Can Google Go On Offense?

John Battelle
7 min readFeb 27

Original post on Searchblog

Last week I asked if Google was in trouble, and since then quite a few of you have reached out asking what I think the company could do to … untrouble itself. “Easy enough to declare the company is too big, too stuck in the mud, too cautious, too dependent on its cash cow,” you told me. “Much harder to advise them on what to do about it.” One of you just sighed to me on the phone, then said “it’s always been this way. No large company can escape the innovator’s dilemma.”

Well, maybe so, but wouldn’t it be fun to try? I’ve been in touch with various Googlers over the past few weeks, as I’m still working on a “What should the ads look like” piece around ChatGPT and AI-driven search (promise, it’ll be done soon). While folks at Google are polite and engaged, they’ve also given me the extended play version of “No comment” — stating it’s too early to declare the business model for conversational search. In short, they’re waiting for the market to reveal itself a bit more before making any public statements or declaring themselves all in on tech’s next big trend.

All of that makes perfect sense, if you’re in protect-and-defend mode. Protect your cash cow, defend your market position. But I find myself wondering — what would it look like if Google went on offense?

Protect and defend, spin and let jazz hands fly — that was the order of the day when Google announced its Q4 2022 earnings to Wall Street earlier this month, and when it “announced” Google Bard during a search event in Paris one week later. Google had endured a lot of bad news in the past three months — OpenAI let ChatGPT off the leash and announced a much deeper partnership with Microsoft, Google laid off 12,000 staff — its largest cut ever — and fourth quarter advertising revenues tanked. That’s plenty of ugly headlines, but then Microsoft announced Bing Chat just one week later.

So it’s understandable that the company’s tone on its Q4 earnings call was defensive. “The macroeconomic climate has become more challenging,” began CEO Sundar Pichai, before turning to an anecdote that allayed exactly no one’s concerns. “We continue to have an extraordinary business, and provide immensely valuable services for people and our partners. For example, during the World Cup Final on December 18, Google…

John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business