Is Google dead? And if so, is your business ready for what comes next?

Few people can have missed the deluge of negative revelations surrounding Google during the past week. With $24 billion wiped off its value in just 2 days – the biggest ever business loss in history – many industry experts are hailing this the beginning of the end for Google. Already being referred to as the second bursting of the dot com bubble, the almost untouchable behemoth of the digital age has suddenly found itself floundering, and has been discovered struggling within waters which simply don’t suit it any longer.

So what has gone wrong, is this really the end of Google, and just how will we all manage in future without it? Even if Google doesn’t close, but becomes an almost forgotten relic of a particular period in the Internet’s history, like Yahoo, how will businesses have to adapt their SEO strategy?

RIP Google 1998-2012

Right now I pity any business which has been focussing exclusively on optimising their websites for Google. I have always advocated having a broader view of SEO, and have frequently recommended applying strategies to help focus on other ways of getting found, including alternative search competitors such as Bing, and today companies which have followed this advice can feel marginally more reassured that their hard work won’t have been in vain.

But this shock revelation that Google’s earnings for the quarter are down a staggering 20% on last year should at the very least ring warning bells for online companies which have maintained a blinkered view of online marketing, with their SEO strategies firmly targeting the minutiae of Google’s algorithmic changes, rather than looking at the broader picture and approaching SEO with a wider spread of tools and tactics.

So What Has Google Done Wrong To Fall So Far So Quickly?

It almost seems impossible to imagine a giant of the online world as huge as Google collapsing into the relevant oblivion in which the former behemoth of the Internet, Yahoo, now wallows. Yes, Yahoo is still around, but most people have forgotten it, and few businesses would even remotely consider investing significant amounts of money and time optimising for it. Yet once it was the case that if you didn’t get your business properly listed on Yahoo you were wasting your time, and might as well forget the Internet as a marketing medium.

Yahoo was king, and it seemed impossible to imagine otherwise. Then the bubble burst, and many online businesses collapsed overnight, and it’s an event from which Yahoo, along with many other big names, has never recovered. The idea that we are in the throes of another bursting of the bubble is a scary thought, because so many businesses have simply not considered such a thing to be possible, and have no backup plan, no alternative strategy, and no idea how, or if, their business would survive the passing of Google.

So what caused Google’s recent fall from the stars? To be honest it’s a combination of things, but one of the biggest challenges has actually been the mobile market. You may recall the wry mirth directed at Microsoft during the early days of the Internet, as it completely failed to recognise the potential of online communications, missing the bandwagon by many years. To a large extent I think Microsoft have been playing catch-up ever since. Perhaps this could be their moment to leap forwards and capitalise on Google’s wavering from immortality.

Google has been similarly slow to capitalise on the opportunities of the mobile web. Desktop searching is where Google was born, grew up, matured and became king, but now more and more of us are moving to mobile search, on mobile phones and tablets. These platforms are simply not suited to the same desktop search methods – we don’t want 84 billion results crammed on our screens, and we don’t want 95% of our screens to be covered with sponsored listings and PPC adverts.

Advertisers have been very reluctant when it comes to advertising with Google on mobile platforms, and Google has struggled to monetise the mobile search market. The more we move from desktop to mobile, the more Google will struggle unless they can pull an unexpected trick out of the hat.

We’ve known for quite some time that Twitter has struggled to work out a truly effective way of monetising its service, and we also know that Facebook has struggled to get to grips with monetising the mobile web. I know I am very far from being alone in expressing dismay and annoyance with the sheer volume of adverts now appearing on my Facebook news feed as displayed on my phone or tablet, and it’s really not a long-lasting or appropriate means of monetising this market. But it seems that these two huge names have a third partner to prop up the bar as they stare soulfully into their half empty glasses wondering where it all went wrong. Google is struggling, and there’s no easy or obvious way of fixing it.

No News Is Bad News For Google

But even this isn’t all the bad news. This week it was also announced that every single one of the 154 members of Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers are pulling out of Google News, heartily sick at the fact that Google was not paying for any of their content, meanwhile pulling large volumes of traffic away from their own websites. This Black Hole approach was simply not seen as providing any kind of service, and so suddenly Google News has lost all of its most important Brazilian news sites. I doubt very much whether Brazil will be the last country to take this stance.

Whilst Google’s stock fell by 10% at the end of last week, Apple’s shares only fell by 2.8%, and as the only technology company larger than Google, Apple already has its foot firmly in the door with search technologies such as Siri. Some people are already saying that solutions along the lines of Siri could well represent the future of mobile search, rather than desktop based systems squashed into a two by three inch space, which leaves little room for advertising.

Does Your Company Have A Plan ‘B’?

I think that whatever happens with Google, and whatever comes after Google, three things will still remain: quality, visibility and social media. Any business looking to create a Plan B, something that will ensure long term survival with or without Google, must look very seriously at these three factors because it seems impossible to imagine that they will become any less desirable or important in the future.

Clearly the better the quality of content of your site, or the better the quality of external content which directs traffic back to your site, the better the chance your business has of gaining interest, reputation and traffic. Certainly the death knell is already tolling for those businesses which have focussed exclusively on generating as many backlinks as they can, regardless of quality, buy mass distributing cheap quality, keyword focussed fluff everywhere possible.

Now is therefore probably a good time to take stock of the content of your website, removing any content less than top quality, or less than useful, informative or interesting, and to begin creating high quality content which will attract real visitors, and not merely appeal to algorithmically limited spiders whose days may already be close to ending, becoming trapped in their own webs.

Visibility is also key, and that means making sure you place high quality, engaging and fully justified content in key places where traffic is high and visibility is more likely. Think about having your content on places such as Quora, Hub Pages, Squidoo, eHow.com, Bukisa, and high quality article marketing sites such as Ezine Articles, GoArticles and Article Dashboard.

The mobile web is most definitely a social web, and so it will be essential to make sure that your business takes full advantage of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (if it still exists in the future!) and Pinterest, as well as making full use of social bookmarking facilities such as Digg, Delicious, Reddit and StumbleUpon.

My main advice is this – whether we are witnessing the beginning of the end for Google, or merely a hiccough, take the recent events as a warning, and as a reminder, that Google is not impervious, it’s not immortal, and one day it will be gone, or at least largely irrelevant. Make the choice now to take action to protect your business’s online visibility and reputation so that, whatever happens to Google, your company is protected. Optimise your website for the mobile web, and take full advantage of the very changes and opportunities missed by Google.

Or, alternatively, simply create the next Google for the mobile web, and look forward to enjoying your very own Caribbean island! Don’t forget to send us an invite.

Are you concerned at all about the recent revelations regarding Google’s troubles? Have you already started to adapt your SEO strategy? How do you see the web in five years’ time, either with or without Google? Is Siri the way forward for mobile search? Please share your thoughts and comments below.