Is it wise to allow Google to eliminate type-in traffic for your brands, via elimination of domains as URLs and the imposition of Google search as the sole conduit for consumer traffic to your web site? Is Google really a trustworthy partner for your brand?
There’s plenty of opportunity for innovation in this Internet space, and the major brands are in a unique position to investigate without significant downside risk. I’m an Internet consultant, active in the domaining world and competitive search engine optimization for longer than Google has been alive. If you, like me, see potential for thinking more about this, drop me a note. I’m interested in taking things to the next level.