Google's Alphabet Move: Marketing Mistake or Trend-Setting?

melissaparrishupdated"Marketer's Note" is a weekly column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving digital marketing technology ecosystem.

This week, it is written by Melissa Parrish, executive director of AdExchanger Research.

Google is rarely out of the news, but thanks to the coverage over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself thinking about the behemoth more for its brand equity and power than for its digital platforms and marketing technology.

The company’s financial restructuring under a new holding company entity called Alphabet Inc. is fascinating – and not just because we’re all trying to read between the lines and figure out what the real motivation was. Even though Google’s move is primarily geared to the business community, rather than the everyday Internet user, from a marketing point of view the rollout is marked by a few things that would be considered rookie mistakes in the hands of all but a few special companies.

First, the name was already taken – online and off. On Facebook, Alphabet has official company and product pages, as well as parody pages, so it looks like it’s covered there. On Twitter, however, it appears to be the parody account. The twitter handle @alphabetinc was already taken by a small company in Jakarta (that hadn’t tweeted a thing in a year and a half until Google’s announcement). So, as TechCrunch points out, Google’s parent had sat on @aIphabetinc – with a capital “i” instead of an l – but as I write this, Twitter has suspended that account, presumably because it looks like it’s trying to spoof a legitimate Twitter user.

Second, there’s the URL – abc.xyz. By now, everybody knows that BMW owns alphabet.com. There was a time when a company would change its name just to get a .com – see this article from Forbes in 2006 bemoaning the rise of web companies with no vowels in their names in order to secure a .com URL – but clearly this isn’t an issue for the new Alphabet Inc. What interests me most about this whole thing though isn’t whether or not it’s going to try to get BMW to give up a brand and URL it has had for almost 20 years; it’s what we’ve learned about the people interested in Alphabet Inc.

There were numerous reports that traffic to alphabet.com soared more than 5,000% after Larry Page’s announcement. But why? His blog post clearly states the new URL, so either a ton of people didn’t read the whole announcement, or they read about it from other media coverage. And then those people did something that would’ve been totally remarkable a decade ago (or two years ago if you’re my parents): They typed alphabet.com directly into their browsers. They didn’t go to google.com and search for “Alphabet Inc.” or “Google Alphabet” or even “Alphabet.com.”

Those searches would have clearly revealed that alphabet.com wasn’t where they wanted to go. So allowing for the obvious fact that people who are interested in Google news are likely more tech-savvy than the general population, can we extrapolate that the days are over when our friends and family would go to google.com and type “facebook” into the search bar instead of just typing facebook.com into the browser?

From a search visibility standpoint, Alphabet was largely undiscoverable in its first week of existence. As of early this week, about half the searches I conducted on various browsers resulted in no organic search link on the first page. (I did see some paid ads.) That makes sense, of course, because it’s a brand-new website without a lot of content. It also means that Alphabet’s marketers don’t freak out the way every other marketer would if their new brand started with zero search engine mojo.

And finally, what about that wacky .xyz domain? Alphabet gave itself a name that was already taken both online and off and then created a site at a URL that both doesn’t contain its name at all and uses a gTLD that almost nobody’s ever used before. A mistake in anybody else’s hands to be sure, but it becomes a trend in Alphabet’s: The guy who owns .xyzreports that prior to the announcement he was fielding about 3,000 requests for .xyz domains every day. Now it’s up to 20,000.

So what’s the lesson here? Don’t worry about your company name? Grab whatever URL is available? Keep your paid search budget low? I think it’s more basic than that: Power lets you push boundaries in ways that would doom a smaller brand, so it’s important to not follow their lead.

Well, that and: Register your [brand].xyz URL before a domain squatter does.

 

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