Thursday, May 6, 2010

Yahoo Chides Google for Keeping It Simple. Who's Stupid?

I came across this video in my Facebook news feed thanks to my friend who runs the self-titled "Geoff DeMars Internet Marketing News" page on FB.

The crux of this video and Yahoo's new campaign can be summed up in these 2 lines...

"There's nothing to look at but a box and a button... you come to this place so you can leave."

"At Yahoo, we've got another idea... a place you want to stay."

In his post, Geoff linked to this piece on Search Engine Land in which Yahoo's approach is called "misguided and off the mark" by Greg Sterling and "stunningly stupid" by Danny Sullivan.

For what it's worth, I see merits and demerits to this strategy...

Merit: Yahoo realizes it can't compete with Google and is trying to position itself as an entirely different resource.

Demerit: If Yahoo really realized it couldn't compete in search, it wouldn't repeatedly play up its search capabilities in the voiceover.

The bottom line, though, is that there's nothing Yahoo can do about the fact that most advertisers don't want to reach people on a place that "people want to stay."

Rather, as I discuss in Chapter 4 of my book, "Everything I Know about Marketing I Learned from Google," advertisers want to reach people when they're in a commercial mindset aka "buy mode." More often than not, that type of intent is displayed by going to a place to find what you're looking for and leave. Hence why Google did $6.7 billion in revenue in Q1 compared to Yahoo's $1.6 billion.

I cover the whole "should I stay or should I go" thread in Chapter 3 of my book and the copy is so darn close to the script in this Yahoo ad I thought I'd better share it now before anyone reads the book in September when it's released and thinks my POV was skewed by the Yahoo campaign.

So here's an excerpt from Chapter 3 -- the first 797 of 3647 words in the chapter, to be precise. Note, this is unedited copy from my original manuscript and, outside McGraw-Hill, no-one else has seen it. Would love any and all feedback.

Chapter 3: Keep It Simple, Stupid

What are you supposed to do on

Easy, right? Search.

The big search box surrounded by white space beckons you to do one thing and one thing only.


When you first told someone else about Google, did you have to explain how to use it? Nope.

How do you think Google became a verb? Simple.

There’s very little ambiguity. Google means search.

Today, this seems like a no-brainer. But, in 1998 this was a novel concept. At that time, the most popular websites more closely resembled newspapers, covering every inch of the page with content and ads.

What you were supposed to do on these sites was less clear. Read articles. Look at ads. Communicate with friends. There was one common goal, though. These websites wanted you to stay -- maybe not on that particular page but definitely on that site.

Contrast that with Google. Google doesn’t want you to stay on its site. It wants you to leave.
And what better way to hammer that idea home that to put a big box in the middle of the page with nothing else around it.

Fade to White

Today Google could command millions of dollars for ads on its homepage. But that would distract you from the task at hand. Searching.

In fact, Google recently went a couple steps further. First, in September 2009, it made the search box bigger. Then, a few months later, it removed everything but the box, logo, and search buttons, only fading in the other menu items, links, and footer upon movement of the mouse.

In a blog post, Marrisa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience, explained the change as follows…

“For the vast majority of people who come to the Google homepage, they are coming in order to search, and this clean, minimalist approach gives them just what they are looking for first and foremost. For those users who are interested in using a different application like Gmail, Google Image Search or our advertising programs, the additional links on the homepage only reveal themselves when the user moves the mouse. Since most users who are interested in clicking over to a different application generally do move the mouse when they arrive, the ‘fade in’ is an elegant solution that provides options to those who want them, but removes distractions for the user intent on searching.”

Of course, what happens after you search is a different story. In the early days, Google results pages were pristine lists of blue links. Today, they resemble almost every other page on the Web replete with images, widgets, and ads.

This layout is quite calculated, however. Once you’ve already searched, Google doesn’t want you to search again. It wants you to click. On whatever seems most relevant to you at the time. Organic listing. Image. Map. Ad. It doesn’t matter. Just click. Hopefully you’ll have found what you wanted and then come back again to search.

Everything about the way Google lays out its pages screams what it wants you to do. Search. Then click. And repeat.

“Don’t over think it. Sometimes simple creates the best experience.” -- Sean Cheyney, VP,
Marketing & Business Development, AccuQuote @scheyney

Easy Does It

On its corporate website, Google lays out its design principles. One of them speaks to the power of simplicity.

“Simplicity fuels many elements of good design, including ease of use, speed, visual appeal, and accessibility. But simplicity starts with the design of a product's fundamental functions. Google doesn't set out to create feature-rich products; our best designs include only the features that people need to accomplish their goals. Ideally, even products that require large feature sets and complex visual designs appear to be simple as well as powerful. Google teams think twice before sacrificing simplicity in pursuit of a less important feature. Our hope is to evolve products in new directions instead of just adding more features.”

In June of 2000, Google stuck a deal with Yahoo! to power its search results. But, despite returning the exact same results, more and more people flocked directly to when they wanted to find another website. Why? Simple. Google meant search. Yahoo! meant stay.

As Kenneth Fadner, Chairman and Publisher of MediaPost and one of the founders of Adweek, observed, “Yahoo's search was always buried inside its cluttered portal page. When people thought "search" they thought about Google, even while on the Yahoo page, where they could also search using Google. It was not the promise of a better result that moved them, it was the inability of people to hold multiple thoughts in their heads at the same time that made them think: ‘If I want to search I need to go to Google.’"

It was that simple.


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