Welcome to a new decade. Search behavior continues to shape the way businesses operate in the digital world. And Google continues to influence search behavior. As I talked with my colleagues and researched trends for 2020, it became clear that for all the controversy surrounding Google’s growth – for all the buzz surrounding threats to Google, including the rise of Amazon – Google just keeps finding ways to become more dominant. Here’s what I see happening in the coming year:
1. Google asserts its dominance
The two most popular sites in the world are Google and YouTube, with 108 billion users between them. Google is leveraging these them to become even more influential, as hard as that might be to imagine. For example, Google continues to dominate online advertising with a 36.2 percent market share and strong growth, and the company is carpet-bombing the market with more tools that make it easier for advertisers to keep using Google products, such as the YouTube Masthead format for TV.
The advertising push capitalizes on the fact that roughly half of Google searches stay on Google properties. In other words, roughly half of people searching for things on Google are finding what they need within knowledge panels, Google My Business (GMB) listings, YouTube, Google Maps, and other Google properties. Google is capitalizing on these zero-click searches by doing an even better job monetizing the value of the Google universe, a trend that will continue in 2020. The challenge for businesses is to figure out how to leverage the value of their presence in Google’s world, such as capitalizing on Google Ads products and investing more into their GMB listings.
2. Google, YouTube and Facebook become review amplifiers
As noted above, Google and YouTube are the two most popular sites in the world. The third most popular site is Facebook. Consider them to be like a powerful Roman troika ruling the online world. All three destinations are becoming “review amplifiers” because customer reviews left there get more attention. In Google’s case, customer reviews also influence a business’s search visibility. Meanwhile, sites like Yelp are becoming less influential. It’s not that they don’t matter; they just don’t carry the same clout they used to hold on the marketplace.
One important gut check for businesses: how much care and feeding are you putting into your presence on Facebook, Google, and YouTube? Are you respecting them as customer review sites by devoting adequate time to ask for reviews there and respond to them? How well do you manage customer Q&As on your GMB?
Meanwhile, all of the customer feedback occurring on these sites creates more data in the wild or unstructured customer feedback. Businesses that can properly monitor and respond to those reviews will improve their online customer experience, capture valuable input to improve their operations and improve their search rankings. They’re going to need better analytics tools to properly manage this customer feedback loop from data in the wild.
3. Google goes premium with GMB
Remember when Google alarmed businesses by apparently testing the waters for premium GMB services? Well, bank on this test becoming a reality. No, Google is not going to start charging for businesses to be listed – doing so would discourage too many businesses from claiming their listings. Instead, we’ll see Google develop premium GMB services, such as customer support and products to integrate your GMB more effectively with your YouTube presence. Here again, I refer back to the ecosystem that Google has built across Google and YouTube. Google is only beginning to monetize that ecosystem.
4. Local businesses game the Google system
Unfortunately, Google’s popularity means more bad hats emerging to game the system.
Here is a dirty secret about local businesses: it’s easy for them to spam Google listings through tactics such as creating fake listings, keyword stuffing legitimate GMB listings, and paying for fake reviews – both positive ones for themselves and negative ones for their competitors. Google will continue to try to stop them in 2020, but Google will fail.
There are just too many bad players flying under the radar for Google to stop them. In addition, these businesses really don’t have anything to lose by spamming Google. The most egregious offenders are typically indie mom-and-pop operations with zero visibility. What’s the worst that can happen to them if Google cracks down on them? Getting black-listed by Google matters little if you don’t get much traffic in the first place. Reputable businesses really have no option here but to continue to publish accurate, credible location information and compelling content while spammers eventually trip themselves up by committing sloppy errors such as publishing confusing location information. Customers will vote with their search behavior.
What’s next for Google?
Of course, 2020 is an election year, which means Google will be part of a broader political and social conversation – which also means Google will be a target for criticism as the “tech has become too big” narrative intensifies on Capitol Hill. Google will need to tread carefully. But Google will march forward inexorably. Why? Because consumers and businesses are voting with their behavior and their dollars.