When do you use a search engine? How do you use a search engine? How do you decide if you need to use a search engine in the first place? Are there alternatives that provide “better” answers faster?
These are some of the questions we were discussing at a recent Ruby on Rails meetup. Let no one say we geeks don't ask the hard questions!
As the builder of a business that helps entrepreneurs attract and convert their customers online it's my job to consider the future and how best to postion them for it.
In November 2010 online marketing was pretty straight forward. With ideal customer profile in hand it was a matter of:
- Creating content that attracts your ideal customers
- Optimize the content for both search (being found) and social (being shared)
- Convert visitors to leads using a variety of methods
- Stay in touch with those leads until they become customers
And while the devil is in the details that was pretty much it.
Time have changed, and they are changing faster than every before.
In response to a recent post – Google’s 3-Prong Strategy That Has Changed SEO Forever – Keith Bloemendaal asked:
What to do about the keywords (now you see them, now you don’t)?
Keith was referencing that fact that Google no longer tells you the keywords a visitor uses to get to your site if they are logged into any Google product. And this brings me to the idea behind this post – the future of search and how to respond to it.
I'm in the process of forming a complete idea on this topic however let me toss out my initial thoughts.
Note: In this post I'll answer these questions myself. My hope is that you'll share your answers with us below in the comments.
When Do You Use A Search Engine?
There are only two instances when I use a search engine:
- I'm doing customer research for a client
- I'm beginning research on a new topic
That's it. Otherwise I use one of my trusted sources. For instance:
- If I want to find a book I go to Amazon first or, if it's technical, O'Reilly and Apress. If there are many options I'll read reviews and make a decision or go to my personal network.
- I don't actively seek out new music, but when I do I use iTunes. BTW, they need to license the Amazon recommendation engine.
- For any given topic I have blogs and magazines I subscribe to. If a topic isn't covered by one of my current sources I ask a friend for a source.
- If I want a new game I go directly to the sites of the game publishers I like.
So whereas even a few years ago I used to go to Google many many times a day on average, unless I'm doing market research for a client, I visit Google 2-3 times, if that.
How Do You Use A Search Engine?
When was the last time you went past the first or second page of search results? Generally speaking, people using a search engine don't go past the first page of results. And while Google has many advanced ways to do search, most people simply type whatever they're thinking into the search box.
I'm in that latter group. I'll first try to determine the most specific thing I can think of about my search topic, type it in, and view a few of the initial top results. If I don't get what I want I'll try to refine my search.
Over the years though Google has gotten a lot better at figuring out what I'm trying to find and getting me there. Sometimes though it's not at all helpful and I need to go to people that know about the topic. And for that I go to Twitter.
Alternatives That Provide “Better” Results Than Search Engines
One huge advantage we humans have over computers is we understand context. And if context isn't readily apparent we can derive it from what someone is saying. This becomes important when researching a topic where the context is not obvious, or we aren't sure where to begin. In this instance humans are a much better source than a search engine.
So it's no wonder that at the bottom of Google's search results is a little button…
Too bad I'm not a heavier user of Google+. I prefer Twitter myself. Regardless, 9 times out of 10, when I'm looking for an answer and I don't already have a source, I go to my social circles and ask away. And if I don't get a direct answer, I'm usually sent to someone who does.
Could Social Media Kill Search?
Frankly I don't think this is going to happen any time soon. It's going to take 10-15 years for more and more people to use search less and less, but it is happening.
Consider how you discover new information today. Are your favorite blogs talking about the new gadget or startup? Is that magazine you subscribe to pointing you to new books? Has your friend's iPod or iPhone (or Pandora stream) turned you on to a new artist?
So the question isn't so much “could social media kill search” but rather, in the face of consumer connectedness does search become less necessary?
I'm thinking yes, and more so over time. And this begs the question…
How Do Businesses Connect With Their Ideal Customers?
That's the million dollar question my friend. The answer I am coming to is a combination of:
- Creating valuable content that attracts and serves
- Socially networking – using social media platforms as well as in real life (IRL)
- Designing unique customer experiences
- Forming strong and lasting bonds with your customers
- Creating an entire ecosystem for your clients
- Strategic partnerships
That's a lot of parts. But hey, we're here to gain customers for life and build companies that last for decades to come. To do that, we need to learn the lessons of those that have already done so, companies like Apple, Amazon, and Virgin to name a few.
Make The Future
Where is all this going? Who knows! The exciting thing here is that right now we get to help shape the future of our businesses. To do that we need to understand that things are changing rapidly and we need to keep ahead of it.
Mobile is on an upward trajectory. That means using responsive design in everything you do.
People's attention is being pulled a million different ways at once. That means you need to keep as much of it your business as possible. That requires creating unique experiences that captivate and hold their attention. Those experiences are how you deliver your products and services, which must provide value.
Those are two examples of many.
It's exciting times. And it's in times like these when we can create our own future.