In 2006 Google bought YouTube for $1.6bn. At first this made a lot of sense: the largest text search engine purchased a major video host. Google are very quiet about the fact that YouTube has yet to break any major profit which leaves the obvious question – why would Google own YouTube if their motivation isn’t profit? The answer may make be the key to understanding Google – and Google understanding us.
In the past two years Google have recorded a whopping $7,000,000,000 in revenue. It would be fair to say with over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute servers must cost a mint.
They give their partners 50% of the profit made from their videos and (to date) have built 5 state of the art content creation studios: YouTube space – If profit was their goal they would be in profit by now.
As a search engine the most important thing for Google to stay ahead of their competitors is understanding their users. Google are brilliant at creating complementary technology. By owning YouTube Google are able to provide video listings to people making searches. This alone isn’t a reason for them to make the acquisition. Buying out a whole company just to be able to access their data is a fairly extreme step.
In 2007 when Google took ownership of YouTube Google had far less content of their own then they do today – every single video on YouTube is now partially Google’s content. They profit both by advertising this content and by advertising on this content. What’s more important is what they can learn from how you use this content.
YouTube is an early example of Google investing in the future – which they are still doing a huge amount today with artificial intelligence, robotics and global internet just three examples. Thinking logically about their acquisitions and investments it’s usually quite obvious where the benefit is.
If a search engine can think, learn and understand it will give much better results and higher levels of user satisfaction. If more people globally have access to the internet Google will gain more users. Owning YouTube means Google can better understand video content and also more about the pages that have videos embedded in them. It also gives Google a bigger usergroup and another platform to test how well they understand their users.
How Owning YouTube helps Google Learn
YouTube categorises video “channels” into classes – news, gaming, TV and movies for example. By measuring how much of a video you watch YouTube can get a rough idea of whether you liked the content of the video, and if you are interested in this kind of content or not.
Put YouTube’s auto generated subtitles on and see just how bad they are at understanding speech. Speech is the easiest to interpret aspect of most videos so clearly Google don’t have an engine or algorithm that can understand and classify their videos directly based on content.
YouTube keeps its users engaged through recommendations based on previous content that you have viewed and similar video’s to what you have just watched. YouTube learns through profiling. If you follow these recommendations YouTube gets a better idea of what you like and gives more accurate recommendations. If you watch a recommendation through, it is relevant, if nobody watches a recommendation chances are it’s not relevant to anything.
Over the last decade YouTube has got a very good idea of what makes a video popular to its users. It would be naive to think that YouTube wouldn’t share these profiles with their parent company.
Lots of pages now embed video. This is the most direct way which Google uses YouTube to understand (webpages, users and the internet in general). Owning YouTube lets Google use any information they have learned about the content of the video through YouTube, and the demographics of users who watch videos to make their searches more accurate.
If you are signed in to Google+ or a YouTube account you are able to rate videos and subscribe to channels directly saying to Google “I like this type of content”. This way YouTube can get a better idea of your interests and they are used in the wider Google empire.
Your interests are saved into a central Google profile and this is used for advertising preferences. So although Google may not yet be getting direct advertising profit from YouTube, indirectly it is giving value to their customers by making their adverts more accurate and as a result more valuable.
On some level, through YouTube, Google is able to understand its users. For example –Google analytics uses profiles to very accurately give information on whether a website’s actual user group matches its target user group. Google news also uses these profiles so it is fair to say that the usage is widespread, although it isn’t certain how widespread.
By looking how Google’s products interact with each other I believe we can learn a lot. Google has identified I am a fan of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and recently watched a few video’s on their YouTube channel. I am also interested in Search Engines (Google). Now look at my personalised Google news results:
Remembering that Google can’t directly understand the content of videos they have a pretty clear idea of what I like and that must come from my viewing habits. Try it yourself – watch some videos on YouTube then see how Google news adjusts for you.
YouTube gets some information from video titles and descriptions but that is far from the full picture. The network Google has created with YouTube’s recommendations draws links between which content is popular with what demographic to give accurate recommendations – virtual intelligence. In a way it works like a brain, YouTube is constantly building connections between subjects.
What is harder to know is how they might use this intelligence in their organic search. If they aren’t currently using these profiles for organic search it’s only a matter of time – with Analytics, YouTube, Adwords and Google news these profiles have proven their value.
Unfortunately Google like to keep their organic search algorithms as secret as possible. In 2013 Google launched an algorithm called “Hummingbird”. This update was designed to gain understanding of words within search phrases. Instead of finding pages where some words in a phrase are used Hummingbird was designed to understand the meaning (context) of the phrase itself to create a much more relevant search result.
YouTube and the Semantic Web
We know Google’s goal in creating Hummingbird was to gain understanding. We are able to see the effects of Hummingbird by looking at how Google’s SERPs changed in 2013 around the time of the update. What we don’t really have any clue about is how Hummingbird works, so although this is pure speculation I would be very surprised if Hummingbird wasn’t somehow linked to Google’s non organic products.
Semantics are subjective so Google had to have spent some time on their algorithm because when it rolled out it affected more than 90% of websites. Without spending time to understand their users Hummingbird would have made Google far less accurate.
We know YouTube gave Google a platform to learn about their users, how their interact with content and what that can tell them about their interests. By 2013 Google would have had 6+ years to look at how users interact with videos and learn from this information.
What we are looking at is a chicken/egg situation. Hummingbird had to start gaining understanding somehow. I believe that Google started to learn initially through YouTube/Google+/News/Chrome. All these platforms offered some kind of personalised recommendation long before Hummingbird was officially announced. Using these platforms Google could test whether, and to what extent they understood their usergroup.
The more niche services that Google offer build a more accurate picture of their users. When Google are able to say “this demographic is interested in a particular kind of content” with a good degree of accuracy they are likely to start serving personalised results. It’s only a matter of time before user profiles affect organic search – if they aren’t already.
Google encourages networking as a growth method because that is how they grow themselves. Google uses links between videos to understand what will be a relevant result to who, in the same way organically they use hyperlinks to understand what a page is about.
Video SEO has grown year on year so if you are interested in marketing, or giving your YouTube channel a boost you must network. Building relevant links from channels on YouTube or from live websites helps Google understand your content. With understanding they can classify it and with classification they can rank it. Networking and building links helps you rank better while helping Google learn to become more accurate.
Undeniably Google their fingers in many pies. Every niche which Google expand into generate them users which they can use for whatever end the wish (generally to advertise or to make advertising more accurate if you are looking at a purely profit goal.)
YouTube appears to be hugely effective platform for Google to gain understanding of their users, and maybe the internet as a whole – not profiting from one part of their empire seems like a small price to pay.
You can be sure that if you let Google profile you, they will. Chrome is a hugely powerful tool which they are able to mine data from – and remember Google are one of the largest data mining companies. Video has had a steadily stronger effect on SEO over the past few years, that much is certain. The possible formative effect on hummingbird is just my opinion.
Did Google take ownership of YouTube to improve their search quality and gain understanding of the web in the first place, or did they just want to purchase a new search engine? Please let me know what you think in the comments.
This article is a followup too – How to rank on the cluttered web – Give it a read if you are interested in search or want to help your website rank better on Google.