If Google wanted to get found in Google

Google isn’t optimized for Google. It’s optimized for searching and finding. Focus on the task of your customers and you are much more likely to get found, used and valued.

If Google was optimized for Google what would it look like? Well, for starters, there’d be a lot of content repeating the words “search engine” on the homepage. (“Welcome to Google, the home of great search; the number one search engine.”) However, if you look at the Google homepage, there is only one use of the word “search”. Quite clearly, Google has a thing or two to learn about search engine optimization.

Google is severely suffering because of its lack of search engine optimization. I just searched for “search engine” on Google and it’s not good news for Google. The first search engine to appear in the results is DuckDuckGo, Followed by Dogpile. Google isn’t even in the first ten results, which is pretty appalling. Why would that be?

Of course, everyone knows Google. But how did people get to know Google in the first place? Because right from day one Google has always had a spartan homepage website. Google has never tried to be optimized for search engines. Instead, Google has tried to optimize for searching. Big, crucial difference; and something that so many organizations get wrong.

What Google has focused on is being useful. Google has focused on being the best place in the world to find answers. Google has focused on being what it is, being what people need from it. Google doesn’t have to say it’s a search engine because the large search box makes that statement for it. The design instantly expresses the function.

In this hugely impatient world if you have to start off by describing what you are, then you are already at a major disadvantage. The functionality of your design should instantly communicate your purpose by allowing people to immediately start the top task they have come to complete.

If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple then you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple. Only those with complexity syndrome feel the need to explain that they are simple. The more you have to write about how to use your product or service, the more you have failed as a designer.

Getting found is just a tactic. What matters is what happens after you get found. What matters is what happens after people arrive, when people are there using your website or app. Findability does not lead to usability, but usability leads to findability. Because usability and usefulness are the greatest search engine optimization strategies of all. Because they tap into social findability. Other people telling other people. Because that’s how Google grew. And that’s how so many other great digital brands grew. By being useful.

So many times, I have seen search engine optimization tactics result in the creation of truly awful websites. Such tactics often achieve the goal of bringing people to the website. What happens then? People experience clutter, confusion and lots of garbage “search engine friendly” content.

The reason a website exists is not to get found. The reason a website exists is to be useful.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
Listen to episodes