Analysis: Jose Cervera – Google Instant and the Failure of the Media

We are proud to add Pepe Cervera, a renowned Spanish journalist in the fields of  media-marketing and IT, to our team of contributors. In the following article he reflects on the impact of the recent launch of Google instant.

Google has a problem. The U.S. search engine has achieved something extraordinary by transforming too much information – the Internet’s main problem– into a money-making machine. Internet users have a huge and ever increasing need to locate the information they’re looking for from the increasingly vast masses of data dumped in the Web. This has turned search engines into a multi-billion dollar business. Google is like a water mill that uses the hydraulic power of a river to mill wheat, only it uses the data surplus of the “Information Economy” as its power source: there is an ever growing amount of material on the web, while the number of readers fails to grow at the same pace.   Those who publish information and those who read it need someone to handle the task of bringing them together. Google does just that and has built a lucrative business as a result, transforming the basic reality of cyberspace into its source of income.

But Google has a problem that is tied to corporate media and the future of the press. A problem it has tried to addressed in part with its latest invention, Google Instant. And the problem is that Google needs inventory for its advertising— in order for the search engine to work, it needs something to look for.

Google's business is to take people where they want to go, which makes it necessary to have interesting places people want to visit. Google can put a certain number of ads (AdWords) in searches, but is limited by the few answers available to readers’ queries. The result? No one looks beyond the first page of search responses. Google would be interested in having more pages available, more potential destinations, in order to lengthen the search listing and be able to sell more ads. The search engine would benefit from having many results for each search, so that users would browse multiple pages and receive multiple ad impacts.

This is where the media, publishers, and creators of professional content should enter the picture. If each Google search yielded dozens of excellent articles, definitions and summaries created by the best newspapers and magazines around the world, Google would be happy, as it would multiply its inventory of available ad space for sale. Ad prices would fall, benefiting the search engine, whose main revenue comes from small businesses and local ad campaigns that pull back on ad spending when prices go up. A greater amount of ad space would offset this decline through more advertising sales. Revenues would rise.

But when running a Google search, it’s normal to find half a dozen good references, one of which is Wikipedia (almost always the first one on the list). The result is that almost no one goes on to look at the second page of search results, thus limiting the sale of potential ad space. Ad space prices (which are set through an auction) go up because only a few advertisers can be accommodated, which means Google begins to be in the same price range as other advertising platforms. This eventually means that income goes down…

And here is where Google Instant comes in. Its mission – besides making searches easier – is to expand the number of pages the searcher looks at.

With each letter entered in a search, Google Instant offers new, varied, and unexpected possibilities, tempting the user to try multiple variations for each entry. For long words, Google Instant offers dozens of possibilities, encouraging the exploration of new and different options. In this way, Google plans to multiply the number of searches carried out in order to increase its inventory of ad pages. Since content producers do not offer enough interesting destinations, Google is attempting to increase the number of user searches. 

A good idea for your business. And an indicator of just how far the search engine is willing to go to overcome what can only be qualified as another failure of the media and publishers in the information superhighway.