Google, Inc. was a company founded by two Stanford University computer science graduates that initially sought to order and catalog all of the information available on the internet through their search engine. This simple engine with the clean interface would become the premier internet search engine in a relatively short amount of time, surpassing the offerings of Microsoft, Yahoo and many others. The web search engine would become so popular, in fact, that it would inject itself into the national psyche, becoming a verb that we all use today to explain how we search the internet. Even young children know how to "google" something on a computer. Today this company offers everything from the search engine, to an email service, to YouTube videos and even mobile phone apps. As of 2011, this now publicly traded company, had revenues of nearly $38 billion and a gross profit of over $24 billion (Google.com). This astonishing growth could not have been achieved without Google's strong marketing strategies and customer relations. Google has effectively revolutionized the marketing world, not just for themselves but for every company that uses the Internet in any way. When Google offers a new product, whether it is a web-based social media site or a new app for their Android operating system, they have a built-in following that hangs on their every move and eagerly embraces the change they are offering.
Google as Marketing Partner
Most people who use Google are accustomed to their more popular offerings, such as their web search, Gmail, or an Android phone. They use these programs and devices to access the things they are looking for on the web, often available from another company aside from Google. For instance, a Google search may be the first step whenever someone is about to make a major purchase, a car, television, or any other product or device. They will view the results of their Google search on their home computer or smart phone and then click on the link that most closely resembles the product they have been seeking. What most people may not realize when they do this is that the companies whose site they have accessed may now owe Google money for directing a new customer their way.
There are two ways in which a company can attain a prominent ranking on the list of sites that Google returns via a user-generated search. First, they can integrate targeted search words into their website so that, when Google's crawlers search the site they will return words that are frequently input into search engines. This type of search is known as an organic search and about 85% of users click on these ads (Fox, 2010, p.3). The other way to reach users is to simply pay Google to return a particular site when certain words are searched. This is supplied by Google's AdWords program, a pay service that elevates certain sites on the search results list when certain terms are searched. It is estimated that 88% of all online dollars are spent on paid search result (Fox, 2010, p.3). For Google, advertising comprises approximately 96% of its $38 billion in revenue ("CCI," 2012).
There is a clear disparity between what companies are willing to pay and what they believe will generate notice on the internet and what sites people who view the results are actually interested in navigating towards. Companies are paying Google an exorbitant amount of money, to the tune of billions of dollars every year, for a service that does not give them any better chance of attracting notice from potential customers. There are most likely better alternatives to spending this money with Google, like simply changing a website to be more relevant in their search listings. Companies appear reluctant to do so however, perhaps, in part, because they still believe that Google is the key to success on the internet. This seems to be a majority opinion. Google has positioned themselves as the mediator between company and customer, a portal through which one must go to reach the other.
The evidence of sparse results for AdWords notwithstanding, Google continues to rake in money from advertisers, primarily because these same companies trust Google. The customers who come to their search engine and other internet offerings also place a tremendous amount of trust in Google, a rarity among large corporate entities. Google has earned this trust over the years by providing both corporate advertisers and customers with exactly what they are looking for: a large audience for companies and accurate, honest information. Most importantly for consumers, almost everything Google has provided to end users has been completely free of charge. A user can search, send free email with Gmail, look at products on their Android smart phone with free Google apps, watch YouTube videos about the product and even get directions to a store from Google Maps without spending a dime. The advertisers are paying for the entire experience.
Don't Be Evil
Google's overriding model has long been a simple statement: don't be evil, or, more accurately, "you can make money without doing evil" (Google.com). This mantra has guided them for the bulk of their existence, infiltrating every aspect of their business. The company tries to provide as many free services to the world as possible without diluting the quality of the product. Google has made a strong effort to provide democracy throughout the world, even in places where it has never existed. This democracy can take the form of information freely disseminated, or even products cheaply distributed to the masses, like free open-source Android software for smart phones. When Google is confronted by a government demand for information to be screened or outright deleted, they usually resist the demand for as long as possible. They have made exceptions for speech that incites violence, however, as was the case in India in 2010 (Sharma & Vascellaro, 2010). Google is constantly learning to walk the thin line between freedom of expression and harmful rhetoric.
It is this image of Google as the shining beacon of true democracy that most users respond to. Most people who use Google do so for free. They do not pay Google directly for anything. They see the company giving away a mobile phone operating system, global satellite images, maps and directions, word processing programs like GoogleDocs, and even the Chrome internet browser (Chung, 2010). This is how Google wants to be viewed and how they market themselves to the world. While Microsoft and Apple are the giant conglomerates who are only providing products in exchange for enormous amounts of money, Google is the fun-loving free service that no one ever complains about.
To further burnish that image, Google does very little advertising, relying mostly on positive goodwill to support their endeavors. As they continue to distribute free products and services, that goodwill grows. Aside from the occasional TV ad, most people only see Google through their web portal, which is updated frequently to note an important event in history, usually in whimsical fashion. This only adds to the belief that Google is a company concerned with people first and money second.
Underneath all the warm and fuzzy feelings about Google is the omnipresent specter of advertising. Though many people who use Google never even sign in to any site while on it, they are still subjected to advertising aimed at their searches. Though they may think that their search yields only the best possible results, the truth is that the results are often skewed to favor Google's advertising customers. The disconnect between Google's public face and its money-making foundation allows them to continue to release new products to much fanfare and continued praise.
Though advertising and the search engine in particular offer the bulk of revenue to the company, Google estimates that by 2013 a full 35% of revenue will be derived from other sources ("Google expects 35%," 2012). This is indicative of Google's mindset since they first started to reach beyond being merely an internet search portal. They are always looking for new ways to generate income and extend their reach into people's lives. There are ample areas where they see an opportunity to encroach on another's cash cow. The creation of GoogleDocs is a prime example of that.
For years Microsoft has generated the vast majority of its revenue from just two products: the Windows operating system for PCs and Microsoft Office, the suite of programs for everything from word processing to spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. While the software was expensive to purchase on its own, it was so ubiquitous that users had to have access to it in order to be able to work at home, school or the office. Computer manufacturers paid a hefty price to be able to include it in their software packages as an added incentive to but their products. That all changed with the advent of GoogleDocs.
Instead of being installed directly onto a user's computer like the Office…