At a recent Charlotte Regional Technology Executives Council meeting, Fred Sexton from MouseKick.com made an interesting presentation outlining six things that Google does not want you to know. I thought the information was insightful and worth passing along. With Fred’s permission, I wanted to share some these insights. I have added some of my own thoughts and commentary as well. I’ll try to be explicit about which points are Fred’s so you can distinguish his thoughts from mine.
1. “Don’t Be Evil?”
While the slogan “Don’t Be Evil” is not Google’s official corporate slogan, it is widely associated with the company. The slogan does sound similar to their corporate philosophy statement which states that “You can make money without doing evil.” What Google doesn’t want you to know is that they’ve had a difficult time balancing “not being evil” and pursuing their business objectives. A notable example is Google’s presence in China. The business opportunities in the world’s most populous country are significant.
To leverage those opportunities, however, requires cooperation with the repressive Chinese government and compliance with rules of the Golden Shield Project. Google’s participation in initiatives supporting censorship certainly raises questions about their “Don’t Be Evil” slogan. To be fair, Google has recently taken steps to distance themselves from the Chinese government. This move, however, has raised shareholder concerns about the company’s commitment to investor interests.
Fred also pointed out Google’s stance on privacy which has been called into question. In an interview with CNBC Google’s CEO stated that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” What if that “thing that you’re doing” is researching how to cope with an illness or traumatic event in your past that you’d like to keep private. Should you not be allowed to maintain that privacy?
2. There Are Other Options
Google has such a dominant presence in the search space that their name is often used as a verb to describe searching the internet (i.e. “I need to Google that subject for my blog post”). Fred points out that there are several alternatives to Google in the search space such as Blekko, DuckDuckGo, Kayak, Hipmunk and others. These other search engines might be a better fit for particular tasks. I took a quick look at a few of these sites and agree that some of them do certain things better than Google. For example, I searched for my name in Google and DuckDuckGo using the same search string. While the content was largely the same, the presentation was quite different. I found the results to be better organized and easier to digest in DuckDuckGo.
3. Google Can Be Fooled
Google uses an automated algorithm to index the mountain of data on the Internet. This algorithm uses certain parameters that rank the relevance of content to particular search terms. Google periodically adjusts these knobs to improve the relevance and to weed out those sites who try to game the system. Fred pointed to a case where JC Penny recently incorporated some Black Hat SEO tactics to improve their search ranking on Google. The NY Times recently published an interesting article on the case detailing how JC Penny went about it and how things turned out. There is an article on SEOmoz that breaks down factors that can push your Google ranking up or down.
4. Google Can’t Do Social Search
With the explosion of social media, the amount of data being accumulated by sites like Facebook and LinkedIn is almost unimaginable. The sensitive nature of this data means that much of it can’t be publically exposed like most other data on the Internet. This leaves a big hole in Google’s content database. Google’s lack of visibility in the social space is constantly feeding the rumor mill on Google initiatives to establish a larger presence in the social space.
5. The Best CTR is Free
Click through rate (CTR) is the metric used to measure success for an online advertising campaign. CTRs vary widely based on a number of factors. For example, paid search results can be hundreds or thousands of times less effective than organic results. Consumers tend to put more confidence in organic search results which drives this CTR gap. Many people tend to ignore paid results and focus on the sites that appear at the top of Google’s organic result list. Fred pointed out that the CTR for Facebook, Adwords and organic results average out to be 0.05%, 2% and 55% respectively.
6. Google is Keeping Tabs on You
The search giant is quickly becoming entrenched in nearly every aspect of our lives. The company knows what we search for online (Google Search), the content of our emails (Gmail), what we talk about on the phone (Google Voice), the pictures we take (Picasa), the shows we watch on TV (Google TV), the neighborhood we live in (Google Maps) and much, much more. This raises questions about how how the personal information they are compiling will be managed. The implications of these questions are huge and affect nearly every person on the planet. It is important that the Google demonstrate a commitment to responsible management of personal data and be held accountable when that commitment is broken.