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Revisiting How to Escape Big Tech’s Web (Thinks Out Loud)

Screenshot of Google's Search Generative Experience to illustrate the idea of escaping Big Tech's web

Big Tech relentlessly seeks to get between you and your customers. They spin the web… and we get caught in it. How can you build a brand that customers want to search for by name? How can you connect with customers in ways that are both scalable and human? In short, how can you escape Big Tech’s web?

That’s what this episode of the Thinks Out Loud podcast is all about. We take a look at the necessary steps you must take to use Big Tech the right way… and begin to connect with customers without paying tolls to the gatekeepers of Big Tech.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you…

Revisiting How to Escape Big Tech’s Web (Thinks Out Loud) Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

You might also enjoy this webinar I recently participated in with Miles Partnership that looked at "The Power of Generative AI and ChatGPT: What It Means for Tourism & Hospitality" here:

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Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Shure SM7B Vocal Dynamic Microphone and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 23m 55s

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Transcript: Revisiting How to Escape Big Tech’s Web

Well, hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 395 of The Big Show. And thank you so much for tuning in. I genuinely appreciate it. I think we’ve got a really cool show for you today. So, there is a lot to talk about.

If you’re like many people, if you’re like many businesses, it can feel sometimes like you are caught in Big Tech’s web. And what’s really important is thinking about how do we escape from Big Tech’s web? How do we escape from being caught this way? Think about it. You depend on some member of Big Tech — the AGFAM, whatever you want to call them — or several for traffic and revenues to your website.

Maybe you get organic traffic from Google or Facebook or Instagram or TikTok. Maybe you buy ads for them. Again, that could be Google or Facebook or Instagram or TikTok or Amazon if you’re doing a paid placement or, you know, Expedia or or DoorDash if you’re doing a preferred placement. Maybe you sell products through them, whether it’s Amazon or Facebook or or DoorDash or, I don’t know, TikTok or Google.

Wait, notice how the same names keep coming up again and again and again?

There’s a couple of reasons why you want out. The first is, You never want to put all your eggs in one basket. You never want to put all your business in one party’s web. It’s just not a good way to live, right?

Don’t build your brand on rented land. By the way, you know, there are people who will tell you don’t build your band brand on rented land. I’m one of those people. That doesn’t mean don’t use them to reach customers you can’t reach on your own or you haven’t figured out a better way to reach on your own.

It’s okay to connect with customers the first time through these tools. What’s also true is that they are expensive. If you’re using them to connect with your customers the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time, that’s really going to eat into your profits. One study found that Amazon’s share of sales from merchants on its platform can reach as high as 50%. YouTubers might only get 42 percent of the money that they make after YouTube and Apple take their cuts. And the same is true whether you’re using people like Google, whether you’re using people like Facebook or Instagram, you’re paying to reach those customers.

And again, if you’re paying once, no big whoop. But if you’re paying again and again and again, it’s just slowly, slowly eating away your profitability. The other challenge that you could have with having all your eggs in one basket or all your business on one web is that they could fail, they could stumble. I have talked before about how would you build your business if Google didn’t exist?

And my point isn’t that Google’s going to go away or that Facebook’s going to go away or that, you know, Amazon is going to go away. It’s that if they take a hit, you could take a big hit, too. Let’s look at Google just as one example. Why Google? Well, one, they’re the biggest. You’re probably doing something with them regardless of any other channel you use.

And in fact, whatever channels you use that aren’t Google, they themselves be relying on Google. So you’ve got some exposure there regardless. We know for sure organic traffic is going down. We see this in the way Google manages its search results, where organic placements are getting shoved further down the page for things like ads or the knowledge graph.

We know that things like Search Generative Experience, Google’s new AI tool, is making that more likely with more promoted placements within the results and more answers in the results. And that almost certainly leads to fewer clicks for you. Similarly, we know that Google is raising their CPCs. This just came up the other day in a discussion with investors, and I will link to this in the show notes.

But they are raising the CPC, the cost per click that companies pay, because they want to make more revenue. They need to make more revenue to further their own growth. Well, where do you think those CPCs come from? They come from you, or they come from the providers who you’re selling through, or who you’re marketing through, which is only going to raise your cost in the longer term.

So no matter how you slice it, that’s going to have an effect on you. They also face increased competition. Again, I’m talking about Google at the moment, but think about this. This could be true for anybody. We’ve seen Amazon do an enormous amount of work to try to get better at getting customers to start their search with them.

We’ve seen that ChatGPT has grown dramatically since its introduction, what, maybe eight, nine months ago. We’ve seen that Bing is making enormous inroads in its product capabilities to offer a better experience and pull people away from Google. Thank you. And we know that there are a lot of younger users who reach for TikTok first, and I’m going to come back to this more later, but Google’s facing huge competitive threats in a way that it really hasn’t for the last, oh, I don’t know, 15 years or so, that make them more vulnerable than they’ve been.

