It's nearly impossible to overstate Google's place in our industry. The company touches just about every aspect of marketing. Name the channel, and Google is there. But while Google gets a lot of attention for the big things -- search, YouTube, etc. -- it flies somewhat under the radar when it comes to providing tools for marketers.
"It's almost like you have to know a guy to know [some of these tools] exist," says Joe Germscheid, director of consumer engagement at Carmichael Lynch. "They don't get talked about often, but they're good resources."
Some of the tools on this list may be entirely new to you. Others you've probably heard of, although you may not have used them in the way described. But as with anything Google, it's almost impossible to be totally comprehensive. There are just too many products. So if we've missed a Google tool you find essential, share it in the comments.
Call it the granddaddy of marketing suites. Google Think Insights is so big that it actually houses several of the tools discussed later on. But the portal is a must-use for any marketer, says Germscheid.
"It is chock full of marketing industry trends, case studies and even live tools to get at research that might help you write a deck or sell an idea," says Germscheid. "They curate content like guest authored articles and case studies from successful advertising programs featured in their Creative Sandbox."
If there's a downside to Think Insights, says Germscheid, it's that the portal can feel like a sales pitch at times, but he points out, "it represents a fast and robust way to drill down by industry to find some examples and inspiration."
Did you know that 83 percent of U.S. smartphone users use their smartphones in-store? Maybe you did. But did you know that I pulled that handy little stat from Google's Mobile Planet?
"Google's Mobile Planet is a place where you can go to get facts and figures about mobile consumers around the world," says Germscheid. "The site is cool because you not only look up your custom inquiry, but it builds you a nifty graph or chart with the answers to your question."
And it's not just Google's take on mobile. The data is based on a worldwide study commissioned by Ipsos MediaCT in partnership with the Mobile Marketing Association and the IAB. Mobile Planet is part of Google's Think Insights.
Collaboration by Google
We often talk about the need to breakout of the silos, and sometimes we talk about how to do it. But usually, the how in that equation is a question of strategy, which sometimes overlooks the basic mechanics of actually getting multiple people literally on the same page.
Enter Docs, Hangouts, and Gmail. Sure, there are other collaboration tools out there, but a lot of agencies see the combination of all three as the best way to link up teams across disciplines and time zones.
"As pedantic as it may seem to those who already use and take them for granted, Google's collaboration tools are the glue that binds our marketing organization together," says Tony Winders, SVP of marketing at GumGum. "Google Docs lets creative minds meld 24/7, Hangouts connect us minute-by-minute and Gmail covers everything in between. The fact that it's all searchable is just icing on the cake."
Google's Databoard is part of Think Insights, and it's an especially useful tool for marketers, according to Joseph Tam, senior director, digital, MEC North America.
"The Databoard is an excellent tool devoted to helping just about anyone capture that hard to find quote, statistic, graph, chart or data visualization needed to identify or support that latest consumer trend transforming the marketing landscape," says Tam.
If you've got a team of top-notch data visualization specialists, the utility of Databoard may begin and end with the data. But if it's on you to visualize that data, Tam says you can't do much better than the "Build Your Infographic" tool in Databoard.
"The Build Your Infographic feature is particularly brilliant and easy to use, mimicking the ubiquitous shopping cart functionality to assemble a customized collection of research visuals ready to share with your social network of choice or for that pressing presentation you're crafting," Tam says.
Maybe it's me, but Google Alerts seems popular with journalists and publicists but rather unknown to the rest of the world. That should change because Alerts is probably the best way to track any topic.
"[We use] Google Alerts daily to keep a pulse on what is being said about clients on the web and more importantly to monitor for new backlinks that Google identifies since backlinks are so important to a company's overall search ranking," says Shawn Rosko, digital marketing director at Overit.
Alerts are easy to set up, simple to manage, and Google will push them to your email whenever you like.
We'd be lost without tags. More importantly, our marketing would never be found without tags. But in the past, updating your website's tags probably involved a call, email, and follow-up call to your IT department. But with the arrival of Google Tag Manager, the process has been streamlined.
"Without a doubt, the most useful tool for me recently is Google Tag Manager," says Jonathan Lawoyin, director of digital marketing, Ready Set Rocket. "GTM has become a game changer for marketing managers and digital strategists, who need to constantly test and deploy tags for optimization and tracking purposes. As long as you have the GTM container implemented on your site, you can add new tags in a matter of minutes in the GTM interface, and set up rules around when the tags should and should not be fired."
"This update is also a major timesaver because we don't have to reach out to IT to get them to add event tracking code to elements on a page anymore," says Lawoyin.
Google Webmasters is hardly a secret, but it's an essential tool for anyone who is responsible for the optimization of a website, whether an outside agency or someone in-house at the brand, according to Navneet Virk, VP of optimization at Isobar.
"Before Google introduced the tool, any information about how Google accesses and views a brand site was pretty hard to come by," says Virk. "There were some third party Google simulators, but the information was often incorrect or unreliable. That led to misinformation and in some cases, SEO companies took advantage of the situation. With the launch of Google Webmasters, Google directly addressed the need for brands to understand how Google views their site."
According to Virk, Webmasters is a product that regularly gets solid updates, which only adds to its utility.
"Since launch, Google has continued to add more features into the tool," says Virk. "For instance you can check if Google sees any security issues, if there are any crawl errors or unintended blocked URLs, test structured data markup, submit site maps, etc."
Built primarily as a consumer-facing tourism tool, Google's Sightsmap (not to be confused with sitemap) is one of those little-known tools that a clever marketer could take advantage of to create something cool and unique.
"[Sightsmap] uses photos taken in real-time from our world to create hot spots of places that are hot right now," says Cillian Kieran, CEO and founder of CKSK. "It shows trending geographies but could also be leveraged for more interesting insights around large live events such as the Super Bowl."
If you've ever seen an awkward bot message and wondered what that brand was thinking, Scripts might be the solution for you. Bots, after all, are like fire-and-forget messages. They can be launched and recalled, but they aren't going to adjust to a culture that changes in an instant. Scripts, on the other hand, is a tool that allows marketers to program automated changes based on factors outside the Google environment that affect consumers' search behavior.
Think of it like a social media war room, says Jason Hartley, group media director and search marketing practice lead at 360i. Only instead of a rapid human response, marketers can pre-set parameters for deploying a specific message.
"While the system is automatic, it is based on a set of rules generated by our team's insights into the consumer, the brand and a deep understanding of search," says Hartley.
As an example, Hartley says a brand might use a third-party weather API. If the weather conditions change in a specific location, Scripts would automatically fire off a message to purchase an umbrella or snowshoes.
Naturally, the more data marketers can leverage, the more a tool like Scripts could come into play in the future, allowing brands to deliver specific messages at just the right time.
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.