Search Engine Optimisation… What is it and why are businesses afraid of it?

Search Engine Optimisation… What is it and why are businesses afraid of it?

For those in the know, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for businesses to not want to use Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) as part of their digital marketing approach. For those that don’t, I’m going to spend a few moments to explaining what exactly a search engine is, what SEO means and pose the question: why exactly are firms so reluctant to use SEO? What does it mean for us as consumers?

Search Engine Optimisation at first glance sounds like a term that would be used to describe the optimisation of search engines themselves. It actually refers to optimising a firm’s presence in organic search engine results. So what is a search engine?

In the early days of the internet, there used to be simply pages that contained a list of servers. It was a primitive form of “web searching” but it got the job done and the “searching” aspect had to be done manually. These pages served as the forerunner of what would become the modern search engine, which contains essentially the same information only on a much larger scale and automates much of the searching process by filtering out all results by relevance when a search bar is used. The relevance of search results is determined by a multitude of complex algorithms that can predict what it is you’re searching for. A search engine in itself is simply a tool that is used to search the World Wide Web for information, such as Google. Google is the most popular search engine on the planet, with over 2 thirds of usage on desktops and over 90% usage on mobile devices. In fact, Google has been used so often that it became an official word in the Oxford Dictionary almost a decade ago and thus serves as the best example for illustration.

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Businesses have the option to simply pay other businesses to place advertisements on their websites. This is the same as traditional advertising methods we’ve seen used on billboards, T.V, radio, newspapers and magazines for decades. Little thought is put into these ads, and as we know they’re not very well targeted to individual consumers. Some customer analyses is typically undertaken to determine where to place the ad, on which channels or in which section of the newspaper or webpage or at what time of year, but everybody gets the same ad regardless of its relevance. Yet even the traditional ads have had to adapt by targeting specific consumers differently. Whilst the unique advertising models available in digital space are the cause of this shift, I feel businesses need to take it a bit more seriously.

Search engines represent one of the most used tools of the internet, yet the majority of users aren’t aware of how to control the information that is collected and aren’t fully supportive of how their behaviours are used for data collection. It represents a massive opportunity for business to capture the attention of internet users on a daily basis, however it raises privacy concerns for the end user. Many businesses sought a spot on the infamous right hand side of Google (that was recently removed in favour of a more integrated “organic” system) for example. Businesses could pay for a spot on the right hand side of the page and now this section no longer exists. This just shows how very quickly the internet is changing and how quickly a business needs to be able to adapt in order to be able to effectively reach its customers. Google is moving towards the most organic approach towards integrating ads into its searches. By organic I mean adaptive and dependent on past data, constantly evolving to direct advertisements to specific users. SEO refers to better integrating one’s website into these search results based on the true relevance to search results. Consumers are so frequently using Google that it would be no surprise that businesses would want to effectively appear first in any Google search. However, traditional pay-per click (PPC) advertising is still the more preferred form of online advertising. Why is this so?

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Rather than PPC ads, organic ads are best described as ‘hidden’ ads. SEO tends to be more expensive than PPC, yet leads to more relevant (and effective) advertisements. Based on past customer data, Google clearly knew that customers could clearly tell that the left hand section was relevant to their search and the right hand side was simply an entire distracting section full of ads. So now the ads are blended in with our search results. For now we typically know the first four or so results are just advertisements, but Google is looking into blending advertisements into the search results. This has pros and cons. The pros as always are from a business perspective: It’s encouraging businesses to optimise their websites to be the most relevant they can be for only the right search results (SEO), it’s discouraging pop-ups and click bait and making all online advertisements more efficient for both the business and the consumer: consumers can receive the right information when they need it.

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However as with everything in digital marketing, what about the ethical concerns from a consumer standpoint? The prospect that advertisements are evolving so much that it’s becoming near impossible to distinguish between the news and an advertisement is rather alarming. This is just one of many ethical concerns that need to be seriously taken into consideration in digital marketing, it raises the prospect that consumers could be manipulated into making purchase decisions they normally would not have made. It’s bad enough that a business may soon have the ability to spy on our every move online, should we not also be concerned that people may not even be able to distinguish between what is and isn’t an ad in the near future?

 

 

Everything is changing, marketing is no exception

Everything is changing, marketing is no exception

Did you know that bluetooth pegs now exist? No really, Omo has made the first “smart peg”. You peg your clothes on the clothes line and these pegs sync with your phone and tell you when your clothes are dry or when it’s going to rain. How far is too far?

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You can read more about this “smart peg” here.

For this week’s topic we were exposed to the concepts of “Big Data” and “The Internet of Things”. From my understanding of McAfee’s & Brynjolfsson’s (2012) article “Big Data: The Management Revolution”, Big Data simply refers to the mass collection of a large quantity of data gathered from various sources and pooled into massive, central, globally accessible databases that are constantly pooling together new data instantly, such as Internet Clouds. One of the biggest information collectors that comes to mind is Google. Google collects all sorts of information from almost everybody whenever they’re using their products or services. Every Google search you make, every ad you click on, every Google app you download and everything you do on it sends Google information about you, and Google sells the majority of this information to third parties (with obvious exceptions for security reasons i.e. credit card details, or such information that you specifically opted out of ‘sharing’). The amount of information that can be gathered by any business today was almost unfathomable two decades ago and the mainstream adoption of the Internet has helped make all of this possible.