Separately, they’re in the middle of a really large antitrust trial. That even if they win is likely to distract them. And again, I’m going to link in the show notes to some really good write ups about what’s happening there. You should definitely pay attention to it because it could have an effect on your business.

What’s undoubtedly true is that it’s, it is a distraction for Google, one way or the other. And of course, the last big threat to Google is complacency. Now, to be fair, I don’t see this happening to Google at the moment. I think their competitors, whether it’s ChatGPT or Amazon or Big or TikTok, have shaken them out of any slumber they may have been in prior to now.

What’s also true is that they’re going to have to figure out how to monetize new types of search. Again, I was mentioning search generative experience a moment ago. They haven’t quite figured out how to make money there yet. And they haven’t quite figured out the balance. Sundar Pichai was just talking about this the other day that they haven’t quite got that solved.

And that could cause problems for them in terms of the revenues that they make or the profits that they make and could really emphasize that they’re going to put it could really force them to put more emphasis on paid within it, which again is only going to raise your costs. I’ve talked about this on several episodes in the past.

But one of the things you want to remember is that Microsoft or ChatGPT don’t have to win for Google to lose. Google gets so much of its money from one or maybe two sources, you know, advertising and especially search advertising, that those revenues could take a big hit even if they retain the lion’s share of search traffic.

Bing, ChatGPT, or somebody else eating 10 to 15 percent of their traffic would be a massive blow to Google’s revenues and profits and they would need to do something either increase the share of ads that they show the ad load in any search result or emphasize those ads more, more aggressively or jack up the price they’re charging for any ad within that specific ad load.

Or some combination of all of the above to make sure that they offset any hit to their profits. All of those mean less organic traffic for you, more cost for you, and a tougher time reaching your customers for you. And that’s the reason we’re talking about this. Now, you might be saying right now, Tim, you’re crazy.

This isn’t going to happen. And you might be right. Google, for instance, has one huge thing in their behavior. They have customer behavior in their favor. It has been true for quite a few years that customers start on Google. They reach for their phone and they search for what their need is.

Traditionally, they have searched for an answer to their problem. You know the saying, "your customers don’t want a drill, they want a hole." What’s also true is that increasingly they’re searching for something they’ve seen elsewhere. This is where TikTok is a bit more of a threat than I let on a moment ago when I first brought them up.

Lots of young people are starting their day on TikTok. They’re not reaching for Google first. They’re not looking at Google News. They’re not, you know, searching for something to do. They’re not watching as many videos on YouTube. And I want to be fair, YouTube is still growing like crazy, but it may not be their first destination.

They’re using TikTok to see what’s cool, what’s happening, what’s trending. In relatively short order, TikTok has become the 14th most visited site on the internet. By contrast, Amazon is 12th, and they’ve been at this a lot longer. Right? So is TikTok a threat to Google’s dominance? Possibly. You know, probably not.

But possibly, and in a way we haven’t seen before. The reason I’m not all in on TikTok is one, it’s great for entertainment and commerce, but it’s not likely to be the place people go for everything. You know, if there’s an example where, oh, where’s the nearest hospital or I need help right now, or, you know, I need gift ideas or things like that.

Usually something like Google or Amazon might be a better answer. Second, Google also owns YouTube. That is the second most visited site after Google itself. YouTube absolutely captures some of the same audience and some of the same traffic that TikTok does. For that matter, so does Instagram, which is also among the top five sites people visit.

And then last, of course, is their ownership situation. You know, there is some concern about Tos ownership, the, the relationship of the owners between TOS owners and the Chinese government. I don’t think that’s going to be a huge deal, but people are getting more concerned about privacy. That could be something that hurts them.

Given TikTok’s moves into commerce and shopping, they actually seem more like a threat to Amazon than Google, at least in my view. That, I could change my mind about this, and I certainly will if the data shifts. But right now, I would think that’s the bigger, you know, head to head battle. It’s also another reason that I think Amazon is likely to launch even more consumer oriented search features.

They just announced a whole host of interesting search features over the last couple of weeks on mobile, and I will link to those in the show notes, with the idea being that they want customers to go there as opposed to going to Google or, I suspect, TikTok. The point is, depending on any one gatekeeper, whether it’s Google or whomever you might want to substitute, is not sustainable for your brand or business over the long term.

It’s getting more expensive, it’s getting harder to reach people organically, and it’s going to cost you a lot more money in the long run. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. You don’t want to put all your business in one web. So the question becomes, what do you do about it? What do you do to escape from their web?

