The other day I Googled Len The Plumber’s phone number. What I saw in the organic search results took me by surprise. At the top of the organic results was Len The Plumber’s phone number inside a white box with a subtle drop shadow. The number was underlined in blue, indicating that it might be clickable.
This is what I saw:
Out of curiosity, I clicked the phone number and was whisked away to http://plus.google.com/hangouts, where I was asked if I wanted to call Len The Plumber:
Now, if Len The Plumber had an operator monitoring Google+, we could have done a video call. As it turned out, Len The Plumber didn’t have anyone manning their Google+ line. I ended up on a VoIP call via my computer—complete with the crackling audio that’s no doubt the product of my $10 RealTek microphone.
Of course, none of this is really the point of my story or what fascinated me about this new Google feature. What caught my attention was the far-reaching implications of Google snagging traffic that would have normally gone to your website.
Notice the language in the screenshot above: “Your call is free.” Why is there the need to point that out? Why wouldn’t my call be free? Is it possible that this language is foretelling the direction Google is heading—a shift away from being an advertising company to becoming a pay-for-performance e-commerce company?
That’s exactly what I think is happening.
Eric Enge suggested that Google is making changes to discourage tactical SEO. I don’t think that’s why they’re making the changes they are (although that might be one of the net effects). I think that they’re making these changes to re-launch as a commerce company.
Folks in the travel industry know exactly what I’m talking about. For years Google has been quietly building or buying its own services to compete with the likes of hotels.com and travelocity.com. How much longer do you think Google is going to let sites like Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor.com siphon traffic from Google’s organic search results without taking a piece of the action?
I think it’s only a matter of time before Google—whether via Google Helpouts or some other platform—eliminates all data/information aggregators and funnels all this traffic through one of its own e-commerce properties.
Google has been an advertising company since shortly after its inception. The vast majority of Google’s revenues come from advertising driven by Ads/AdWords and AdSense. With Facebook stepping up their game and Amazon.com getting ready to launch its local services marketplace, you can bet your britches that Google isn’t going to be left out of the action.
The Implication on Your Business
A lot of companies continue to rely on Google organic search for the bulk of their website traffic. Search engine optimization (SEO) continues to be an incredibly cost-effective way to increase web traffic, leads, and sales. However, you shouldn’t put all your web marketing eggs in one basket.
The time to diversify is now—before Google goes and pulls the rug out from under you! What do I mean by diversify?
- Invest in analytical tools that you can use to continually test and improve your website’s visit-to-lead conversion rates
- Make sure your website is optimized for all types of mobile devices
- Build up your opt-in email list, break it into segments by customer type or interest, and get an email newsletter going
- Build up a web TV show or weekly webinar
- Test pay per click advertising, social media, and branded content marketing
- Test direct mail and “traditional” forms of advertising
Take these steps while your SEO efforts are going strong. (note: if your SEO efforts are nonexistent, call me). It’s too late to diversify after the shit hits the fan.