Is The UnGoogle Economy Viable?

Is there enough market to sustain a startup that competes directly with Google?  This is an increasingly frequent topic, as we find ourselves asking entrepreneurs and our CEOs “what if Google decided to do this?”   Back in the mid nineties, we used to ask this same question about Microsoft, as the graveyard of companies that tried to edge Microsoft became crowded.  Ironically, the answer we often get is “well, the Bings of the world can drive traffic.”  In 15 years, Microsoft, has gone from dreaded monopolist to white night.

The problem is, when it comes to search outside of Google, there is Bing, and then it drops off rather quickly to zero.  Said another way, if you are looking to organic search for customer acquisition, and Google decides to promote their competitive service in the search results, you won’t have much room to maneuver.

But there is a viable UnGoogle economy.  Whereas Google may be most of the search traffic, it comprises a small minority of total page views.  Here are the 4 best ways I have seen for startups to acquire customers with no help from Google:

  1. CPA and Affiliate Networks. This is my personal favorite.  No money up front.  Only pay on conversion.  For direct advertisers who get paid upon conversion, this is a great way to grow.  Affiliates require constant care and feeding.  But massive, instant distribution makes the effort worth it.
  2. White label/partnership with high traffic sites. Revenue share deals with 3rd tier publishers, working your way up to first tier as you grow.  These deals can take a while, and can perform poorly.  But creating a distribution network is sustainable and viable if you are creating real value for publishers.
  3. Mobile Apps. Getting more crowded, but Google doesn’t own mobile app discovery.  Going mobile instead of starting web-based is a great way to avoid getting Googled.
  4. Social Media. Facebook has traffic.  But getting social to work for you is alchemy.  If you don’t know how to do this already, don’t try to learn.  Hire someone who is steeped in the intricacies of social media buzz creation.  They are extremely hard to find, but getting less so.  Advice to graduates:  Social Media Ad Expertise.  Even better than plastics.

So there is life beyond Google.  Still, it is easier to start a business that Google is not likely to enter!


Scott Johnson/New Atlantic Ventures

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