Google and the Monetization Imperative

June 18, 2011

I found “Google Testing Yet Another Redesign, Kills I’m Feeling Lucky” another instance of “Wow, how can Google do that.” The write up reports a Google watcher spotting a page with no one click access to the top hit in a Google results list. The article told me:

Google Operating System has uncovered the image of Google’s Finnish site below and notes that the new redesign also kills the I’m Feeling Lucky button. Be honest – when was the last time you used it? Still – that button was one feature that helped make Google stand out from other late-90s search engines when it first launched.

I don’t think it is a matter of who used the “I’m feeling lucky” feature. The top hit displayed may no longer be the most relevant hit if it ever was. In the good old days of 1999, it was often a heck of a lot better than what I saw on the results list as I recall.

feeling lucky


What the write up did not focus on was money. I look at moves like Google’s as a trigger to think about money, revenue, monetization, and related concepts.

And my working notion is that after slogging through usage reports from a number of vendors, traffic seems to be quite soft across many Web sites. Seasonality is expected in usage. Human behavior is wonderfully predictable in some interesting ways; for example, daily usage logs reflect similar patterns for each day of the week. The patterning is important, so if one knows what the patterns at each level are, one can maximize resources and figure out ways to monetize those behaviors. But the SEO poobahs are going to have to work overtime to pump up traffic, and I think that quite a few of these gurus and guruettes will be looking for their future elsewhere when the CFO blows the whistle on the financial impact of doing SEO when online ROI is cratering across a large number of Web sites.

The “I’m feeling lucky” button is one more artifact of the style search that made Google the giant it is. However, Google is beavering away or Godzilla-ing away at the 1998 Cirripedia. The reasons, which I have in my List of Google Hypotheses for the Amappface Era (Amazon, Apple, and Facebook challenges) include:

  1. Google wants to maximize ad opportunities. Why send someone to another site when you can slap up an intermediate step and monetize that? As I noted in one of my really old Google studies, Google has methods to display another page whilst the user is still “on Google”, but those are most patent application confections, not the stuff of too much real world activity.
  2. The amount of time people spend on Facebook as compared to the amount of time people sp9end on Google favors Facebook. Why not choke off that one click thing which despite lower usage from users does erode “sticky time”?
  3. Google wants a new world now with mobile search as its key driver. There is a brave new world coming in which key word search is going to be moving from first class to the chicken-carting class on a railroad in some interesting area like the DC to NY run on Amtrak. Never seen a chicken on a train? Well, you will get the digital version in search pretty soon so you can make up for lost time. The new stuff positions Google for next generation search which is not the desktop, key word AltaVista stuff from 1996 and earlier. Voice, images, rich media—that’s a different kettle of monetizing opportunities. Who will pay for phone real time translation services? Answer: Lots of people.

Every time I point out that if you look at the traffic from a Web site on a courtesy service from or one of its competitors, you will frequently see usage graphs that look like this one for Coveo (customer support search), Vivisimo (enterprise search), and C2C (email archiving) you see declines and flatlines. Also note that the total traffic is pretty darned low. Collectively these firms represent about 12,000 uniques if the data are a reliable indicator. How much do these outfits spend on their Web sites? Probably a heck of a lot more than I spend on this goose-infused blog. Who gets more traffic? A tiny fraction of the billions of Web sites, that’s who. Can these sites pump up their traffic? Yes, but think “pay to play”, not metatagging marketing write ups.

traffic cov viv c2c

Source: Data are for May 2011.

When Web site traffic declines, I expect a frenzy of SEO activity. People faced with declining traffic and an angry Google Panda will be working overtime, even working late on a summer’s Friday afternoon. Yikes!

Back to the big question:

How does a vendor generate traffic? It doesn’t. The basic Web site is history, becoming the digital equivalent of the paper marketing collateral from the 1980s. How does the vendor generate buzz? With money. The “pay to play” model is sweeping the conference and consulting world. Vendors have to pay $3,000, $10,000, $55,000, or more to get a consulting firm or conference organization to showcase a product or service. Then the vendor will be “exposed” to the contacts the “pay to play” vendor can reach. Expensive, unreliable, and little more than an ad on a late night cable channel for Shamwow or abdominal exercise bands. How does a vendor get in the mainstream media? Money. A handful of big time PR firms can deliver an “interview” with a journalist, who in many cases, was a pal from journalism school or a sorority sister. (If you want to complain, use the comments section, please, or contact one of my PR professionals who taught me.)


Wanna buy a Shamwow? If you navigate to this link you will get a really annoying semi-evil dialog box. Just like so much on the “free” Web unfortunately.

What is happening to outfits who built their marketing on referrals from Baidu, Bing, Exalead, Google, and Yandex is that the old, organic way is becoming less and less efficient. After all, why be number one for the odd “I’m feeling lucky” click when Google can monetize that operation and reduce some costs by moving away from certain unmonetized features?

The solution? Easy. Pay for traffic. The original model which morphed into and then magically carried Google from “do gooder” to “big earner” was paying for traffic.

If you don’t buy traffic, you won’t get much traffic.


Google is not alone in this monetization effort. Search never gets cheaper. Search only gets more expensive. Free traffic? Maybe. The Web is now spitting into sites that get zero traffic. The only route to more traffic is to buy it from someone. For giant “must have” sites like or, no matter how flawed, is tweaking the model to suck in more outfits who will pay to play. Google is not a leader in this movement. Google is just coming late to the party. With each passing year, Google is playing more “me too” in monetization, certain services, and streamlining.

Little wonder than smaller, more agile outfits have run circles around Google and now pose a dire threat to Google’s core revenue. With Web traffic shifting from the model to the “do it anywhere” on a device that is tough for an old goose like me to use, experimentation is no longer “fun” or “whimsical”. The “I’m feeling lucky” button one was the poster child for Google relevance.


A snake shedding its skin. An important function for reptiles and for some organizations as well.

I have accepted the facts: “Relevance” is now a lesser issue and its meaning is changed in the present findability environment. Who cares about precision and recall when one can focus on user experience. Why craft a complex result when high schools are cranking out students who cannot read at grade level? Why make it easy to see that the button may not return a spot on hit without an ad? Why focus attention on text search when hot stuff like voice is the future and that’s where Google wants to be—a whole lot?

One answer, “The old Google is being sloughed away as a snake sheds its skin.” What I think I am seeing is a 21st century

Stephen E Arnold, June 18, 2011

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One Response to “Google and the Monetization Imperative”

  1. Airtol- NEW Blog » Google and the Monetization Imperative : Beyond Search on June 18th, 2011 2:44 pm

    […] Google and the Monetization Imperative : Beyond Search Category: […]

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