Is Google about to become your significant other?

Have you ever met one of those couples who always finish each other’s sentences?  Like me, you may find it incredibly annoying, but the ability to do that is based on shared experiences, intimacy and the ability to predict outcome based on previous behavior.  Intimacy forged during relationship building can also lead to a certain level of anticipated needs fulfillment (i.e., when a spouse can tell another has had a bad day and has a cold drink waiting when they get home).  So if annoyingly cute couples can anticipate each other’s needs, why can’t Google?  That’s the future heralded by the company’s new search tool, “Google Instant,” which delivers results even before you’ve finished typing a query.

Google Instant takes auto-complete to a new level – as you type into Google’s search field, a list of results appears for the query Google thinks you want to make (for the matching search that is most popular or statistically likely).  Google’s servers manage the increased load this requires by pooling resources to avoid repeating similar searches.  Other search engines are exploring more subtle improvements.  For example, Yahoo has shown that taking a user’s age or sex into account allows more appropriate search results to be delivered.  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month, Google CEO Eric Schmidt described an even bolder vision – to provide what you want even before you ask, drawing on your social networks, past behavior, location and so on.  “Most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” he said.  “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

So if Google becomes your significant other – finishing your sentences, anticipating your needs, etc., then, like your non-virtual significant other – will the greater dependence influence your decision-making process?  Think about it like this – your significant other does the shopping.  He or she knows you really well (can finish your sentences) and makes purchase decisions based on an understanding of your likes and dislikes.  One day, your significant other brings home a new type of toothpaste – perhaps even offers an explanation, “I know how much you like cinnamon and thought you might like to try this new brand.”  All emotional response aside, the truth is that you are probably going to try the new toothpaste.  If you’re like me, you probably don’t care – if you do care, you realize it’s not worth a fight – or, your significant other does know you pretty well and you like the new toothpaste.

OK, maybe a silly example, but one that, according to behavioral analysis, is one that happens every day.  We market to the decision maker – not necessarily the end user.  We may try to influence the end user in hopes that they will influence the decision-maker, but the truth is that we build relationships so that other can help us make decisions for us.  Einstein wore the same outfit every day because he wanted to extend no brain power to choosing clothes.  We want our significant other to buy toothpaste we like because we don’t want to mess with it.  I’m not talking about big things – and I’m ignoring brand loyalty and a million other decision-making variables – just to make a general point:  we rely on others to make decisions for us.

From a marketing perspective, this means adjusting search engine optimization to be the result – not a top hit.  If someone is searching for toothpaste, Google is going to take everything it knows about the person and make a recommendation – not just deliver top 10 results.  Understanding how to impact the variables involved in the algorithm that determines that result is the real key to SEO success.  It isn’t enough to be above the fold on search results – it’s being the answer that makes all the difference.

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