Looking inside Google: A day of discovery

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AdSense English Top Contributors (yes I’m in this picture) at the Googleplex in Mountain View.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to look inside the inner workings of Google — both literally, in that I could actually enter several Google buildings and participate in discussions in conference rooms not open to the general public — and in the company’s spirit, history and working culture.

Not surprisingly, Google protects its interests through extensive use of non-disclosure agreements, so I cannot discuss highly specific details about the company’s operations but I am still in some awe about how a single business, started in a garage in 1998, could in less than 15 years grow to be one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations.

The answer, in my opinion, in part is that the company changed the rules of the advertising game, opening the process to virtually every business and creating a situation where true supply and demand in a real-time manner sets the price and distribution cost of the advertising.  With complete transparancy of cost and results, advertisers no longer needed to hope that they would succeed with their media buys.  Better yet, the early advertisers were shocked about the incredibly low cost and high quality of the leads the advertising generated.

(Things aren’t so good for advertisers now; you have to work hard to ensure your advertising targeting or media selections are carefully co-ordinated, your landing page(s) are well designed and you have excellent lead tracking and follow-up capacities, or you will quickly blow your online advertising budget with little to show.)

As most of our company’s revenue arises from print advertising, supplemented with new online publications which retain the print advertising format and style — but allow many visual and linking enhancements — I could elect to live in fear of this powerful new advertising media, discover how to partner with it, or (in my case) become enough of an expert that Google itself regards me in that light.    My Google advertising partnership revenue (through the AdSense program) is minimal, but my knowledge is strong enough that I can help publishers around the world understand and navigate through the program as a voluntary Top Contributor on the help forums.

This knowledge translates to a more practical understanding of what works and what doesn’t in online advertising and publishing.

Will Google continue to grow, thrive and expand in an environment of continuous competition, the new social media challenge from Facebook, and the constantly arising unknown forces out there which challenge any business?

Yesterday, I saw signs of the reasons for the company’s strength.  These include wads of cash.  This allows a creativity environment where employees can continue to use 20 per cent of their time for their own skunk-works projects and initiatives, which don’t need to be “rational” economically, and the ability to pour massive resources to recover from social media failures and take on Facebook through Google Plus, as well as the Android phone initiative and Motorola purchase.

Of course, I didn’t see everything; this is a huge company and only a few hours on the campus in a controlled environment won’t tell anyone the complete picture.  However, the insights will undoubtedly influence how I perceive and manage my own business going forward.

After the day at Google, when the Top Contributors from our group returned to the hotel, we ate our first meal at our own expense in the hotel restaurant.  This proved to be one of the most unusual dinners of my life.  Several of my peers had their laptops open, linked to the help forum, and we were collaboratively answering some of the hundreds of questions that arise each day.  Putting faces to names, our rather eclectic group from Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K., had virtually nothing in common before we set out help others by researching and answering questions from website publishers around the world.  Now we will return to our regular lives, just a little stronger because we’ve discovered there are rewards in sharing rather than taking.

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