Search: Reshaping the world as we know it

Can anyone really remember the days before Google? It feels like a lifetime ago. There are youngsters entering tertiary education who have never known a world without the internet. Life may have been simpler before we had access to any worldly information at the touch of a button, but technological communications as we know them, in all of their complexity, have enriched our lives in so many ways since the now-seemingly archaic days of landlines and the Yellow Pages. Daniel Schmidt, Head of Search at Mark1 (follow them on Twitter) offers a great piece on Search, the science behind it and how it has opened up a whole new world of marketing and business opportunities. Of course, there are no opportunities without challenges, but generally, we seem to be adapting rather well. – CH

Contributed by Daniel Schmidt

One can safely assume that search engines have permanently remodelled corporate marketing and advertising strategies, but how often do we stop to think about the effect of search on the greater economy. Search engines effectively replaced the Yellow Pages – our old company directory – and they can do so much more than list companies.

The tech firms that created search engines empowered consumers and companies simultaneously. Search engines form a crucial bridge between web users and online publishers. Navigating the internet would be extremely inconvenient without them; it also wouldn’t be enjoyable. Thus, search engines have a symbiotic relationship with websites.

This type of bond can be found in many technologies because the digital world functions when components work together (software relies on hardware and vice versa, etc). Search is but one of these modern technologies. What makes it distinct is how people connect with it. Individually, someone’s search history can tell you quite a lot about them. On a macro level, mankind’s collective thirst for knowledge drives the demand for that which is displayed to us.

And humans are hard-wired to connect with each other for survival. The difference in the digital age is that human networks can be formed instantaneously on search and social networks. What does this mean? A leading repercussion for companies is that they no longer control what people see and hear about them. Decisions that shape a brand’s reputation and future now lie largely with the consumer.

Search gives rise to an auction and businesses find themselves drawing lines in the sand. Web user’s queries are not all created equal – informational queries are far less valuable than potential transactions. I.e. someone searching for “Beyoncé lyrics” has far less commercial intent than someone entering the phrase “buy appliances online”.

Consumers are at the heart of an economy and the engines play some very important roles in creating trade:

 * They remove the barriers that have traditionally made trade difficult.
 * They allow for extremely energy efficient transactions.
 * They create healthy competition between online retailers, reducing prices for consumers.

In large part, brands have the broader internet to thank for an online space in which to exist and expand. Although consumers have high expectations, the sense of competition that search engines now demand from companies is healthy for our economy. Brands that make themselves available to the public are going to outperform those who do not.

One brand that has risen to become a tech giant, in large part thanks to its search engine, is Google. Google says the company’s search and advertising tools enabled $111bn of economic activity in 2013 for 1.5 million American businesses. This is broken down in the following ways:

* Economic activity generated from sponsored links
* Impact of organic listings
* Payments to publishers that have opted into AdSense
* “Google Grants” – Free advertising for non-profit organisations

This represents a massive injection for businesses around the world, in terms of job creation and economic development. Of course there’s a downside – small businesses are liable to suffer because of Google’s algorithm updates, unless they can get themselves on the right side of the engine’s “crawlers”. While the rules are in place to make the web a better place, the gatekeepers are sometimes brutal to the man on the street.

Lastly, search networks have forced companies to keep evaluating their rank and reputation.

Old mistakes are not easily forgotten – search is the gateway to social media networks and review sites. Globalisation and search go hand in hand, and borders have been made less impenetrable. Search has affected just about every aspect of our lifestyles: the way we research products, the way we look for jobs, the way we choose our health care and insurance. In order to impress the millennials, companies in 2015 are going to have to build a business that is search friendly – one that others love recommending.

Search is growing in South Africa, and so is online retail. And while brand equity shapes economics on a smaller scale, the macro-economic effects of search are still not fully understood. But while we ponder what search has given the world in 2014, we know the volumes will increase in 2015, further advancing the way in which businesses and consumers identify with each other.

More information about Search Engines

Search engines function by finding (and ranking) online information appropriate to the ‘search term’ a person enters. At the same time, the engines give publishers a quick way to showcase their content. The proof is in the pudding – Google, Yahoo and Microsoft would never have become search giants if there wasn’t a massive demand for the service. Whether they knew it or not at the time, they also revolutionised the way consumers look for products and services. It wasn’t long before every business had a website and a strategy to show up for search queries related to their offerings. If they didn’t, they were behind the times and their competitors could claim the market.

Going into slightly more detail, the way that search works is also the way in which it contributes to the business environment. Firstly, one needs to understand that search queries are divided into three major categories, and the search results that they trigger are divided into two basic types. Secondly, consider that we live in the digital age and businesses have to assure consumers that they are always available – their ranking on search engines conveys both their availability and, perhaps more importantly, their credibility.

Types of search queries:

 * Informational queries – The web user is looking for information about something quite broad. E.g. “greece” or “rihanna new album”.

*  Navigational queries – The user seeks a single website or a page of a site. Eg “bbc” or “sky sport football”.

* Transactional queries – These search terms are changing the business landscape; the user shows commercial intent. Eg “flights to durban” or “buy mens trousers”.

Types of search results:

* Organic – Results show up naturally; ranked by the search engine’s algorithm.

* Paid – Results are paid for; ranked by a product of the advertisers’ bids, and relevancy of their onsite content.

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