Why we should stop comparing ourselves to Google (but continue to learn)

  • Jul 21, 2011

Matthew Caylor, Account Executive - Interactive, MANSI Media

If you have a group of digital people together in a room, you can count on Google being mentioned within the first ten minutes. Those mentions generally come in the form of phrases like, “Did you hear what Google is doing now?” or “Just use Google for that.” With this barrage of mentions, some might think that without Google, the Internet (and possibly the entire world) would come to a grinding halt.

After all, Google did just top a billion unique visitors in May, meaning 15 percent of the world is now using Google.  By comparison, only five percent of the world speaks English as a first language.  Google’s browser, Chrome, has reached between 10 and 12 percent market penetration. The company’s mobile operating system, Android, has crowded its way into the iPhone-dominated marketplace and carved out a 20 percent niche. To top it off, Google has enjoyed continued growth (a difficult trend to continue in today’s economy) and pulled in an estimated revenue of $29 billion in 2010.

Google has also brought along a laundry list of diversified products:

  • Blogging platform
  • Document, presentation and spreadsheet software
  • Mapping and direction tools
  • A universal shopping cart
  • Voice/phone service
  • Social media (Google+)
  • Medical record search and storage solutions
  • Photo editing and sharing
  • Knol (Google’s Wikipedia)
  • Video through YouTube
  • Search (of course)

This list provides a starting point to view the depth and complexity that is Google. It is a scale that few companies can rival and most cannot challenge, yet some newspaper companies compare themselves to Google in David & Goliath scenarios. These comparisons are not useful. If we were to say this is an apples to oranges comparison, our apple (Google in this case) would need to be the size of the moon, while most of our oranges (a newspaper) would be the size of, well, an orange.

So, right now, pledge to stop comparing your newspaper to Google, or Facebook, or Yahoo, or Microsoft, or any of those gigantic technology companies that are written about every day. With that out of the way, you can now look to these successful companies and see what practices you can beg, borrow or modify to help enhance your own premium local product.

Keep it simple

There is no disputing that Google’s homepage is simple.

Google has stripped out the non-essential and distracting, leaving only the primary product.  A short paragraph in the 10 Principals of the Google User Experience helps to crystallize this point:

A well-designed Google product is useful in daily life. It doesn’t try to impress users with its whizbang technology or visual style – though it might have both.  It doesn’t strong-arm people to use features they don’t want – but it does provide a natural growth path for those who are interested.  It doesn’t intrude on people’s lives – but it does open doors for users who want to explore the world’s information, work more quickly and creatively, and share ideas with their friends or the world.

In this case, simplicity has only enhanced the usefulness of the tool. Google has crafted its site to organically meet the needs of its users, without unnecessary distraction, while leaving the advanced tools for the serious power user only a click away.

When reviewing your site can you say the same?

  • Is your site useful?
  • Is your site fast?
  • Is your site simple?
  • Is your site engaging? 

Don’t despair if you cannot answer yes to each of these questions.  The world of website design is a continually shifting one that calls for real vigilance.  With new tools and frameworks appearing on a regular basis, redesign is not an annual project but an ongoing process; a process where simplicity should be kept at the forefront.

When advancing the cause of simplicity, don’t stop with the online product; reconsider the print product as well. Some newspapers have already started this process by reducing the overall size of the paper (creating an easier-to-handle product while saving production dollars) and reorganizing content (easing the reading experience). If a user-first experience remains the focus, the product – either print or digital – will be improved and help to cement reader loyalty in the ever-fragmenting media market.

Make advertising easy

The self-service model represented by Google Ad Words is a lesson in ease, surpassed by the even simpler Facebook self-service platform. An advertiser can log on and, with a few clicks and a credit card, launch a campaign across search, display and mobile. This campaign can be highly targeted, utilizing geography, keywords, behavioral and content targeting. It can also provide rapid reporting, showcasing a direct return on investment in clicks or other user-generated metrics (with a little experience, an Ad Words user can start assigning costs per acquisition).

