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Google’s second click versus Facebook’s second click

Google’s second click
For those of you who haven’t read Dave Morgan’s article on Google trying to capture the "second click" you should do so here: MediaPost – The Fight for the Second Click. It’s a couple months old, but worth the read if you haven’t seen it.

The point is, because of Google’s position as the de-facto start page of the internet, they are able to control where users go – and that control makes them powerful, because traffic = money. The fight for the "second click" refers to Google thinking about how they can control not just the first click (Search!) but also provide a shortcut to answer the query on a second click. And because of their control of the search engine result page (SERP), they can always place their content above everyone else’s.

Examples of capturing the second click
Here are a couple examples of this – check them out:

It might seem like a big deal to do this, but you can imagine that if you ran a business in weather, real estate, dictionary reference, or movies, you’d want to know where Google was planning to expand here.

The reason is that in a lot of these vertical businesses, like movies, your only hope for getting users to come back to your site is via search engines. It’s hard to have a daily relationship with your users, and thus you are dependent on the "start pages" to point you in the right direction.

So when you see Google starting to build into this area, it can cause trouble because it siphons away traffic.

Is the SERP Google’s platform?
When it comes to platforms, maybe it makes sense to think of the search result page as Google’s platform. After all, let’s compare to Microsoft:

  • Windows is Microsoft’s horizontal platform across applications
  • Applications build on top of Windows and have to adapt to its APIs
  • Microsoft can use Windows to cross-sell their vertical apps (think Office, IE, XBox, etc)
  • Back in the old school days, Microsoft could change their API or have "secret" APIs that would give their own applications an advantage over standalone companies

Let’s compare this to Google:

  • The search results page is Google’s horizontal starting point across websites
  • Websites build on top of the Google index and have to adapt to its algorithm changes – that industry is called Search Engine Optimization
  • Google can use their search results page to cross-sell their vertical apps (think Google Toolbar, the mini-results listed above, etc.)
  • Google changes tweaks their algorithms and put their own results above others, to give their own apps advantages over standalone companies

Again, the notion here is of controlling distribution – both platforms are able to cross-sell their applications and promote their usage in a way that undermines their competitors/partners that are at their mercy.

In fact, if anything, Google has been shy about using their SERPs to cross-promote their other products – which is why there’s so many Google products that don’t have much traffic to their competitors.

If Bill Gates ran Google, he’d probably cause all searches for "facebook" redirect to Orkut.com :-)

Comparing Google’s platform to Facebook’s
Facebook is in a similar position – like Google, they are one of the "start pages" of the internet. But rather than reference, they are focused on communication, which makes them one of the few sites on the internet people use every day. And like Google, people also leave their Facebook pages open all day, and thus, they can control access to subsequent pages.

Unlike Google, however, rather than sending users away from the site, Facebook opted to open up their website for application developers. Interestingly enough, what that means is that they control the first click, the second click, and maybe even the 50th click.

In this way, they are far more open than Google in letting people leverage their distribution, and allow developers to create rich functionality within the Facebook site. This may also be great for them because it causes far more dependence on their platform.

So let’s talk about what it’d mean for Google to open up their SERP, and treat it like their platform:

Google: Open up your SERP!
Right now, there are only two ways to build on top of the Google search experience:

  • Buy text ads
  • SEO your website and get into the organic index

And these are both great triggers for when people search for a specific type of text content.

But let’s run through a couple crazy "What If?" scenarios:

  • What if Google let developers build INTO the search index pages with richer applications (like what Facebook/OpenSocial provides)?
  • What if when you searched for "definition of ironic", it wasn’t a Google chosen result that came up at the top, but rather an "app" that placed itself there through driving the best relevance?
  • What if Google created an open standard that allowed each result to return themselves not as an automatically processed paragraph of text, but as a rich application?

If these scenarios were possible, then you might argue that all the smart stuff that Google’s doing to improve their SERP – like making YouTube video thumbnails, or Google Image Search shortcuts – could be done automatically by the people building the underlying sites and integrating with a SERP API.

In fact, you could imagine that the ads could function this way as well, so that a real estate site might be given X by Y pixels of app real estate if they bid into the top slot.

Without this, the SERP is a walled garden platform that gets slow, incremental features based on whatever Google chooses to implement. And that’s the furthest thing from open, yet it’s also not Googley to let people clutter up the SERP. So we’ll see how this tension evolves over time ;-)

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