I just read Google and The Value of Web Supremacy, comparing Google to the history of Venice. It is a great blog post well worth a read.
Google's position on top of the web allows them to monitor any area of growth, and give themselves the first slot for any area they want to compete in. If they are uncertain of their competitive positioning they can list a couple other competitors alongside until their internal stats show their product is superior. Free exposure and free benchmarking are great advantages.
Their relevancy standards and universal search product allow them to vote for or against any type of information or company. From a business standpoint, anything they buy or launch can be tightly integrated in the search results like they did with YouTube and Google Checkout.
Their protective moat extends out from that position with the following assets
- the default video hosting platform
- the default display & contextual ad networks
- the default blog feed management company
- the leading feed reader services
- the default web analytics service
- the default mobile operating system
- the default standard for map sharing
- free payment processing for non-profits (good for public relations and a cheap way to buy market exposure)
- (soon to be) the default web development platform - Google App Engine
Given the size of that moat and diversity of their offerings, holding Google stock is like holding a mutual fund with a long position on the web. As SEOs we monitor Google too closely to talk about why and what they are penalizing and how to get ahead, but I think you can learn more about marketing by watching what they do to build their brands and dominate their markets, and try to do the same in our markets.
When you have a well known brand, a good idea, and do an aggressive launch sometimes your idea sticks as the default answer for that question. You end up owning ideas - sometimes for years. In some cases idea ownership requires extensive maintenance costs, but in many cases there is little ongoing cost.
- Even if a domain name costs $50,000 or $100,000 it is only $8 a year going forward.
- A good site design might cost $5,000, but earn you that much each month.
- Some software tools and downloads rarely need updated.
- The difference between an average blog post and a piece of feature content might only be 8 hours of production and 4 hours of marketing.
Once you have default status in a category the web's network economy works for you and works against the competition.
- if you already rank that exposure can become self-reinforcing (until someone creates a better idea)
- if you are already well known it is easy to get listed in DMOZ and get other trusted 3rd party citations
- if you have a well known brand you can charge more and be selective with who you sell to
- if you have a lot of exposure people new to your field are likely to quickly run in to you and help promote you while they learn from you
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