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Google Sales Director on Google Instant’s “Brand Bias”

The search giant denies that default big-name search results are bad for small businesses–and brings a small business owner along to prove it.

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“Google AdWords is an economic development program for small businesses,” said Alan Moss, director of online sales at Google (above), in a recent interview with Fast Company. Some might disagree.

In September, when Google launched its biggest overhaul in years, Google Instant, a real-time search feature that provides results by the letter, many criticized the service for its perceived major brand bias. Typing the letter A, for example, will show results for Amazon or AOL or Apple. B will show Bank of America or Best Buy, and so forth. Soon after its release, digital marketing firm Efficient Frontier created a handy chart for Instant’s biases, showing the vast majority of initial suggestions lean toward brands. Many sites, including Fast Company, created lists on how Google has redefined our ABCs. Haven’t the small businesses been lost in the shuffle, I asked Moss?

“I would argue that small businesses can compete more effectively on Google because you can compete on relevance, the quality of your website, and the experience that you offer, as opposed to having to outspend [others] on TV advertising,” he said. “The beauty of AdWords is that is it really levels the competitive playing field.”

To prove its point, Google brought a small business owner into our meeting who chimed in at opportune moments. “I think Page Rank has a bias toward more successful websites,” said Chris Lindland, principal of Betabrand.com, “so you’re going to have to fight your way up the rankings.”

Moss also touched on the competition between major brands. I brought up how, if a user is searching for “Travel,” Instant will show results for Travelocity before other companies such as Priceline or Expedia.

“I think what happens over time,” he said, “is that when you’re logged in and type T, it may not be Travelocity that comes up–it may be Target or whatever else you’re interested in.”

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Moss and I discussed how Google Instant is changing what constitutes an “impression” online, delving into how Google went to great lengths to accurately define the metric in an age of real-time results. Interestingly, while many had expected that impressions would spike due to the engine’s new design, Moss said Google had not seen any “dramatic change” in impressions.

Some observers called Google Instant just another method for increasing ad revenues. Moss assured us that while the advertising side interacts with the design and engineer teams, the user always takes priority.

“We bring our experience and challenges working with advertisers, and share that with our product management,” he explained. “But none of those ideas get very far if they’re not good for the user. Because our business doesn’t exist if we don’t have users that get the best experience.”

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.

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