It’s been said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
Google is not the devil – far from it, actually. But they’ve pretty much accomplished the same thing: although we use Google every day for nearly everything, it is almost as if it doesn’t exist.
And that’s intentional.
I’ve been reading the book What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis and some parts I’ve found particularly fascinating. For example, Jarvis said that when Google was first created, it didn’t care about making money. Instead, all it cared about was getting as many people to use it as possible.
That strategy remains the key to Google’s success. They, to this day, care first and foremost about getting more and more people to use Google, regardless of how much money they are making off of them. In fact, they purposely keep their prices low and market-driven, so there is little opportunity for competitors.
Jarvis argues that Google’s plan is to extract as little money as possible from as many people as possible. Google is sort of like that scam in the movie Office Space(although, Google is anything but a scam), where they make one-tenth of a cent on every transaction in the world.
And that adds up to a lot of money.
Here’s the thing, though. Yes, charging as little money as possible and continually building cool products is going to attract a lot of people.
But, to keep them, Google needs to become invisible. And it has executed that perfectly.
Understanding Google’s Invisibility
When you go to Yahoo’s or AOL’s homepage, it is littered with articles and advertisements and everything else. They are busy sites that you instinctively have an opinion about, positive or negative.
When you go to Google’s homepage, it is just a search bar, some sort of Google Doodle that is rarely controversial and a bunch of white space. You don’t really have an opinion about it – it is basically displayed as just a tool, no more interesting than that.
In Google Chrome, you don’t even have to go to the Google homepage. You just type in the term in the address bar and it Googles it for you, and you almost forget you are using Google at all.
The actual search results themselves are mostly just the results and white space. Again, there is almost no branding on it at all, nothing more really than the information you’re looking for.
Google could make billions and billions of dollars selling ads on any of those pages. And yet they don’t, because they don’t really want you to have an opinion about Google.
They just want you to use it.
On top of all of that is the way Google’s properties are built to embed into other sites. A lot of times you are seeing Google products while on another site – through Google ads, Google maps or its video service, YouTube – and yet you don’t even realize it. Yes, you know it is a Google property if you really were to think about it, but you just don’t really think about it.
Why Be Invisible?
If people have any opinion about Google, it is generally that it is a cool company that builds crazy stuff. Few people I talk to have much to say about Google’s core function – the search engine – and yet they use it all the time.
That’s how Google remains so popular. If people had really strong opinions about it – even if they were good opinions – other companies could take advantage. Instead, by just sort of fading into the background, people use Google almost by default.
Of course, Google is smart by continually improving itself and building new, cool products (or buying new, cool products), so it remains a great search engine. But they do all of that without ever rocking the boat, with the aim of becoming more and more a part of your day while also sinking ever-deeper into the background.
Google’s goal is to become like breathing; just a necessary function for accomplishing what you need to do. You don’t think about it, you don’t really talk about it; you just instinctively do it.
And it’s succeeding.
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