There are now more than 900 million websites on the internet, more than 3 billion internet users and the time spent online keeps (obviously) going up. The media consumption is higher than it’s ever been, and there’s a world of information out there that we’ll probably never read.
It’s humanly impossible to find what we’re looking for without help, and many times this help comes in the shape of a search engine, with Google accounting for 90% of searches worldwide. Google is a window to the e-world, and its results are highly trusted. More than 70% of clicks on Google happen on page 1 of results and research suggests we’ve integrated Google within our distributed memory system and we trust it as much as we trust our peers.
How does this impact brands?
People don’t have a specific moment to do a search, there are very different motivations and goals, a search engine is a means to an end.
We see the e-world the way Google wants us to see it; and Google wants to show us the e-world the way it thinks we want to see it. Where does that leave brands? It’s not about tricking search engines, it’s about connecting human truths with brand truths.
If there are multiple possible goals, and various ways of searching a certain topic, the main goal for brands is to be at the right place at the right time. Or, in other words, to rank on the most relevant keywords, with content that people expect to find. To do so, a brand needs to anticipate what opportunities are within Google and what solution it can genuinely provide.
How can a brand do that? There are a few things that should be kept in mind:
On a search engine, a brand is an answer to a problem (or a set of problems)
People go to a search engine because there’s a problem they want to solve: going somewhere, learning something, finding some information, etc. That particular online journey will end when the goal is met. If a brand can help people on that, there’s a real opportunity for creating compelling content.
One way to do that is to create a list of all the problems a brand can solve, and match that with the most searched relevant keywords. Are people already getting a good answer to those questions or is there something a brand can do differently and better? It’s about thinking of the user first, the brand comes second.
Things change frequently
Algorithms keep changing, online content keeps changing, the online world itself keeps changing. There are now more searches on mobile than desktop, Facebook has launched Instant Articles, iOS launched an ad blocker. The way people consume content is changing, and so are rankings.
Which pages are doing better and worse? And what does that say about the searching behaviour and the brand itself? Keeping an eye on how a brand is looking on Google might give an insightful view on what opportunities are out there.
It’s not about playing by Google’s rules, it’s about respecting people
Just like TV advertising had to evolve to stay relevant for a more demanding audience, online advertising and the presence on search engines is reaching a more mature phase. Google is part of everyone’s lives and younger people don’t even know life without search engines, it’s a natural habitat for them. Search engines are responding to that and evolving by trying to think as a human. There’s no point in trying to get links just for the sake of it anymore, the more humble and honest a brand is in giving people something they want, the more likely it is to rank and be in front of the right audience.
Yes, creativity is important
As Dave Trott said, “creativity is the last legal unfair advantage” to outrun the competition. This is true for TV and for any other channel where consumers are. Search engines are no exception. The competition there is fierce, a brand is fighting for customers’ attention and time, and this won’t happen if the content doesn’t improve people’s lives or make them feel something. The opportunity is huge, but so is the challenge. Brands have to think of themselves as answers to particular problems, while keeping the magic and differentiation.
There’s a world full of (free) data ready to be used
Just like it’s important to observe how people behave in the offline world, it’s important to play with the amount of data available to understand how people behave online. Trends, most searched keywords, comments, sharings, can tell a lot about what motivates people, what they value, and what can make their (online) life a bit more interesting.
I once heard a quote in an APG session that stuck with me. It sums up what’s being said here and a good way of framing our thinking when working on any piece of communication, search engines included: “Treat people as people, entertain them, educate them, connect them with each other – and be useful in their lives” (Kevin Jackson).