If your model relies on Google, you'd better have a Plan B

First of all, hello! This is my first post for the Network World Google Subnet. I'm delighted to start this conversation, I welcome your comments, and I look forward to having some good hearty debates with you. Now let's get down to business. Specifically, yours. More specifically, your business that is what it is thanks to The Financial Ecosystem That Is Google: your AdSense business, your affiliate business, your online whitepaper-downloading business. No, Google isn't about to go under. Yes, Google's search share continues to grow (72% of US Internet searches in February, or so says Hitwise. No, Twitter hasn't begun to monetize yet. So why should you be considering your options? The answer is simple, as any halfway decent project manager would tell you: it's because you always need a risk strategy. And Google is a risk to your business for two reasons:

  1. Google is gigantic.
  2. You're not.

Consider Firefox. Firefox has around 22% of the global browser market. That's a lot of browsers, but unfortunately there's no money to be had in selling browsers -- we all expect to get them for free. Instead, Firefox makes its money (or nearly 90% of it) selling space on its home page and toolbar to Google. But Google is gigantic. And Firefox, even with around 22% of the global browser market, is not. So what happens? Gigantic Google decides it wants its very own browser, and out comes Chrome. Reading the writing on the wall, Mozilla Foundation chair Mitchell Baker wisely starts to look for partner alternatives, even though Google hasn't yet made any indication of not renewing the Firefox contract. Does Google care about an almost $70 million a year relationship with Firefox? Probably, but here's something to help us keep a bit of perspective: in 2008, Google earned well over $100 million every two days. So if your relationship with Google is core to your business model, you may wish to take a page out of Mozilla's book and get yourself a backup plan. To start you off, here are four commonly accepted strategies for dealing with risk:

  1. Avoid the risk. Imagine the worst that could happen, and then take steps to prevent it. It won't work for you and Google, though, any more than it worked for Captain Ahab and the whale.
  2. Transfer the risk. Make it someone else's problem, generally through the use of insurance. Oh, and be sure to let me know if you find someone who will insure you against Google pulling the rug out from under your business.
  3. Accept the risk. Kick back, pour yourself a drink, and don't think about what's going to happen when Google disables your AdSense account for no reason.
  4. Mitigate the risk. Reduce its impact. Find partner alternatives. Explore other sources of revenue. Expand your options. In other words, just be smart.

I think it's pretty obvious which strategy I'd go for. Which one are you likely to use?

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