I was on a short two-day vacation (more on that later) when Google Checkout was released last week. Lots has already been written and said and much remains to be seen. But I believe, like most Google initiatives these days, it’s not about any single objective — Google is always trying to kill more than one bird.
So what is Google Checkout ultimately about? It’s about rewarding current AdWords advertisers and attracting new ones. It’s about building stronger and deeper relationships with merchants and, especially, consumers. It’s also potentially about new revenues (we’ll see). And, assuming Google is to be believed, it’s NOT about using consumer purchase data to tailor search results or to market to consumers in other ways. It’s also apparently not tied into Google Analytics.
As Om Malik points out, it may be also about anticipated future migration to a CPA model. (I think CPA is on the menu as an intended “advertising” option, but not thought of as a PPC replacement at Google). Early last year I asked whether click fraud would accelerate the further development and mainstreaming of alternatives to PPC (they’ve always existed of course). Now we are seeing several developments that suggest that some of these other models will gain popularity and take hold.
My comment to many of the reporters with whom I spoke last week was that the key for Google is to establish trust and build consumer acceptance and adoption right out of the gate. I think the entire system hinges directly on this. And part of that will be marketing and promotion of the system — something that Google has been loathe to do with any sustained focus for any of its recently introduced products.
This Business Week article is highly critical of Google’s non-search initiatives and uses Hitwise data to argue that they’re mostly flops. Here’s an interesting statement from the article attributed to Marissa Mayer of Google:
[U]p to 60% to 80% of Google’s products may eventually crash and burn. But the idea, she says, is to encourage risk-taking and let surviving products truly thrive. “We anticipate that we’re going to throw out a lot of products,” says Mayer. “But [people] will remember the ones that really matter and the ones that have a lot of user potential.”
From what little I know of the company’s culture, this statement reflects a quasi-Darwinian ethos prevalent at Google. I’m using informed speculation when I say that behind their non-promotion of products is something like a “survival of the fittest” notion. The products that are good will find their audience and survive (or stick on the refrigerator), while others (60% to 80% according to Google’s Mayer) will fail (or fall to the floor).
If I’m right about that assumption regarding the “Darwinian” philosophy – remember the template is Google search, which grew and thrived without any marketing — it’s an element of the culture that may need to change.
If Google really wants consumers and merchants to use Checkout, it probably will have to do some good old fashioned marketing or at least consistent promotion on Google.com. Without that, Checkout may not get the notice and potential adoption it otherwise would — and could wind up falling into that 60% to 80% abyss.
But I think there’s too much at stake here to throw the baby into the pool and see if it can swim on its own.