Google's SearchWiki tools are already generating an awful lot of buzz on the Internet, but can this new functionality benefit the midmarket business owner? Yes, in many ways, said John Fairley, a senior account manager for Walker Sands Communications, a marketing communications company.
"In the short term, it's important to [small and midsize businesses] because it's going to have a lot of buzz and allows you to be at the forefront of social media," Fairley said. "If you get in early, there's first-mover advantage, which allows your company a way to get in and figure out how to understand it before your competitors do."
Google SearchWiki gives users signed into their Google accounts the ability to add, remove and rearrange search results as they appear. The tools also allow users to add notes that will always appear when that search result appears, and to see other users' notes on search results.
The SearchWiki function also represents another nail in the coffin for small companies with the mentality that consumer feedback, particularly Web-based feedback, is undesirable. "This represents an opportunity for businesses to get closer to their customers," Fairley said. "Not only should you see this as a chance to open up your own site, but use it as another channel to reach your audience by leaving messages and communicating back to your users."
Fairley said SearchWiki will be important to SMBs in the short term because smaller businesses are nimbler and don't require the sort of internal wrangling large corporations do, which allows midmarket companies to get a head start. "This is an opportunity for the midlevel companies to come in and get in an advantage," he said. "In the end, though, the crowd is going to determine that, and the crowd is wise."
It also puts extra pressure on SMBs to provide a strong product or service, in addition to running a slick Web site. SearchWiki has changed this, Fairly said, because SEO (search engine optimization) runs on algorithms. On the Web, where everyone has a voice and is rarely afraid to use it, the ability to buck the algorithm and decide on the quality of a site takes a visual twist.
From an SEO perspective, a Web site is going to have to meet users' needs better than it did before. "If a company could get a better understanding of what the algorithm liked, they tended to migrate their sites toward what the algorithm liked," Fairley said. "Now, the user is going to matter. So the quality of your Web site offering is going to matter more than it did in the past."
It will take time before the Internet community and business of all sizes realize the impact of Google's latest announcement. "In some ways, it's like being at the beginning of something again," he said. "It's the leap of faith you have to take when you jump into trusting the crowd. They're going to figure out how to use it, and the people who do use it are going to be very vocal about what they want."
Fairley suggested erring on the side of caution and taking that leap earlier rather than later. Based on the impact Google has had how we use the Internet thus far, familiarizing yourself with SearchWiki is a good idea. "There's no up-front investment cost. You can build up your presence without capital outlay; you just have to put in time," he said. "For the long haul, if you invest now, and farther down the road need to get your message out, that investment will pay off."