Google has always been a search marketing dynamo. It has literally invented or made mainstream several well-known search functions, including autocomplete of search terms and the basic structure of search-based online advertising that is used today. So it should come as no surprise that in its seemingly never-ending race to one-up its competitors, it has recently introduced or improved two critical functions of its search business:
- Integrating personal Gmail results into search; and
- Adding 13 new languages to its voice search function.
The latter isn’t an earth-shattering announcement. Google launched voice search for both desktop and mobile platforms in 2011 and now serves dozens of languages. This latest update, according to Direct Marketing News, adds languages from various European markets, including Swedish, European Portuguese and Finnish, along with regional tongues such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician. The company said in a blog post that the addition of those newly added languages will add nearly 100 million people to its voice search function.
It’s the integration of Gmail into search results that has generated the most intrigue. Industry reaction to the announcement varied. Some said it wasn’t that big of a deal, while others called it “interesting and creepy.”
Setting aside the usual industry criticism, the bigger question remains: What is the benefit to the user? And will users be freaked out by privacy concerns or just accept the integration of personal Gmail results into search as a natural evolution of search?
On the surface, this appears to be a wise move by Google. As Bing makes greater inroads toward fully integrating social media and search, Google must be feeling the pressure to add more contextual value and relevance to users’ searches. There is no better way to do that than to integrate users’ personal Gmail results into search.
The benefit for consumers is fairly clear. Let’s say, for example, that a person searched for hotels in rural Pennsylvania and a friend emailed her two years ago about a great hotel she stayed at in the area. The ability to include highly relevant information from that person’s personal communications into her search query only makes sense. If it adds value to the users and saves her time, then it’s likely consumers will overlook some of the obvious privacy concerns.
But there is a caveat to all of this, and it is one that demands digital marketers’ attention: people don’t like to have what they consider “personal” communications (i.e., email) to be available publicly (in this case via search), even if those results are only viewable by that person.
Google has made strong inroads over the last year in integrating most of its services with its Google+ social network so that there is always a social tie-in to whatever a user does across the Google network. That’s fine if a user isn’t logged into their Google account. But as soon as they log in, and then forget they are logged in, problems can arise. It’s not a stretch to think of a situation in which someone logs into their Google account on a public computer, makes a search, has their personal Gmail results integrated into that search and then walks away from the computer without logging out.
There is no doubt that Google has made a bold move with its integration of personal Gmail results into search. It was a natural, and, some may say, necessary move for the company as it fends off rivals and seeks to keep its search marketing dominance.
But what price will it pay as the battle over online privacy continues to wage? Will users eventually balk at the idea of having so much personal information available when they are searching for seemingly innocuous information like how far it is to the next town over? Or will this type of integration seem natural and become part of an evolution that eventually sees consumers’ personal data and information integrated with brand promotions, offers and search results into a truly integrated search marketing experience?
The latter appears to be the path that search marketing is moving toward. It’s one that will surely cause consternation and hang-wringing among the pundits and online privacy advocates. But it may be an inevitable step toward the future of search and online marketing.
Google has shown us a peek into the new era of search marketing. If its latest move is any indication, it will likely be an era that the search giant continues to dominate.