Google Posts are a new ‘Social’ Search feature, currently being deployed to candidates for the U.S. Presidential Election. For more information about the current, official state of this feature, please see my previous articles Google Posts: A Very ‘Googley’ Approach To Social Search and How Google Posts Could Hobble Twitter.
While officially this new non-social ‘Social’ feature is only available to Presidential candidates, unofficially Google is already testing the feature in at least two other significant areas: Sports and Business.
In the area of Sports, the feature is being tested with Cricket players for the ICC World Twenty20 tournament, allowing players to Post ‘Social’ updates directly to Google Search, which will appear, “When you search for cricket and Twenty20-related terms and the names of teams and players during and after matches…”
There is nothing that this more closely resembles than the now defunct ‘Google Realtime Search‘, a feature launched in 2009 in partnership with Twitter and discontinued, for debateable reasons, when Twitter cut off Google’s ‘firehose’ access in 2011. Although Twitter has now restored that access, Google was burned pretty badly in terms of the time, resources, and effort to develop the feature, and one can hardly blame them for not wanting to get burned again by depending on that renewed partnership. While Google Posts aren’t really social… they can’t be Commented on or Replied to, their creators can’t be Followed, there is no Google Posts Social Network and ordinary Google users can’t create Google Post accounts, etc…, they are stylistically similar to Tweets and Shareable to social networks/by email/as a link.
More importantly, they essentially give Google Search what it really would need from Twitter, which isn’t the social network itself but just the content of those Tweets. After all, almost no one is Searching Google to be social, they’re Searching it for information, and many of those Searchers don’t even have, or have but don’t use, a Twitter account. They want to know what an athlete, for example, has Posted, but they’re not going to Google Comments or Replies to that Post, if they were they could just go straight to Twitter for that. Google Posts gives them that same information they’re looking for (potentially), in a form that makes the most sense for a Search Engine, and under Google’s control instead of Twitter’s control. Short of buying Twitter, Google couldn’t hope for a better deal than that, assuming the feature takes off.
Will it take off? That depends, in large part, on whether the number of people who Search Google for Live updates to sports matches and perhaps other types of Live updates to be added in the future are greater than the number who use Twitter this way. Even without having any exact data at hand, it is probably a fair assumption that more people overall Search Google for this type of information than go to Twitter to find it. Google Search has over a billion monthly users, more than three times as many as Twitter, and isn’t biased heavily towards Power Users as Twitter has become. In fact, the real numbers are probably more stark than that, since many monthly Twitter users are just that, monthly, while Google Search users are more likely to use Search weekly or daily, or when relevant such as during a sports match.
The second feature being tested, Business Posts (or ‘Business Cards’ as some have dubbed them), may be even more important to the success of the feature and to Google Search’s bottom line, their ‘bread and butter’, which are commercial intent queries, i.e. queries that suggest the Searcher may be looking to be sold stuff. Searching for a local business or business type, for example, signals a likely intent to purchase now or in the near future. Google Search is already a place people are more likely to go when looking to be sold something, than most social networks (Pinterest being a possible exception, though one with a much smaller user base even compared with Twitter).
This ‘intentional’ advantage keeps the ROI of Google Search ads higher than advertising on any social network, including Facebook. A relevant Google Search ad is more likely to be shown to a Searcher at the very moment when they are looking to be sold something, whereas all the demographic targeting of social network users in the world can only hope to be so fortunate as to display an ad to someone just when they’re looking to be sold that thing. On the other hand, free and paid marketing via business social media accounts is popular and only getting more so, lower ROI notwithstanding, and Google has not, to-date, been a meaningful player in that market despite a push for Google+ business pages that was either valiant or incredibly annoying, depending on your perspective.
I’m not the first one to note that, if Google and Facebook could form a partnership, this would marry the two most powerful advantages in online marketing: Social Network and Search Engine Marketing. And if Michael Jordan and Larry Bird had ever played on the same NBA team, they could have won every NBA championship every year they played, but such a deal between Facebook and Google is about as likely as that.
With Google Posts for businesses, however, the Search Engine Giant may single-handedly be able to accomplish some version of this, albeit probably not quite as powerful as the aforementioned Dream Team partnership. With this, Google can display relevant ‘Social’ Posts, at the exact moment of Searcher intent for those Posts to be most relevant. Were they to add a ‘Promoted Posts’ equivalent into the mix, this could represent a substantial new revenue source for the company.
While they still lack many advantages Facebook enjoys in this area, their advantage in knowing the exact intent of the user at the moment they’re Searching should not be underestimated. This may yet prove to be the most powerful marriage of Social and Search eCommerce to-date, and certainly more powerful than anything Twitter’s lackluster advertising platform can boast.