Is Google finally facing a threat?

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

Ever since Google calmly and coolly settled onto their throne, as the undisputed King of the search engines, people have been predicting their demise. History has taught us that no King will rule forever, and at some point, even the mighty Google will fall from grace.

Yet a pattern appears to have emerged in the online world. Interesting new services and products emerge, and as soon as they gain any sort of traction, pundits around the world start to wonder whether Google are finally about to meet their match.

Twitter, Bing, the increased use of mobile phone browsing, Yahoo!, Microsoft, SoftwarePromotions and more have all been hailed as the potential new Google, or a serious threat to Google.

Yet to date, while all of these examples have proven to be interesting, none of them have given Google anything to worry about. And like all Kings fortunate enough to sit on their thrown for any length of time, Google are by no means oblivious to the threats they face. In fact Google’s unprecedented access to a mind-boggling amount of data places them in a uniquely powerful position to see precisely what everyone is doing. What’s new, what trends are emerging, who’s rising and falling from grace and more.

Nevertheless, I believe that Google are only now facing a threat to their existence. For the first time, there finally appears to be an enemy vast and powerful enough to inflict damage. With time, perhaps even powerful enough to maim or even destroy the mighty Google empire.

It’s not Twitter, it’s not Bing and it isn’t Microsoft’s AdCenter. The biggest threat that Google face today is Google. Not through any lack of innovation, flair or expansion. But from the most basic threat of all – their complacency.

Before dismissing me as yet another “Google is about to die” harbinger of doom, let’s take a quick step back. Almost all of Google’s income is derived from their AdWords system; through ads displayed on their search engines around the world, partner sites, the content network, TV ads, radio ads and more. And as a direct result of the program’s reach, precision and power, many businesses rely heavily on AdWords. Ironically, in time, this very dependency may prove to be the beginning of the wound in Google’s side.

As the scope and complexity of the AdWords system have grown, so too have the volume of complaints by the advertisers.

Historically, most advertiser’s complaints have been concerned with two issues. The level of poorly targeted traffic (usually as a result of an incorrectly set-up account) and click fraud.

Today, however, advertisers are complaining about the amount of time required for their changes to meet approval. While new ads await Google’s go-ahead, nothing happens. In effect the very essence of “real-time reach” has been diluted to a less palatable “reach the world eventually… hopefully”. Our own software marketing news blog had an entry entitled “New AdWords Ads Increasingly Getting Stuck in the ‘Under Review’ Black Hole” on April 10th, 2009. The post is still getting large volumes of traffic, and at the time of writing this article has received around 40 comments.

New ads are taking days (sometimes even weeks) to be approved. New campaigns can sometimes take even longer, requests for support may go unanswered for weeks at a time, and some of the promised follow-ups simply fail to materialise.

It’s understandable that as a business or services grows in popularity, they can’t hope to be as responsive and personal as in their early days. Yet failing to look after the very customers they rely on for the majority of their income is short-sighted in the extreme.

And like the unfortunate King happily drinking his poisoned wine, Google may not realise the extent of the damage that is already underway.

Many companies rely on AdWords to generate a significant percentage of their website visitors and sales. As the AdWords system starts to crack under the strain, these same companies are not only realising how dependant they are on Google, but are questioning how much they can continue to rely on a system that is beginning to break down.

If your company saw around 85% of your current sales coming from Google, and new AdWords changes were sometimes taking weeks to be implemented, how long would it take you to look into other options?

I personally know of a number of companies who are planning to take some of their Google AdWords budgets and plant them in the AdCenter soil, to see what grows. And if doing so proves to be successful, then the Google budgets are going to have start working at being justified.

In the past, I always said that AdCenter couldn’t come close to Google when it came to generating the quantity of targeted traffic that we’ve grown used to. But if AdWords continues to slow down and frustrate their advertisers, other options suddenly become a lot more appealing.

Now might well be the year that you yourself dip your toes into AdCenter. Now might be the year that AdCenter market and publicise themselves. And now might be the year that Google’s throne starts to creak, as the very weight of the King proves to be more than it can handle.

Be seen, be responsive, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.