The power of building an empire upon the power of FREE is illustrated beautifully by that tiny mom and pop company: Google. While Google may be your favorite way to find web sites on the web, it’s easy to forget that Google is actually a multi BILLION dollar business and as a business, they are selling a product. That product is AD WORDS, where you pay for a featured listing in a search. While Ad Words is a source of Google’s massive income, in the beginning Google was simply a search engine. As a search engine, it was Google’s job to index and catalog the internet.
Google began generating buzz way back in the late 1990’s. At that time, when Suzie Q Public went to Google and typed in her new boyfriend’s name, she got back an incredible WEALTH of information on her new boyfriend. Because Suzie Q Public got such GREAT useable information on her potential suitors, she then began going to Google to get other information, such as where to find the hottest swim suits or what site offered music lyrics. When Google gave Suzie Q Public the results she was asking for, instead of a bunch of unrelated garbage, Suzie Q and the rest of the public began using Google as their search engine.
So in the beginning, if you created a site that was rich in keyword content, AND had lots of links to other sites (which is how people got around on the internet way back in the 90s. surfing from one hyperlink to another) Google would return your site favorably. What that meant is if you had a site that focused on music lyrics and the term “music lyrics” appeared over and over in your pages, AND other music aficionados linked to your site, your site got a better Google ranking under the keywords “music lyrics” than a site that only used the word once and had no links. After all, that was the insurance Google wanted to make sure that your page would deliver EXACTLY Suzie Q and the Publics were searching for when s/he used the search engine.
While Google was launched in 1996, it didn’t begin selling ads until four years later in the year 2000 by launching their Ad Words program. (Overture had already beaten them to the pay per click concept, but no matter. First doesn’t always win the race, especially on the internet.) In 2004, Google began offering FREE web based email, which proved to be yet another place to deliver their advertiser’s ads.
In 2005, Google reported earnings of $6,138,560,000 and their stock trades in the $400 per share neighborhood. Obviously, there’s a lot of mojo in the power of FREE!! If you have any doubts, check the number of searches done around the search term “free.” It’s no surprise that the biggest “free” search of all is for “free porn.” A huge majority of the most popular freebie searches tend to center around the sex act.
While the search for “free” continues both on and off the web, it appears retailers are weary of giving away services and wares. Finding “free” both on and off the web becomes more and more difficult. Even customer service isn’t offered for “free” by many businesses anymore.
If you’re a small retailer, this should act as a wake up call. Want to know how to compete with the Wal-Marts and other big box retailers? Offer something of value for free. Is there a service you can offer “for free” that will have your customers clamoring for more?
There’s real value in “free.” The word, though overused, still has a lot of mojo for your business if you can find a way to harness it.