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The evolution of search engines will challenge your brand

We share our thoughts around how Google’s future will challenge your brand.

Larry and Sergey were always skeptical about traditional marketing,” Cindy recalls. “They wanted Google to stand apart from others by not doing what everyone else was doing … Let the other guys with inferior products blow their budgets on noise-making, while we stayed focused on building a better mousetrap.

This is an excerpt from Douglas Edwards’ book 'I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59', about Google’s founders – Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

For those that haven’t read the book, Doug joined Google as brand and marketing manager back in 1999 and was one of the first employees to write about his experience at Google in 2011.

There are a number of other references to Larry and Sergey's dislike - or at least distrust - of marketing throughout the book.

“It doesn’t have to be true – it’s marketing”, Sergey joked about our corporate web pages. “That’s because marketing likes to lie,” Larry let slip.

The area was seen as “not a priority”, and it was also seen that “no special skills were required”.

Therefore it shouldn't be a surprise that the future of search is going to pit it against traditional marketing - and likely at least cause it a body-blow. 

The basis for my thinking on this was Dawn Anderson's fantastic presentation on the Future of Information Retrieval at SearchLeeds in 2018. Information Retrieval is essentially the academic subject that ‘search’ stems from.

In the presentation, she references a paper by Andrei Broder – ‘Distinguished Scientist’ at Google – where he identifies three types of Informational Retrieval systems:

  • Conducive: a traditional search engine, the objective of which is to narrow down the options for the user e.g. the traditional ‘ten blue links’
  • Subordinate: a system that makes a recommendation e.g. Google Assistant or Alexa
  • Decisive: a system that makes decisions e.g. driverless cars

As systems involve from the former to the latter, the user no longer has a choice. The system either makes a recommendation or chooses for them. Decisions become more about data than emotion – matching the brand and product with the user profile.

This will mean that selling something becomes less about brand perception and more about brand reality

  • Does the product have good reviews from similar users?
  • What's the chances it will be delivered when needed?
  • How does it fit with other products/services within the user's profile?

This all sounds like utopia for Larry and Sergey, according to Doug’s close observations of how they liked to operate:

“Every problem was viewed as solvable and every situation was reducible to a set of data points…if data supported a particular option, they rationalized, it was the right choice to make. Data didn’t lie.”

The consequences of this will be pretty far reaching for search marketing. The mantra for a number of years has been to create content for users rather than search engines – which I have definitely been in agreement with. The current version of a search engine has been steadily evolving to know what a user might want to see – so it made sense.

However, the new search engine is now becoming more like a super-user – fully rational and able to consume a vast amount more information than a real user, before making a recommendation. Therefore, perhaps we need to start considering the evolution of search engines again – but in a way where we are treating them like the perfect user, rather than a real one. This means surfacing the data about your brand and products, in a format that a search engine can understand and use to make the right recommendation.

Ask the following questions

  • What data about my brand or products would be useful in order for a rational user to make a decision?
  • Is that data already available, or do I need to create it?
  • If it’s already available, is it on my website?
  • If the data is on my website, is there existing schema mark-up that I can use to help a search engine understand it?

Search engines are evolving to become a perfect customer, driven by how good you really are, rather than how you portray yourself to be. Getting into this mindset now means that you won’t be left behind by Google’s attempt to kill the brand.

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