Sidenote: Google’s metagame

This article is the third article in my metagaming series.

Part 1: Metagaming
Part 2: The Rise and Fall of Hypertext
Part 3: Sidenote: Google’s metagame
Part 4: Step outside and play your own game

No series on internet strategies is complete without a look at the Big G.


“Satan’s biggest trick was to make the world believe he doesn’t exist.”

Laying the foundation – Send people away

Search engines are curious beasts. The success of a search engine does not lie in keeping the visitor on its pages as long as possible. To the contrary, the best search engine sends me on my way happily, because I found that elusive result at once, and not by clicking through ten result pages first.

So the faster people went away from Google, the more it grew in popularity.

So far, so good – and nothing new in search engine land.

The only remarkable thing here would be the amount of time that Google kept this up. In the year 2000 – after a full four years, first keywords were being sold.

It took another three years for Adsense to appear on the scene in 2003 – Seven years after Google launched.

At this time, people were already loyal to the Google search engine.

Starting the main game – Nothing to see here

While Google’s main game – advertising – was nothing new, they still managed to introduce it with elegance and subtlety.

The pure text ads were a welcome change to the garish animated gifs and did not disturb users of the site. Blending the ads with the rest of the SERP layout quietly and unobstrusively was genius.

Although some (not all) usability experts had held the conviction that animated ads were sub-par in performance, Google was one of the first companies to ditch them (later reincluded).

The main game – Expanding your reach, sneakily

With the introduction of Adsense for small publishers, Google opened up a trusted source for unobtrusive ads for any webmaster.

At this point, many webmasters were used to Google being the main driver of their traffic. Including Google ads into their sites was a no-brainer.

Behind the scenes, Google aquired more and more companies…

The end game – send them away, but keep them on your offerings anyway

Starting from a query (almost any query) , you will either land directly on something owned by Google (youtube, anyone?) or on a site featuring Google Ads.

Like a metastasizing tumor, Google managed to infuse their adspace all over the web.

At the same time, more and more queries are being built into dynamic content driven SERPS.

An example?

Take this query: [stock price google]

And the very first result (after a bought out spot) is Google’s finance site.

And – giving credit where it is due – that result is great! And google is expanding on these types of results, tying people into the search engine in a glorious reversal of the typical search engine strategy.

Leaving Google? Welcome to Google.