While newspaper websites offer a hard-to-touch product – premium inventory, surrounded by hyperlocal content on trusted sites – these sites do not always make the purchase of this choice vehicle easy. 

For example, what is the turnaround time for a geo-targeted, behavioral campaign? One day, two days? Either way, it will be difficult to keep up with the seconds it takes for a self-service ad platform to turn around a campaign. 

As local advertisers using tools like Ad Words become accustomed to the immediacy of data, make sure your sales team has the tools to deliver similar information in real-time, either in person, through presentation on a mobile device, or over the phone. Offer your team training and access to the backend of the ad server so that they can pull campaigns without lag time, which then allows them to focus on the person-to-person interactions that the self-service platform cannot provide. They can do all of this while maintaining the ease and speed advertisers would want from an Ad Word-style service.

Measurable ROI has been another one of the key elements fueling search engine marketing (SEM) growth (even while its accuracy remains in question), yet it has remained an elusive element for advertisers in traditional media and on newspaper websites. In an effort to keep the advertising model as simple as possible, while encouraging repeat business, help the advertiser determine its return from the advertising it places with the newspaper and its associated products. This can be as simple as presenting case studies/testimonials, or as complex as helping the client integrate the campaign’s final conversion page with the tracking offered by its website analytics package.

On the print side, consider the complexity of your newspaper rate card. With varying prices for different categories, revenue/print levels, national/local advertisers and even depending on the day of the week, the newspaper rate card can present a confusing front to a potential advertiser.  Look for ways to simplify the rate card for both national and retail clients (your friends at the advertising agency will thank you).

Continue to advance

Even while Google maintains its position on the technology high-ground, it continues to spend on new innovations as well. For example, Google recently launched yet another foray into social media (Google+), as it looks to crack the revenue stream dominated by Facebook.  It has also recently launched Google One Pass, which works with publishers as they set prices for digital content, and introduced a new search algorithm to boost traffic to high-quality sites (impacting more than 10 percent of all searches performed). Google has also revisited past products and looked for ways to re-introduce and integrate them to a new audience. For example, Google launched wedding planning tools in February.

As a guideline for where to invest in research and development, Google’s Tim Reis, head of consumer packaged goods, east, recently said that companies should:

Focus 70 percent of your efforts on proven, profitable avenues of business.  Focus 20 percent of efforts to develop potential business and focus the remaining 10 percent of efforts on future efforts with no expectations of return.

None of the points highlighted above should be followed just because they are suggested here. A newspaper site should not look like Google, but it should be simple and easy to use. It is doubtful that a newspaper company, with its wide breadth of products and services, will ever be able to automate its entire sales department; nor would it want to. The crux of a newspaper’s business is so often the personal relationship the newspaper has with its community.  At the same time, it wouldn’t hurt to revisit past advertising practices and look for new ways to streamline your processes.

On the side of innovation, newspapers have made great strides in recent years. They have moved strongly into the digital space; they have revamped the print product and started to add new services to the roster (events, direct mail, outdoor to name just a few).  But the pace of media and technology today require continual advancement.

As the next big company comes into view (the next Groupon, Twitter or other catchy Internet phenom) the industry should observe and look for what makes that company successful. If it is applicable to the evolving newspaper business, then adapt it to work on your scale. The “daily deals” and “Groupons” are great examples of how a similar idea can be adapted for different markets.   If you’re not sure whether an existing product would work in your marketplace, consider how you can use it – or modify it – to create success for you.  For example, newspapers do not need to recreate a service like Twitter. Instead, they should equip reporters to enter the social media space and push traffic back to the newspaper’s site. And, always, continuously adjust your product to deliver what your advertisers and readers want.

Have a question? Leave a comment here, or contact Matthew Caylor at matthewc@mansi.com or (717) 703-3040.

You must be logged in to post comments.

Contact Us  |  3899 North Front Street, Harrisburg PA 17110  |  Phone: (717) 703-3000  |  Fax: (717) 703-3001