Oh Where, Oh Where Has My One-Trick Pony Gone?

There was a time when the majority of pundits suggested Google would never be much more than a search company. A nice technology company that figured out how to monetize keywords was the industry line used to dismiss the prospects for Google in the long term. My, how times have changed. Google now gleefully touts a five-legged stool of stable, revenue-driving businesses. And while that is great for Google and its shareholders, the question for some is, “What is happening to what was once the core product, search?”

Larry Page’s Google has been on a steady march to transform the original Google search engine. While one could argue that the original mission to “organize the world’s information” is still valid, I’m not sure that the new direction is an improvement. It suggests, in many ways, that a more actively involved Google is not a positive for anyone involved.

When Google first launched, it didn’t try to reinvent what a search engine was, structurally. It provided 10 blue links, just like others, and eventually brought in the monetized element of paid advertisements. Google’s best work was what took place behind the scenes. The algorithm made the difference. Through Google, consumers quickly found more relevant and thus better results for queries. This was true for the organic results. With the introduction of an opaque auction vs. the industry-standard-winner-takes-top-slot auction, it also became true for paid search.

Since those early days, much has changed with how consumers search and the information now available to shape a results page. The biggest change has been the inclusion of social signals as a data point. While Google+ is clearly about informing the core search product, it is far from being the only source utilized. Whether through its own acquisitions, like Zagat, or through the establishment of paid listings for shopping, Google continues to evolve what the user sees.

This shift – from simply changing behind-the-scenes signals to evolving the interface – is done with a great deal of thought and user testing, but is it good for Google’s long-term brand engagement? At the height of its impact, Google search was the undisputed source for information gathering. Now, even Bing has its #BingItOn challenge because it believes it is delivering a better experience more frequently. Combine that, in the search space, with further fragmentation of sources and consumer options and you find a marginalized Google Search.

As consumer device usage and behavior change, companies have to balance adaptation of solutions with stability. Is Google Search still the best option for consumers in most cases? Probably. The question becomes, “In an age where change happens more rapidly, and Google itself is constantly tweaking search while focusing elsewhere, can the pony recall the original trick that made it so successful to begin with?”

What do you think? Is today’s Google Search as effective? If not, why and what can it do to regain influence?

Pony image on home page via Shutterstock.

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