Question: What was Google’s challenge back in 1997?
Answer: how to identify the most relevant answer for a person’s online search, from a seemingly infinite amount of online content – in seconds. Predecessors had struggled with the relevancy issue. Google’s secret was to recognise the inherent human relationships between the pieces of content.
Those with the most links (human interest) would more often than not be the most relevant. It was a function that effectively tapped into the sociability of the web, way before Facebook was even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.
Moving forward 10 to 15 years, Google is still focused on using human signals in its data to help hone its solutions.
Google is still focused on using human signals in its data to help hone its solutions.
What were the motivations behind many of the algorithm updates of the last few years? They were purely used to eradicate those artificial signals that misdirected its algorithm away from the truth or from natural human behaviour signals.
Key examples of this include buying links, stuffing a site with keywords that make content unnatural (if we’re going back a few years) or duplicating content. All of the above generate noise that could ultimately destroy Google’s human relevancy.
So, what does all this tell us? Well let’s take one last look back. In April 2000, Google announced the ‘MentalPlex’: Google’s ability to read your mind. At the time it kick-started their elaborate April Fool’s Day hoaxes, which have continued every year, but I think this actually tapped into a long-term aspiration. Google Zeitgeist is a current reflection of this aspiration, portraying itself as a mirror to people and to society. It needs to use its data to be at the cutting edge of cultural trends.
So, could Google really read your mind at some point in the future? So far this has only been a human trait and requires us to balance multiple factors such as time or place, a good understanding of the individual and a good sense of intuition. So could it be machine learned too?
An interesting area of work currently within the field of neuroscience is ‘Thought Identification’. To date, this is concentrated on neuroimaging of brain patterns, but theoretically this is just one type of data. Google has more global behavioural data than anyone and its monumental rise is borne out of correlating it effectively (its original linking algorithm). Based on that, it isn’t a big jump.
So let’s look at Google’s plans
Google has just bought Nest and will undoubtedly buy other cloud-based data services focused on human behavior. Nest ultimately is interested in understanding how people behave inside their homes. Google knows it needs to be the lead player in the Internet of Things and knows it needs to focus on utility.
Context, context, context
Context couldn’t be more important for understanding people; firstly in mobile – right time/right place marketing. Just look at Enhanced Campaigns for Adwords that offers a revolution in how you can segment your campaigns geographically and by proximity. Schema is all about asking site owners to label the context behind content and making the site owners do it by offering them goodies like rich snippets. Clever.
Connecting the dots
It is vital that brands invest in technology companies that focus on the Internet of Things. Google is, so it's probably a safe bet.
Google is also now truly focused on having consumers identifying themselves across all their connected devices. This provides Google with a whole new armoury of insight into cross device behaviour crucial in a multi-screen world. Universal Analytics is their solution for this in the analytics world.
Last year’s algorithm update focuses on conversational search and the meaning behind a user's search. This will continue to be a major focus.
Google Now for mobile
Intent on delivering relevant content recommendations such as alerting you to traffic jams at 5pm because it knows your route home and your schedule. Mobile will be at the heart of everything moving forward.
So what does all this mean for you as the marketer? First and foremost, it is vital that you invest in technology companies that focus on the Internet of Things. Google is, so it’s probably a safe bet for you to do this too.
Equally, focusing on understanding your customer better will be key. You can do this through data to provide relevant and useful content; this is Google’s mantra and they’ve done pretty well so far.
You also need to make sure that you follow the principle of relevancy in your customer communications – quality over quantity and, as such, a budget for content strategy should be at the top of your list. Make sure you also review your KPI’s and stop assessing individual device effectiveness. This is out of date. Get moving with Universal Analytics or a similar technology instead.