Well, to start with the most obvious, don’t depend on any one site. You don’t want to think in terms of Google, or TikTok, or YouTube, or Amazon, or Booking. com, or LinkedIn. You want to think in terms of Google and TikTok and YouTube and Instagram Do you get the idea you want to? You want to try to reach customers in all of the places that they are, and I don’t mean every single place, but the right set of places for your customers.

We’ve talked many times on this show about a hub and spoke strategy. Where are the spokes where your customers live, and are you there so that you’re not dependent on any one spoke, but you use all of those to lead traffic back to your hub, to your website, to your mobile app, to your email list. The next thing you want to do is get customers to search for you by name.

You want to build content that makes you the trusted authority in your area of expertise. You want to be known for what you do. You want to be seen as the company that helps solve your customers problems for the things that you do well. You’re trying to get customers to seek you out because they know you.

And only you are the right answer for the problem that they have in this immediate moment. Yes, you’re going to get some top of funnel search where people are searching for, to solve a specific problem. But when you, when they’re ready to buy, you want them to ask for you by your name specifically. One of the ways you do that is you’ve got to take great care of customers who connect with you already.

Thank you. That’s how you build a community. That’s how you build a relationship with people who come back to you again and again and again without having to go to a gatekeeper, without having to go to one of the big tech firms. It’s how you build a secret sales force. Your customers tell a positive story on your behalf.

I use the example all the time. Imagine you get 10 customers a day and they buy from you, you know, 350 days out of the year, right? You’re going to have some days where you’re closed or things along those lines. Well, those customers have about 200 friends and family and fans and followers on social media.

So 300 people. Excuse me, 10 sales a day for 300 days reaching up to 200 people gives you an enormous, enormous audience. You’re talking about a potential audience of nearly 600, 000 people. Now we all know that really, maybe only 10 percent of those people will post something. And maybe only 10 percent of their friends and family and fans and followers will see something.

That still means you’re going to reach an audience of 6, 000 people because you took good care of your customers. And if only 1 percent of those folks buy, that’s about 60 sales. Now remember, if you’re doing 10 sales a day, that’s the equivalent of maybe a week’s worth of sales just by taking care of your customers.

That’s how you build a secret sales force. The last thing I would say here, and this is going to sound crazy coming from me, but don’t depend too much on analytics. I’m going to be honest, this is a tough one for me to say out loud. I have built my career on analytics and measurement. I’m using those tools to get smarter and get better at what my company does, what my clients companies do.

I’m not suggesting to completely ignore your analytics. Not at all. I’m saying let a thousand flowers bloom. Don’t feel like you need to be able to get the exact ROI down to the penny on every single different tactic, especially when you’re first trying them out. Try a bunch of different tactics and see what happens to your business overall.

Is your overall traffic going up? Are you seeing an increase in people searching for your brand name using things like Google Search Console? Are your revenues and profits going up? Right? Those are going to tell you whether or not your marketing is working. I had a discussion the other day with a potential client who said, I see you everywhere.

Not! I read that one post on Twitter or that one post on LinkedIn. No, he said, I see you everywhere. Why? Because we’re trying to be a lot of different places where our clients congregate. Clients of mine see the same thing. Some of their paid ads don’t have a great return on investment, don’t have the best ROI.

But we’ve measured and proven that when we turn those off, sales suffer in the longer term. They’re buying traffic at the top of the funnel that quote unquote doesn’t convert. But that traffic returns closer to purchase using a branded term, or coming direct to their website, or clicking a link in an email they’ve received.

None of which would have happened. If the customer hadn’t clicked on a quote unquote non performing ad earlier in their process. In short, you’ll know when your marketing works when you can’t tell where all of your business comes from. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. You’re not trying to measure every penny.

You’re trying to measure the overall pot of gold. Now, if any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s something I’ve talked about before. It’s this idea of content is king. Use it to tell a story about what you do better than anybody. Think in terms of customer experiences queen, because that’s how you build a secret sales force and how you build a community of people who care about your brand as much as you do.

And data is your crown jewels because that’s what we’ll show you when you’re getting it right. It doesn’t, you don’t have to have perfect data, you just have to have data that gives you a good sense of are we moving in the right direction. And if you do all of those things well, Then you’re setting yourself up to escape from big tech’s web.

You’re setting yourself up to build a sustainable business for the long term that does not depend on gatekeepers. And you’re setting yourself up for long term success.

Show Wrap-Up and Credits

Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. As always, I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 395.

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Show Outro

Finally, I want to say thank you so much for tuning in and for participating and for being part of this community.

I know I say this just about every week, but I would not do this show without you. Your support, your listenership, your comments, your conversation, the community you are helping us build here means so much to me. So please, keep the tweets coming, keep the messages coming on LinkedIn, keep the emails coming. I love getting a chance to chat with you and hear what’s on your mind and learn how we can make this a better community together.

So with all of that said, I hope you have a fantastic rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time.

Until then, please be well, be safe, and as always, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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