Google+ and the New Google

When I think back to my Internet days B.G. (before Google), I struggle to remember which search engine I used. I assume Yahoo!, though I vaguely remember typing in names like “AskJeeves” and “AltaVista.” Before Google, finding what you needed wasn’t that easy. Google changed the game, and it became a fixture in our culture. Hell, it’s a verb. “Google it.”

Google Search was worlds better than anything out. They didn’t have to force me into using it. I typed “google.com” into my address bar willingly. When Gmail launched and a kind soul gave me a beta invite, I also made that my main email address. Willingly. No gun to my head. Gmail was a vastly superior product to Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail, or anything else that was currently available. Google won me by being better.

I can tell this same story over and over for products like Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader, and so on. When Calendar launched, I didn’t touch another calendar app again. When Docs launched, I washed my hands of Microsoft Office. When Reader launched, I read more and I shared more, because it no longer felt like work.

I use a lot of Google products, and most of them are best in class. For the products I love, I never felt for a second like I was being herded into using them against my will. It never felt like a hard sell. Google, in the past, has been really good about that.

Except with social.

Buzz kicked it off. One day, Google decided to add a Twitter competitor to everyone’s Gmail inbox. Terrible idea. People were angry, and rightfully so. No one signed up for Gmail so that they could join another social network, yet Google felt it was a necessary move. Buzz pissed a lot of people off and never caught on. It was later killed off.

You’re seeing the same thing now with Google+. Google is trying to reinvent itself (a “New Google,” kind of like “New Coke”), and is again trying to herd its existing user base into a new service that they don’t really want. It’s trying too hard. Google+ is, essentially, the guy at the bar who keeps hitting on a woman, missing all of the obvious signs that she’s not interested.

Google+: “Hi there. I see that you’re a fan of Guinness. May I sit down?”

Woman: “Sorry, I just want to drink by myself if you don’t mind.”

Google+: “Haha, that’s cute. But seriously, let’s talk a little bit. My name’s Google+. I help you share things with people, but I’m not a social network.”

Woman: “Cool.”

Google+: “So… what’s your name? What do you do? Who are you friends with?”

Woman: *leaves*

Worse yet, Google is gimping its inventive spirit in order to focus on things that promote Google+. It killed off Google Labs. It took the Share feature out of Google Reader, opting instead for a “+1” button. Former Google employee James Whittaker quit the company because he longed for the imaginative Google of old, instead of the Google+ focused corporation (“New Google”) that exists today. It feels like Google has replaced innovation with desperation, and as a Google fanboy, it is painful to watch. It’s like I don’t even know Google anymore.

It will be an interesting year, or two years, or three years. I personally think Google+ will be killed off within that period of time, and it will be devastating to the company because of the importance Google itself placed on the initiative. Anything less than mass adoption constitutes failure, and Google seems determined to get there by force.

Good luck with that.

The Future of SEO?

I actually tweeted this article out into the WebDrafter Twitter stream yesterday (which I’d love for you to follow if you’re not already!), but I wanted to take a closer look at it and examine some of the possibilities.

An Australian site called StartupSmart published an article yesterday titled “5 SEO Trends to Lookout For in 2012.” Being someone who works at the intersection of social media and SEO on a daily basis, it was of particular interest to me. I want to go through each bullet point from the original article and give you my take on whether or not I think that particular change will manifest itself this year.

“Social media will be an even bigger factor in Google’s algorithm.”
The safest bet of the bunch. Social is already a bigger signal in search engine results than some would care to admit. Google’s search engine is only getting smarter as time goes on, and Google is starting to realize that, as good as some of their algorithms are, humans do a better job filtering the junk and curating the best content. 2012 will be a big year for social in search, no doubt.

“The search results page will continue to feature less organic rankings and more paid.”
Google puts a lot of focus on usability and simplicity. While the search engine results pages have gotten a lot more busy since Google first started out, I can’t see them reaching a point where paid search ads outnumber organic search results. In fact, I believe some of the newer formats Google is trying out are meant to increase conversions and revenue without having to put more ads on a page.

“Paid search will become more important in supporting SEO efforts.”
With the rise of “not provided” in Google Analytics, good keyword data is going to be a bit more difficult to come by — unless you’re also running AdWords campaigns. This one is a definite.

“Spammy SEO practices will get targeted even harder.”
What SEO is becoming is what it should have been all along — a process to make a site the most quality result for a keyword search, not through spun articles or conveniently-phrased keywords, but through genuine usefulness, with legitimate link and word-of-mouth endorsements through other websites and social media. The march toward this eventual goal is only going to continue, and Google will leave a lot of bloodied, down-ranked sites in its wake.

“SEO will become even more competitive than ever.”
This is going to be the year SEO and SEM as they are known today start to die. Search engine optimization companies that are skilled at developing great content  and online relationships on behalf of their clients will thrive. The multitude of companies who add more useless content to the Web will see what little success they’ve had start to vanish.

Thoughts? Shoot me a tweet (@shawn).