WWGD: What has Google done?

Today’s announcement that Google is changing its search to integrate video, photos, text, and news with results that used to list just text on web pages is, I think, more significant than it at first seems.

This promotes other media to the exalted rank of text. And it tells publishers that they’d damned well better do the same. This is the mark of true agnosticism coming to media: You should be using whatever media best communicates information in the form the user wants.

Oh, publishers are trying. That was one of the rationales behind the Guardian’s home-page redesign last week: They want to serve video. And those publishers are scrambling to make it. But I think we’re still putting too high a wall around each medium. One thing I’m starting to learn doing the PrezVid blog is that one can use different media strung together to tell a story: text, then an embedded video, then an original video, with links all about. It’s not having text here and video over there and audio up there. It’s about using all the tools appropriately at all times.

So once again, even as we make our own articles, we should be following Google’s example and asking WWGD.

Next, this announcement throws a heavy monkey wrench into many a publisher’s SEO strategy. Until now, you structured your pages and metadata in certain magical ways and — if you were hip — got yourself linked a lot by linking out a lot and — voila — you rose into Google heaven. Now you have to figure out how to put some Google helium into your videos and photos and news headlines — all of which can now appear on the blessed search-result page.

And you also have to figure out what people get when they click on those things: where are your brand, your ads, your links? If you distribute your stuff onto more sites out there — if your video becomes a hit on YouTube and on bloggers’ embeds — does that get it higher on Google? What does this do to destination and portal strategies?

Big media people should be reaching for the gin tonight.

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Make that a double:

For Google’s pages also include maps. They’re local. Very local. Like the ads. Search on Mexican restaurants in Hoboken and you get web pages and the map with listings and much more: details the business can update, reviews, links. As of now, you won’t find an ad for Baja Mexican — but that won’t be long in coming. Look at Google’s FAQ for its local business ads. Here’s how to target to regions and cities.

So if you’re a local newspaper, you ask WWGD and what’s the answer? I’m not sure. But I think you need to have better distributed as widely as possible — across a large network of very local trusted brands (read: neighbors’ blogs) with better advertising performance and service. The more local you are, the better. The better known and trusted you are, the better. The more complete you are, the better. The more searchable you make your world, the better. The more addictive you are, the better. And then you’d better do everything you can to have your ads be found via Google whether they are on your site or others’ because not everybody’s going to come to you just because they used to. (See the smartest media quote of the year.)

* * *

Bartender, another please.

But, of course, this isn’t just about traffic and retail and directory ads. It’s about classifieds. Remember them? See today’s announcement that Boston.com and its former mortal enemy and now partner, Monster.com, are coming out with their joint job channel in June. Says PaidContent: “The move also reflects the increased competition for revenue from online classifieds, as typified by the dozen entities involved in the Yahoo Newspaper Consortium, which began as co-branding with Yahoo’s HotJobs, and rival CareerBuilder, owned by Gannett, the Tribune Company, McClatchy and Microsoft, which purchased a minority stake in it earlier this month.”

What it really represents, I say, is not just the further collapse of newspapers’ hold on classifieds but the crumbling of classifieds as a form of advertising itself. The monsters are huddling together for warmth. With better search, we’ll be able to find each other, buyer and seller, without having to go to a centralized marketplace.

It won’t be long before we see classifieds coming up in Google searches. In some ways, we do now. Search for new homes in Tampa and you’ll see ads next to that map.

So WWGD? Well, I think the best opportunity is to target not words but people. If you know that lawyers in New Jersey read this New Jersey law blog, then you have a better chance of reaching people who work in the field. You have a relationship — or rather, that blogger does and you want a relationship with him. If you know that neighbors in Montclair read this blog — and they do — then you have a place to put house and restaurant ads you sell, if you’re in a network with that blogger (who can also sell ads on your pages, by the way). But can you afford to start blogs for every town and job description in your state? Of course, not — especially not now. But it’s in your interest for them to exist. So you need to support them. How? Well, for starters, sell ads for them and promote them and figure out what else you can do for them. That’s what Google would do. Hell, that’s what Google is doing.

: LATER: Matt Law, a veteran of About.com who knows whereof he SEOs, adds in the comments that I rushed past one important impact of this:

It’s not just an issue of getting more of their “multi”media stuff to show up in the listings. They now have to worry about how all this new stuff pushes their regular web page rankings further down the page.