The Knowledge Era

Jonny Darling Insight 2 Comments

Two aspects of Nick Carr’s book, “The Big Switch, from Edison to Google”, strike me. They have ramifications for search marketing, as they do for our everyday lives.

1. Migration to data cloud technology
2. User profiling

1. Salesforce.com and Google are prime examples of this shift to a central grid system of data storage and software application. I now have a clear idea in my mind of how the web environment will operate. I’m already a convert to Google docs and apps. I realise that I do not need to download my mail to view it. I am happy to host my website remotely. In fact, my personal computer is almost devoid of data, it simply runs the software programmes that I use to both interact online, or work offline. Soon that will be an archaic approach. Soon all I will need is a control panel and a connection to the internet. In the case of Salesforce, I will log on, access my purchased software programmes, view and build my projects, then store everything in my personal, private databank. I will not need all the processing power, RAM, or operation system requirements currently weighing my laptop carry-case down. I’ll just need a portal to my online home. Initially that will require a type pad and screen, and inbuilt to that screen a wireless modem, but down the line, I hazard that I will not need anything physical to connect and work. Google Chrome marks the way in interaction with the web. It is a project that seeks to remove browsers’ reliance on operation systems to function. The idea eventually is that no longer will I need to boot up my Mac OS, and fire up Firefox. Instead, my machine will hibernate in Chrome-mode, an Operation System in its’ own right, the mechanics sitting above and before Windows, Linux, or Mac. I’ll no longer need to invest heavily in the hardware. It’ll all be provided free-of-charge, provided I put up with some advertising resting alongside my window into cyberspace. Nick Carr draws comparisons with the electric grid. It is fascination to look back only a few decades to a time when steam generators and individual turbines powered industry. Amazing then to realise the economies of scale achieved when businesses and households alike plugged into a central energy supply. The same is happening online. Billions of individual databundles (that’s us!) are now merging into one voluminous ball of information. We are the knowledge economy because of this shared medium. The intelligence inherent in this web community is greater than the sum of its’ parts. As artificial intelligence stages its’ arrival, control of this information will dictate who best profits from this new-age economy, and as Mr. Carr predicts, securing the content of the web will be business on a grand scale.

What does this all mean for search engine marketeers?

In a nut-shell, more mediums to optimise for and greater inter-relation between these vehicles. As Google surges ahead with PDF crawls, video transcribing, the indexing of entire libraries of books, image association and translation to text, the future is mapped out in colour. We as the end-user will place more content online, and if published for public consumption (and sometimes even if private, depending on our host), it will be spidered, and it may return in search results. One striking example is that of corporate business plans materialising for all to read online. Such is the dilemma and the opportunity for SEO specialists. The other side to it is social referral. It seems clear that Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s original PageRank algorithm still holds sway today, though the relational mathematics complicate exponentially. How one piece piece of information relates to another still signals the worth of one vis-a-vis the other. The search engine guru’s job has moved on from just web-pages. In fact, it is possible to be a very successful SEO consultant and never optimise a piece of html code. As search continues to forage for rich-media to return in search results, multi-sensory listings will appear in various forms, that is audio, video, image, documents, news, maps, calenders, products and users’ social profiles. Optimisation will be conducted by channels, from people search, to product search, traditional entertainment verticals(audio-visual), current affairs, community interaction, and individual publications, be they research, marketing, or location-based. That requires a strong presence across blogger, YouTube, Google Maps, RSS feeds, Google Docs, Google News and Google Base, to name a few. Notice how each of these portals has one overarching similarity. They are all Google-owned. The time is not far off when web content is brought under one roof and we are handed the controls (though perhaps with stabilisers and speed restrictions), much as a Google account now offers. Big question however is who will have or should have the keys to this centralised world-wide web? There’s are two conflicting forces pulling in opposing directions here. The internet is built to to be a confetti of decentralised ones and zeros, but the growing consensus, like with Edison’s electric grid, is that it needs a revamp. With regulation, comes authority, something the pioneers of the web rebelled against. Until the day comes when big brother is all-powerful, optimise by channel and inter-link these channels via the community at your disposal, the social networks.

2. The gatekeepers that I speak of above are those who understand the movements and conduct of the users of the web. Currently, it is social portals and search engines that hold all of the cards in this instance. I can say this with authority because user profiling is the output of this information filtering and analysis. Who offers the most specific, targeted demographic and intuitive personalised marketing? Search engines like Google and social hubs like Facebook and the Yahoo! content network. These giants know us, and it is coming to the point (not by chance I can tell you) that they understand our patterns, and the patterns of users “like us”, to predict our future actions online, before we make them. Case in point, predictive search. For every search and click that a user conducts, these engines receive feedback which better helps them calculate probabilities of others’ actions and of this users action in future. Armed as such, marketing can be persuasive and alarmingly accurate. Marketeers who side with this form of testing gain a competitive advantage. Access to analytics accounts is one example. Navigational paths and search query reports return an insight into your customers’ mind never before granted. Dissection reveals where users come from, what they originally came online to do, how they found the marketing element, how they interacted with it, and whether they came back for more months after initial contact. Keyword search volume has long been the pillar upon which search engine experts stood. It has been both their strength and their achilles’. I believe it is one of the principle reasons why search engine marketing continues to have a greyness associated to it. It is the intangible mixed with the exact that the lay-man cannot understand and will not stand for. Smugness was the trait-de-jour of techie know-it-alls. White is the new grey, and transparency is the holy grail. Not that I want to be see through, but the concept of an honest, and revealing client/agent relationship is gaining ground. Instead of holding the ace of spades up their sleeve, search engines are opening up search trending data to the public, with innovations such as Google Insight. It may not be even close to the whole picture, and often when drilled down to location and niche market, the data is far from telling, but the notion is applaudable. Good search marketing then will not be identifying where the truffles are and quietly trotting off to reap the harvest. The true test will not be to identify your market, align you message to it and optimise in the traditional manner. That will be assumed. It will be to live the message in the digital community, across the channels, and your success will be determined by the market response as tracked by analytics scripts. It’s much like the stock market. Sentiment will go a-long way, rather than a sneak preview to the financial accounts prior to publication.