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The Future of SEO?

by Martin on Apr.13, 2010, under Articles by Martin, Blog

The game might soon be changing for search optimisation…

I was reading with interest in this week’s Marketing Week. A very interesting article detailing the recent developments in ’social search’, and brands now focusing more on ensuring that their marketing activity includes blogs and social media, since Google is now increasing the importance of this user generated content and social media activity in ranking your site. Thanks for the huge rise in mobile search and publishing, Google now ranks tweets among the usual search results, so clearly, the definition of ‘relevancy’ is shifting.

The strategy of the week for marketers now appears to be that instead of competing for search supremacy, they’re trying to target the influencers, making them ‘brand advocates’ using social media at a more grassroots level, according to the article. That’s quite an audacious strategy, as we already know that using social media as a non-value-added one-way marketing channel is bound to fail, and slam your reputation.

What’s more concerning, though, isn’t these changes in what’s ranked, but something somewhat outside the brand’s control. A site’s ranking will soon differ depending on who searches! Google is now moving search along a step further in its relentless quest for relevancy.
Just as we thought Google wasn’t getting more scary, the search algorithm now analyses the activity of an individual users’ social profiles and past search history, and uses this as a heuristic to make a guess at what it thinks you’re looking for. So a site’s ranking cannot be consistent or absolute anymore. Bad news for SEO consultants.
The crucial thing is that search optimisation and ranking are being brought closer to the whole business strategy itself; on-line marketing strategy will just become the strategy, perhaps finally closing the disparity.

Of course, there are upsides and downsides, depending on who you are.

This could mean that only people who are actually interested in your product or brand will find your site, indeed if it’s optimised and if Google ‘guesses’ correctly and lets you see it!
I would expect this kind of intelligent search to become more accurate over time, perhaps harnessing crowd intelligence of many users terms to help the process.
So that should surely mean a better conversion rate, and better relevancy for a more narrow set of key words. It’s great for consumers as one would find what they’re looking for more quickly.

However, it could mean that businesses who are entirely internet-based, may need to go as far as revising their very strategy, becoming more focused in exactly the market they’re aimed at or the products they stock; it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to expect a reduced amount of traffic for a poorly-focused marketing strategy.

Rolling with it…

As I said, this could be bad news for SEO consultancies, who may soon have much-reduced control over a site’s exposure. Perhaps the scope of their job needs to change instead if they’re to remain relevant in future.

Businesses have to innovate to stay ahead, and if they don’t, someone else will, and it just so happens that Google has changed the game a little in this case, soon forcing marketers and SEO people to adapt.
How? Well SEO people may now have to redefine their role to be broader social media and on-line strategy consultants, ensuring their clients are represented in search results of a more specific nature and based on the new metrics of social media activity, and narrowed relevancy. A significant challenge to an already-arcane art, likely to spawn a new generation of ‘gurus’.

Google have become the driving force of innovation in user experience on-line, evolving their search product as the content on-line changes; and now in their quest for relevancy, they’ve changed the rules for what defines ‘relevant’ and given on-line marketers something else to think about when it comes to optimising their site.

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Honda’s not so ‘Green’

by Martin on Feb.12, 2010, under Articles by Martin, Blog

I don’t know how many others were in Honda’s most recent direct marketing campaign, but it struck me as incredible hypocrisy!

“Start with the small stuff, Honda”

Put it this way, there’s no way I’m in a position to buy a brand new car, and won’t be for some considerable time, yet Honda still deemed me an appropriate target for a significantly-sized mail-out telling me about their green initiatives and eco-friendly range of sensible cars.

Indeed I have been looking at cars recently, but second-hand, immature cars with big engines — no idea how Honda knew I was in the market for one, but they need to look at green marketing before they expend so much on green engineering!
The mail-out (pictured) was of substantial weight and quantity, and was made of quite a thick paper. Suffice to say, it’s of no use to me, and so will go straight into recycling (after ogling the Type-R!).

Honda direct marketing
My point?
Surely their endless investment in efficient engines is totally undermined if they are completely inept at targeting their direct marketing properly. All that waste paper and resources comes at huge carbon cost — more, I bet, than they can ever hope to offset with their ‘eco’ engines.

Something tells me that their ‘eco’ image is only skin-deep, and does not apply to their fundamental business processes.

Start with the small stuff, Honda, if you want to be a ‘green’ company.

I’m now going to recycle this.

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Derren Brown’s Interpretation of the Wisdom of Crowds

by Martin on Sep.15, 2009, under Articles by Martin, Blog

I like many was truly amazed by Derren Brown’s recent stunt where he supposedly (as later revealed) used an until now little-known concept known as the Wisdom of Crowds taken from the field of behavioural economics; something which I have recently taken interest in. This man is always amazing and I am aware that he never claims anything more than tricks and illusions.

Is he telling us everything?

Is he telling us everything?

