President Trump recently tweeted: “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of…. ….results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
This prompted Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to send a letter to the FTC expressing his “concern about recent reports on Google’s search and digital advertising practices.”
To help the president, the senator, and others who need a better understanding of “Google’s search and digital advertising practices,” I responded by posting this intentionally brief and generalized description of Google’s business model: “Google is not a search engine, it is a highly specialized direct response advertising engine purpose-built to translate the value of ‘intention’ into wealth for Google (Alphabet) shareholders. It is optimized to put the right ad in front of the right person at the right time. In other words, it is ‘rigged’ to optimize revenue – all other considerations are secondary.”
There are many different currencies that can be transformed into wealth. This is especially easy to do with digital tools. FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) provide some handy examples:
Attention — Facebook knows what you are paying attention to. You post and share the things you care about, and your Facebook profile makes your attention actionable.
Consumption – Amazon knows what you consume and what you’re thinking about consuming. If you’ve bought it or you are planning to buy it, Amazon knows it and can act on that data.
Passion – Netflix knows your passions. You demonstrate how you can be reached on an emotional level every time you watch a video. Netflix knows more about the kind of entertainment that ignites your passions than you do. It continually acts on that data.
Intention – Google knows your intentions. You never intend to go to Google and stay there; you search for what you intend to do. Your Google profile indicates, with a very high degree of accuracy, what you are likely to do in the near-term future. This is some of the clearest, most actionable data in the world.
Turning Data into Cash
Since Google is currently in the news, let’s look at how Google makes money for its shareholders.
Google is one of the most data-rich organizations in the world. Unless you specifically opt out, the company collects data on almost all of your digital interactions. There are some things Google cannot get access to, but for the most part, if Google needs to enrich your profile to determine your propensity to exhibit a behavior (click, purchase, etc.), it has the reach and resources to do so.
What Google “Knows” about You
The verb “to know” is not literal. In this case, it’s shorthand for keeping a record and being able to access that record in the context of other records to learn or predict a future action. Google “knows” you about as well as a cash register knows you. Which is to say, it doesn’t know you at all.
If you took the cash register receipt number and tied it to the credit card receipt you paid with, then analyzed the item detail and reverse appended it back to the credit card profile, the results of that data aggregation, transformation, segmentation, classification, and learning would be a prediction that might be of value.
Google does its version of prediction with incredibly sophisticated data modeling tools designed to understand (as in the example above) how to put the right ad in front of you at exactly the right time. I am intentionally leaving out a lot of details. Google has thousands of data points about everyone who interacts with it, and they use this data in very efficient ways.
What I Mean by “Google Is Not a Search Engine”
Google is not optimized to be the best search engine in the world; it is optimized to be the best tool for transforming the currency of intention into shareholder value. This means that its search capabilities only have to be good enough to keep you coming back to Google for search. Considering that Google’s only real competition is Bing, the bar is not very high.
This does leave Google in a unique position. It can subjugate search to advertising efficacy. In other words, Google can optimize for maximum revenue – which is exactly what it does.
Search results on Google are fast, but are they really what you are looking for? If Google revenue was derived directly from search, it would be the best search engine on earth. But Google doesn’t make money from search; it makes money by getting you to click on ads (which you would never need to see if search results gave you exactly what you were searching for). Oh, and if Google were optimized for search (as opposed to advertising revenue), it would go out of business (or have to charge a subscription fee).
Said differently, search is just the best clickbait Google can produce.
Why the President and Senator Hatch Are Wrong
Google’s revenue growth has been double-digits year-over-year. In fact, revenue for the past four quarters is in excess of $120 billion. And I can say with certainty that as the Internet gets bigger, Google will get bigger and more profitable. From my perspective, Google is the digital equivalent of Alien (from the movie of the same name). It’s the perfect life form, acid for blood, can live in any environment, eats everything in its path, and is really hard to do away with.
Looking at Google’s financial results and understanding how it makes money, it is impossible to imagine how Google could be optimized for anything other than advertising efficacy. Which is where its ~$120 billion a year comes from.
President Trump is probably the most famous person in the world. Google would be one of the first places you would go to verify the previous sentence. What would possess them to diminish their revenue by even one click by somehow deprecating pro-Trump results? It makes no financial sense, and it is not what is happening.
Bad News Can Be Good News
The president knows better than most that controversial communications get clicks from both sides. He is a true master of social media, and he knows that searching Google for “Trump News” yields “about 920,000,000 results (0.79 seconds).” That’s the stat that he should be quoting. That number is huge.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.