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For the first time in our lives, complex algorithms can be formulated based on real, live data collected from potentially every mouse click any potential customer makes on any website. Businesses can track how long people were on a site, what they clicked on, what else they were searching for, whether they ended up making a purchase, possibly what other websites they visited prior to purchase, tracing them almost anywhere on the internet. With access to the right information, a business could effectively predict almost every move you make on the Internet. From a business’ perspective this presents an information goldmine. With each visitor to a site they gain even more data to further perfect their algorithms that predict behaviour, and work out how best to gain each person’s attention based on their behaviours and also learn a whole lot more about each customer segment. This is radically changing marketing in a positive way by giving firms access to more data but also poses more challenges in terms of how to effectively use this data. McAfee and Brynjolfsson suggest there are 5 key new challenges posed to markets: Leadership, Talent Management, Technology, Decision making and Company Culture. You can read more about these challenges in their article referenced at the end of this post.

There also comes the concern of how marketers will address ethical concerns of being able to access this information. Where does one draw the line between ‘harmless data collection’ and spying?

The “Internet of Things” is a new phrase that describes how, limited to our imaginations, information about anything, anyone or anyplace can be put and learned about and placed on the Internet, becoming part of the “things” of the Internet. With each passing year, expensive technologies are getting cheaper, more compact and more durable. Within the next few decades it may well be possible for example to have affordable smart devices for just about anything in your home. We’ve already seen Nike’s “smart” shoes (Nike+) that connect with an app that tells the wearer how many steps they’ve taken, how far they’ve run, even where they’ve been running.

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It’s technically possible for shoes (with the right sensors) to tell the wearer so much more, such as: how worn out the soles are, the estimated time the shoes need before repair or replacement, even if you have bad foot odour. Shoes could tell the temperature of your feet  or the environment around you, we’re even seeing the famous Back To The Future  II “Power Lace shoes” becoming a real product later this year (for a hefty price of course) also from Nike.

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The technology technically already exists to add anything you want to a shoe, the only thing holding back the “Internet of Things” is the technology itself: It’s not quite ready yet. It can be done however impractical it is in terms of cost and physical size. Having shoes that have all the above attributes for example would easily cost around $1,000 a pair and probably be heavy, bulky and rather uncomfortable. Fast forward a few decades though and it’s possible putting in this technology would cost a few extra dollars at best. However with almost anything the progress in the technology is mostly driven by the demand for the product. But as Steve Jobs said “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” posing the biggest challenge of all: accurately predicting what customers want before they even know they want it.

Take another example, there’s no reason why a fridge cannot sync with an app on your phone to contact nearby supermarkets, assess what’s currently inside the fridge, how empty everything is and automatically order new food items you manage with app on your phone when something runs from the store of your choosing or set for the cheapest deal or for fastest delivery. An even simpler example: There’s no reason why a car cannot sync with your smartphone and inform you of where the cheapest nearby petrol stations are when running low on fuel, using past data and trends and current global oil prices to predict when the price of fuel is most likely to go down and recommend where and when is best to refuel. There’s no reason why a car cannot tell the driver whether to avoid a certain road on their regular trip to work due to accidents, bad weather conditions or traffic, or garages that automatically open their doors whenever your car is approaching your home, using your past behaviour to predict what time you usually go to and from home, your house could even remind you to get up in the morning or when to go to bed and prepare everything you currently do yourself routinely in the morning when you wake up or in the evening when the day’s over.

The reason I say to sync with your phone is that the tech already exists within your smartphone. There’s no use integrating GPS hardware and statistical software into the car because within about 3-5 years the technology will be out of date. It would save a lot more on costs to have smart devices sync with smartphones rather than push the cost up of every single device by building unnecessary hardware into each one. It saves on cost, and it all sync up with the one device.

The potential is limitless for the “Internet of Things”. Thinking about my own life, weekday mornings never exactly change, it’s always the same routine: Get out of bed, shower and clean up, eat breakfast, pack my bags and take the same bus to take the same train to reach the same destination. It’s very predictable and can easily be catered for automatically to make it the most convenient for me. Apply it to your own mornings and think about how many aspects could be automated based on past behaviour. For the majority of people it consists of the same thing each morning, with the only variation possibly being what you pack for lunch. The “Internet of Things” does have its drawbacks however, the major concern is that of privacy. Do consumers really want a company being able know what time they get out of bed, what they do and in what order they do them in, down to the finest detail of what milk they used in what breakfast cereal and what shampoo they used and how long they spent shaving with which razor… The list could be endless. Your life suddenly doesn’t become so private, so where does one draw the line between being helpful and being invasive? If any business could chuck a few sensors on any device and analyse your behaviour, and these devices were riddled throughout your home, you’d feel like there’s a spy around you…

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In summary, the collection of Big Data, and the integration of the “Internet of Things” creates great opportunities for marketers to learn the absolute most about their customers and cater to their needs with near perfect results without limit, however we could already be headed to an age of no privacy and significant security concerns. Do we really want everybody being able to know absolutely anything about ourselves?

