It’s Getting Very Complicated Out There

I have been going to search engine conferences on and off for the past decade or so. In 2000 I attended what later became known as “PubCon” mostly because they used to hold them in the upstairs meeting room above a London Pub. It was a couple of dozen hackers and spammers getting together to tell war stories and discuss strategies to get their clients to rank on search (by all and any means possible). How times have changed. Search is now a multi-billion dollar industry which is being driven up half crazy by the explosion of social and mobile. End users are abandoning the desktop for mobile devices and spend as much time interacting with apps as they do clicking on browsers.

A few years back I saw a demographic transition from the hacker-nerd mix of the early days to a more traditional mix of web guys and mainstream marketers. As the whole search marketing space evolved so the big search engines came up with tools and data to allow marketers to more efficiently spend their dollars with them and in parallel a small ecosystem of technology companies emerged to service the busy marketers…..then something bad happened….

The problem for the traditional marketing persons point of view is that social media doesn’t play nice because it’s much harder to control people than it is to buy media. Mobile makes life harder because although it delivers fabulous location information it does it on relatively tiny screens with much less real estate to target and apps have exploded and are taking users away from engaging with browsers and make content harder to get at from the search engines point of view. Along with the continued fragmentation of traditional media the explosion of online channels and the data they generate is making the typical marketers head explode.

For example at SES this week I took part in several “Meet the Experts Sessions” where the audience gets to ask “The Experts” anything they want. I was on the Local/Social table. A very nice and very well dressed agency lady who runs marketing for a major gaming platform wanted to know how to “impose their brand strategy on Social Media”….my short answer was…”you can’t.”

There is a whole new category emerging in our industry….broadly speaking it’s called “Big Data.”  To get at it you need to be able to build APIs and to understand it you pretty much need a double major in statistics and higher math. They don’t teach that at MBA school…..life is getting more complicated and in general terms harder and harder pretty much month by month. To make matters worth the kinds of people who do have the technical, stats and marketing mix needed to wrestle this mess to the ground are both few and far between and highly sought after …and retirement is still a long way off for most of the folk currently in it. Raising goats can seem an attractive option sometimes.

The Rise of the Mobile Mammals

I have been is search for over a decade and ever since 2000 each year has always been “the year when mobile breaks through” and it never was. Indeed, it felt like it never would. As smart phones emerged blinking into the dust of the 2008/2009 recession it was still the mighty search owned by Google executed on the mighty Desktop controlled by Microsoft that ruled the roost striding like tyrannosaurs through the verdant jungles of a the online Silurian epoch….(is that the right epoch.?) In any event the amount of usage grew rapidly spawning a plethora of cute apps dedicated to wasting our time and still it wasn’t quite the year mobile search broke through.

I was at Search Engine Strategies last week where the Geek and the Good of our industry meet to kibitz about Google’s plans to conquer the world and how they can best ride those coat tails. Talking to folks and sitting through the presentations (well a good sub set of them any how) you could be forgiven for thinking that the desktop was dead…or perhaps had never been invented. The dash to mobile devices of all kinds has the search world scrambling for solutions. Best guesses have search volumes from mobile devices out stripping desktops by 2015 latest. Mobile devices bring their own problems, the small real-estate limits advertising opportunities but the fact that they are inherently locally target-able generates enormous opportunity. The other thing with mobile devices (especially phones) is that they are…well phones. Phones (as old fashioned as they may seem) work terrifically for local transactions. We have focused on pay per call delivered through all forms of new media and mobile looks like being the most effective channel. It makes perfect sense and it’s a trend that seems to be catching fire.

Mobile devices have finally come into their own…and it looks like they may well take on a much greater role than we ever envisaged back in the early 2000’s. Back then we saw it as augmenting the desktop or laptop. Nowadays it’s entirely replacing it. For example, for the two days I was at the conference I kept in touch, did email surfed the web and did various social media things all from my iPhone. All aspects of search, social local and mobile have hit critical mass and look like they may just take over the world. What’s interesting from a search point of view is that Google who has ruled the roost for years now has an unexpected competitor in Apple. Google has fought and conquered Yahoo and Bing for years….now almost out of the blue comes Siri from Apple. Apple is also dropping Google Maps from its devices. It was interesting as to how concerned the Google Guy Matt Cutts seemed to be about Apple. When challenged by a questioner from the audience about their new Knowledge Graph cannibalizing web site owners content he pretty much said “if we don’t do it Apple will.” It will be interesting to see if the mobile mammals will be able to give the desktop dinos a run for their money.