With the demise of Google+, which is scheduled to 'sunset' in August 2019, it seems like a good time to review and clarify some of the myriad Google services available. In particular, those services which are relevant to businesses.
Google is primarily known as a search engine - in fact, the search engine with over 85% of market share as of July 2018 according to Statista - but it provides a bewildering number of other services which most of us use on a daily basis. Here are a few of the most well known and popular ones:
- Chrome - Google's web browser increases its popularity month on month, with nearly 60% market share in August 2018 according to Statista
- Gmail - the free browser-based email service
- Android - the operating system used in nearly all non-Apple smartphones as well as many other Linux-based systems
- YouTube - the most widely used video hosting website in the world was bought by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion
- Google Maps - many of our websites have embedded Google maps; it gives directions (by car, foot, bicycle or public transport) and it integrates with Google Street View as well as satellite images. Google Maps also display Google My Business listings which are important for organisations and businesses.
- Google Translate - the foreign language translation service offers 100 languages and can translate 37 languages via photo, 32 via voice in "conversation mode", and 27 via real-time video in "augmented reality mode". It uses a form of AI called Neural Machine Translation which is more sophisticated than many phrase-based translation systems.
- Google Photos - a photo storage, categorisation and sharing service which will no doubt become even more popular following Flickr's announcement that it will end its 1TB of free storage and limit free users to 1000 photos from January 2019.
- Google Docs, Google Books, Google Calendar among many others, not to mention hardware such as the Chromebook laptop, Wear OS watch, Google Assistant (rival to Amazon's Alexa) and countless R&D projects.
By the by, if you have a Google account and have location sharing enabled, have you looked at your Google Location Timeline? Depending on your point of view - and whether you've ever needed the data yourself - this tracking of your movements day-by-day is either terrifying or incredibly handy.
Even if you don't use location sharing, it's worth looking at Google My Activity. You can filter this by different Google services to see what ads you have ever interacted with, what voice commands you have ever given ("OK Google...") Again, this can seem more than a little creepy but at least all the data is there to be reviewed and you do have the option to have data deleted (go GDPR!)
For businesses there are some key services to be aware of:
- Google Analytics - we use Google Analytics to track visitor traffic to our websites. Google Analytics records how many visits a website gets, how visitors find the site, what software and devices they are using, how long they spend on the site, which pages they visit and a frankly bewildering amount of other information. The data is collected anonymously and tracking only works if a visitor has enabled cookies, but it's still a very powerful way to analyse how your website is performing. The service is free... apart from the invaluable data which Google gets access to.
- Google Adwords - you know those sites which appear at the top of search results with [Ad] in front? These are Google Adwords: adverts which match the keywords you have searched for in conjunction with other information such as your location. The advertiser pays if you click on the advert (a click-through), whether or not you end up buying their product or using their services. They are designed to blend into the organic i.e. unpaid search results.
As a website owner, they can be an excellent way to reach your potential audience but they can be a money pit and are usually only cost-effective if they are highly targeted. If you're a pizzeria in Lostwithiel, your money is better spent targetting those people who search for "pizza lostwithiel" rather than "takeaway cornwall" because otherwise you might end up paying for click-throughs from people in Penzance who want Chinese food*.
*note to those outside Cornwall: Lostwithiel and Penzance are 50 miles/80km apart.
- Google Adsense - the flip side of Google Adwords is that if you have a website, you can rent space on your web pages to display Google Adwords. Google will scan the content of your page and display adverts that it thinks are appropriate. As a website owner, you will get paid based on clicks so it's in your interest to make the adverts as prominent as possible; that's why sites with advertising can be frustrating to navigate. It's up to website owners to tread a careful balance between maximising advertising revenue without obscuring your own content and annoying visitors.
- Google My Business - this is a crucially important service and we encourage all our clients to register and keep their details up-to-date. First of all, you have to set up a Google My Business profile which will be displayed next to Google search results or as pins in Google Maps. The profile includes information that you provide, such as your contact details, as well as ratings and testimonials supplied by your customers. It's important to check the information is accurate and to update any details if they change. If you don't supply, for example, your opening hours, Google may provide its best guess.
Google will try to engage you as much as possible, pestering you to create business posts and upload photos regularly. It will also provide insights into what parts of your profile people are viewing. It's up to you how much of this you take any notice of; the crucial part is that your contact details are correct and available on maps and search results - and that the Google street view photo is of your business and not the car park next door!
- Google+ - ah, Google Plus. I'd like to say you'll be missed but most people probably still don't even know you exist. It was set up as a rival to Facebook (although it was never declared as such) and, in fact, I think some of its features are better. For example, the idea of Circles was that you tag your contacts into different groups and then share posts with just those groups, so that if you were looking for a plumber in your locality you didn't have to ask every single one of your followers.
The biggest problem with Google+, however, is that everyone still uses Facebook - for better or for worse. It will be shut down for consumers from August 2019. We're still proud of our 17 followers.
In summary, the full range of Google's services can seem overwhelming but many of them are widely used - including by your customers - so it's worth keeping an eye on how Google is representing you. Check out how your site appears in organic search results and in maps, set up a Google My Business profile and see what insights you can get about your website from Google Analytics. Consider Google Adwords and, if you like, give it a try for a limited time and budget.
None of these services is free - we all pay for them with the data we give to Google and the advertising that drives - but we do get access to some incredible tools as a result.