 

References:

McAfee, A., & Brynjolfsson, E. (2012). Big Data: The Management Revolution. (cover story). Harvard Business Review90(10), 60-68.

True access to instant information: A blessing or a curse?

True access to instant information: A blessing or a curse?

Now more than ever, we have the ability to access virtually any information we desire, at any time and at any place (provided we have a signal) thanks to the revolution of the modern smartphone. Although “smartphones” have technically been around for longer, it was only a little under a decade ago that we saw the introduction of iPhones and Android devices such as the HTC Dream which, after numerous model variations, have taken the global mobile market by storm, penetrating over a billion adopters in just 5 short years, the shortest amount of time recorded for the mainstream uptake of a new device.

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In such a short space of time, the world as we know it has changed thanks to smartphones and can be seen to improve our lives in almost every way in terms of convenience. Before smartphones became mainstream the same functions performed by them today were performed by a much larger number of separate devices. First take a look at your iOS or Android device for a moment. Don’t even touch it. The first thing you see is a mobile phone. Many of us may remember either owning one of these or seeing your parents own something similar to these as a kid: It was just a small, wireless phone that took and received calls, text messages and possibly some other basic features. Before unlocking your phone, not much has changed. Mobile phones always showed the time, how much signal you have and battery left, nothing seems fundamentally different yet.

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The moment you unlock your phone however, everything changes.

You have a touch interface, and with the majority of smartphones, you can likely count the number of physical buttons on on hand. If anyone remembers trying to do anything except text and make calls on ‘dumb phones’ you probably remember it being very cumbersome. Even texting was a nightmare, requiring either extensive key pressing just to get the right letter or resort to the classic equivalent of auto correct (which was even more prone to the incorrect usage of words than modern auto correct).

Nowadays navigating a smartphone is a snap, you literally tap what you want and it gives you the app almost instantly. Any app that spends time loading you’re likely frustrated at. Because smartphones are so instant, and are in our pockets, you have access to any of these apps within seconds. Take a few minutes to think about every app on your phone, even just on the first page, and think about how, before you had a smartphone, you would have had to access the content of said app? Modern smartphones replace a lot more devices than you initially realise. Off the top of my head smartphones replace the iPod, or if you weren’t so fortunate like myself, the portable cassette player, the digital camera, the calculator, even the Gameboy. You don’t have to use a computer to check your emails, you don’t have to use a clunky webcam for video chats, you can easily look up anything you want on the internet without having to be at a desk by a computer, you can even buy appliances and order food without having to go to a physical shop anymore.

So this is all very convenient. We have instant access to pretty much anything we want, at anytime and anyplace. From a consumer standpoint, this feels like a new blessing. There are so many things in our daily lives that have become so much simpler: we can receive any information we want in an instant. So how can this be a bad thing?

Although it has technically been available in our smartphones for a while now, the most recent feature being taken advantage of in smartphones right now is the internal GPS. No longer being used simply for live navigation, the locational services on a smartphone are being used for both our own and businesses’ benefits. With this, Kaplan (2012) outlined four different types of social media applications based on two dimensions: “Location-sensitivity” and “Time-sensitivity” as shown in the table extract below.

Kaplan Table 2Those applications which do not require GPS functionality  (the Quick and Slow timers) are the more traditional types of web content we have been used to on desktop computers, usually just ported over to the mobile platform such as the given examples of Youtube and Wikipedia. These two have had a user interface change to better suit a mobile screen, however function pretty much the same way as their normal counterparts. Those that do (the Space timers and locators) are the ones that take advantage of the additional functionality locational services brings to the application.

There are a rising number of businesses that are using these locational services, provided by social media apps such as FaceBook to market to consumers more than ever. This can be seen as a good thing. Many nearby restaurant locations may pop up around lunch and dinner times. Whenever you google a venue now, the first link to pop up typically has directions and links to menus and prices of the food available right at the click of the button. FaceBook tells you when your friends are attending an event near you, and reminds you of special events you have marked as “attending” (to let others know where you will be). This represents a drastic change in how marketers are now able to tap into consumers’ lives and gain their attention. We have instant access to the information we desire, so do marketers, as they too can now know who is coming to their events, and know as much information about you as you publicly give.

Any business now has the ability to discover where their customers or potential customers are at any point in time. Whilst this can be beneficial to the consumer in displaying relevant advertisements there are issues concerning privacy. Do you feel it’s potentially wrong that marketers are able to know where you are every moment of the day, knowing how long you spent where, what stores you entered, what you bought, what you do and don’t like, political or religious views, spending habits, and so forth? Or do you feel that this information is harmless and simply represents how the world is changing as you can still opt out of these locational services, thus is still the consumer’s choice as to what marketers know about them? After all if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about… right?

Let me know how you feel about this issue in the comments below!

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References: Kaplan, Andreas M. (2012). “If you love something, let it go mobile: Mobile marketing and mobile social media 4×4. Business Horizons, Vol. 55(2), 129-139