• March 17, 2009

    Search Marketing Reset

    dyeing - the use of dye to change the color of something permanently wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn The practice of SEO is dyeing. It’s not dead, not by a long shot, however the meteoric advance of alternative marketing channels on the Internet has fundamentally altered the way SEOs are thinking about web marketing. The Internet and the World Wide Web are different things. The ‘net is the super-conduit upon which the super-highway of the Web is built. In the very near future, the Web we’ve become used to using might well seem as arcane as an AOL disc, at least in the way we use it. It all happened so quickly. A year ago while we were wondering what would happen to Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter were meeting the mainstream. Neither had become the behemoths both appear to be becoming but social media marketers were taking notes and making names. Today, Facebook and Twitter can, in some cases, drive more traffic to a page or site than Google does. Social media is not the only new game in town. In fact, amongst serious digital marketing gurus, social media is starting to feel a bit old. Two trend-lines are worth watching in the coming months, both of which combine social media, search and, most importantly, content that the bulk of entertainment starved consumers want to consume. The first involves getting and delivering information and entertainment, the second involves the devices we receive that information on. To say everything is about to change would be saying something trite and after the fact. We’re well into the midst of that change. Ask any print publisher, television producer or commercial actor. Given the economic conditions under which the old-media business model is breathing its last breathes, that change is happening in a most happenstance fashion. In the not-so-distant past, information and entertainment used to be found, disseminated and written by professionals, that is, people paid to find, compile and write it to relatively high standards. The mechanisms for getting that content to the reading, listening and viewing audience were expensive and labor intensive, requiring vast sums of capital investment. That capital was supplied by advertising and since each traditional medium reached a predominantly local audience, advertisers had good reasons to spend monies sustaining those professional operations. As long as there was a local reading, listening and viewing audience, the advertisers had good reason to spend their money. News might be regional, national or international in nature but at the end of the equation, all ads were targeted at the locals. Today the predominant medium is by its very nature international in its scope and reach. The narrow local funnel that gave the traditional media a stranglehold on power is gone and with it went control of the advertising monies that sustained it. Now, virtually anyone can post information regardless of training, intention or veracity. Where few outlets reached a specific local audience, now hundreds or even thousands publish to those markets. Ad values have therefore declined as there are far more places advertise. This phenomenon is most pronounced around television. The last few years have not been kind to television. Ad revenues plummeted while consumers are now spending as much time on the Internet as they are watching television. New programming is prohibitively expensive and advertising monies are no longer there to provide economic backfill. That’s why we have reality TV. It’s cheaper to produce and market than fantasy based sitcoms or dramas are. How TV programming is to be produced in the coming years remains an open question. For digital content creators and distributors, the big problem with the picture is that online advertising makes far less money per ad than advertising in traditional media does. No amount of targeted advertising can make up for the seriousness of this shortfall and, because the Internet has fundamentally destroyed the funnel of locality, there are few options for the traditional media business model. That means there are now fewer professional content creators capable of compiling better than average information and entertainment options for consumers. How consumers will watch TV or view other information is not in question. The positive trend line here is that consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet for access to entertainment. Firms like Netflix and Hulu are becoming defacto television broadcasters by replaying TV shows on demand. Similarly, daily newspapers are starved for revenues while their digital versions are now seeing more visitors than their print versions are seeing readers. Terrestrial radio is shrinking, in part because of corporate conglomeration and in part because of declining ad revenues. At the same time, online radio and podcast networks are starting to thrive. The breakdown in profitability for mainstream content vehicles is being mirrored by a second consumer revolution, that of portability. Fifty years ago, computing devices stood in large rooms. This morning I am typing on my large but relatively compact laptop computer, the same one I am going to pack up and take to the office in an hour or so. If I get bored on the way to work, I can watch an American AM news show, listen to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation or tune in to WebmasterRadio.FM on my cell phone while in transit. While not nearly as profitable, information is more portable than ever. With more consumers increasingly accessing media using portable devices, more media is being made for portable devices. If, as Canadian intellectual Marshall McLuhan postulated in 1964, the medium is the message, consumers of digital information will be overly stimulated by ever shrinking devices with content created specifically for those devices. A similar quote from McLuhan in 1967 suggested that going beyond message, each medium was also a massage in that the different devices we use to consume information create a sensual bond between medium and consumer. Think about the smell of an old book, the tactile feel of newsprint or the comforting click of the keyboard. Each medium makes its user feel something and that feeling has an effect on their understanding and comprehension of the content. These changes might or might not be good for a democratic society built on the free flow of information. The pendulum swings both ways. In some cases, as with the 2008 presidential election, digital media can be used to inform and to misinform. It can be used to reach extraordinary numbers of people or abused to find and flog untruthful statements about an opponent. In the near future, it will be far harder for professional journalists to find employers able to pay them to gather and disseminate news. At the same time, it is far simpler for common people to post information to the masses on blogs, through Twitter or on video via YouTube. Marketers need to be where the eyes are. The purpose to marketing is to pass messages to prospective consumers and where the consumers go, the marketers must follow. For the first time in modern advertising history, the dog is actually wagging the tail, not the other way around. So what does that mean for the practice of SEO? It means SEOs need to learn to use the emerging venues as marketing tools. The transfer of user habits from the broadsheet of newsprint and the broadcast of terrestrial radio or television to the interest-cast of the Internet has been astounding from a socio-economic perspective. Everything about our society has changed because of the ways we ingest and interpret information. That change is far from over but we are far past any point of thinking about the ways media worked in the olden days. In my own decade long digital marketing career, this is the fourth epoch of amazing change. Change is good but the rapidity of change is daunting. For old-school marketers, such change is terrifying. For emerging digital marketers, such change is challenging but also a bit frightening. It will be most interesting to watch the outcome of this short era as eyeballs move from Google search results to social media and the newer digital versions of old-school media.