Derren has clearly been reading his Surowiecki, and I was interested to see this concept being explained and being publicly demonstrated. I do love these crazy economic theories!
This one is the theory that if a sufficiently diverse and (crucially) independant group of people are asked to make decisions or guesses on problems, the average outcome will be more-or-less intellectually superior to an isolated individual, even an expert.
Even Derren’s initial explanation of the concept drew upon the example taken from the introduction of this book; the example of the average guess of a ‘guess the weight of the ox’ contest at a fayre in 1906. Scientist, Francis Galton conducted statistical tests on all the entries in order to determine the ‘collective wisdom’ of the crowd. Many of these punters were farmers and so could be considered relative ‘experts’ in this game. Of course, there were many others who were ‘ignorant’ and had no insider knowledge. As you’d now expect, after the ox was weighed, sure enough, the crowd as a collective guessed virtually perfectly.

Fine — that’s logical you may expect. Indeed, the Wisdom of Crowds does work; it’s the reason Google works so well, and can pull up the most relevant result first time, and it’s also why you find exactly what you want in stock at the supermarket.

All this sounds fine on the face of it — why can’t you use the wisdom of a crowd to predict lottery numbers? It works in other areas of our life. But my point here is that I think Brown has mis-applied this awesome economic dynamic and taken it out of context to suit his own ends. Without venturing into philosophy (about which my knowledge is almost exactly zero) essentially, I’m questioning the realist epistemological outlook of Mr Brown. What do I mean? Well the wisdom of crowds works well when there is a ‘truth out there’; a pre-existing answer which can be guessed, however [un]intelligently. The weight of the ox for example was not ‘random’ and the answer already existed.
How, then, can this be applied to a yet-to-be-determined sequence of numbers — there is no objective answer which can be tapped into in ANY way prior to the random drawing of the numbers. The weight of the ox had an objective truth, as does the optimal page-ranking sequence of Google, it still has an optimal state which could be known given the right methods.

Derren’s positions appears to be partially that of an empirical realist, that is, one which belives that complex reality can be understood, “but fails to recognise [the] enduring structures and generative mechanisms producing observable phonomena” (Bryman & Bell 2007:18), ie. Derren has failed to recognise that there are forces YET to decide the outcome of the numbers. They are totally independant of the mind of the crowd.

I feel the method employed by Derren is thus incompatiblewith the objective fact that the lottery balls remained un-knowable until the draw and remained subject to deterministic forces until such time; we are forced to conclude that he is not telling us everything and must have been up to something else.

For a start, even if his sample ‘crowd’ were impartial and not plants, they couldn’t have been totally objective and free in thought, because they were gathered multiple times and socialised with each other too much; a condition corrosive to pure independence and diversity of mind (Surowiecki 2005:38) where groups fall into ‘groupthink’ where they increasingly make decisions based on influence of each other and are thus LESS accurate.

Also, I was somewhat less confident in their being genuine at all! Their remarks at the end of the experiment were vague and seemed a little forced and detached. These people just weren’t convincing.
I don’t claim to know much about behavioural economics or philosophy for that matter and to be honest, this probably won’t make sense, but from what I know about the Wisdom of Crowds, this experiment just didn’t sit right. But he’s only an entertainer and an illusionist anyway, right!?

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The Predicament of the Music Industry – Can Spotify save it?

by Martin on Aug.08, 2009, under Articles by Martin, Blog

I was pleased to see an article in the Economist about Spotify and music downloads. I decided to leave a considered comment and I’m glad to see my comment is still top-rated of all the comments on said article.

The case of downloaded music making huge inroads to the profitability of the music industry is a clear case in point of what Levitt (1960) talked about decades ago in the now iconic ‘Marketing Myopia’ paper. This is my favourite paper of all time.
The music industry is a classic example of Levitt’s prophecy when he talked about ‘Myopia‘ of companies who become complacent with their dominant position.
They assume that they’ll always be in a growth market and then, inevitably, strategic drift occurs; and this has occurred profoundly with the music industry.

The new on-line environment has changed such that it no longer supports the delivery model of music.But these technological changes — and the subsequent changes in the paradigm of consumer consciousness — occur in most industries, and it’s up to all firms and industries to pre-empt this, even instigate it, one might say. Companies should not be thinking in terms of making and selling products to a static market, rather in terms of buying customers; ie. innovating and adjusting the product in line with the actual needs. Almost to make promotional marketing obsolete if you will (as per the topic of my most recent essay), but that’s another matter.
The business model of the music industry has caused complacency and has totally ignored (until too late) the huge trend of file-sharing. Of course music was going to go digital! Did the music industry think it was immune to the impending messiah of the internet?

The music industry is a case in point, and it hasn’t rolled with the punches; it’s still clinging relentlessly and noisily to the old delivery model without innovating its way out of it. And now look – it’s too late!

Sure, there’s been a much higher profile and availability of legal downloads now, but it’s all come too late and with too little added-value; after all, they’re now competing with the pricing model of ‘free’.
A whole generation of music-fans have now grown up on the assumption that music is commodity and only very recently have legal downloads become widespread and more accessible. Commoditisation is something which again can threaten most products, especially those which are easily transferred and replicated digitally, like MUSIC!

Spotify is certainly one way the music industry can give the consumers what they want, while still monetising their product, but as was said in the Economist article, it’s only part of the solution.
If we go back to what Levitt said 50 years ago in that paper, companies need to seek to bring about their own obsolescence essentially, otherwise competitors will do it for you, and you’re done for!
“…there is no guarantee against product obsolescence. If a company’s own research does not make it obsolete, another’s will”.
Did the music industry always just assume it wouldn’t come under threat, and that their product would never become a commodity? Dream on.

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