As internet powerhouses like Google and Facebook continue to change the way they analyze and interpret user data, it’s about time we stop fighting back and embrace the change. The early days of marketing on the internet involved a lot of the same old practices of interrupting the user experience to try to make an impression. As we progress into a future where our digital and real lives intersect it’s time for a bigger mindshift to take place.
I call this the honest web. It’s a place where links open in the same tab we click them in and back buttons work the way they’re supposed to. A place where banner ads and videos that auto-play don’t have to be blocked because they just don’t exist.
How It Should Work
Now imagine a world where consumers want something, they Google it, and the best resource on the topic is a blog post by the brand that mostly closely meets their needs. In this same world, imagine that blog post by the brand is actually the authority on the topic. Maybe that post transparently discloses flaws and other use cases the same way Amazon reviews might. This is not far off from the direction we’re headed with the rise of content marketing and native ads. We’re headed into an era where brands are rewarded for their honesty with increased loyalty. This, my friends, is awesome.
A Natural Progression
Just look at the early days of search engine optimization. A lot of what was once best practice is now considered black-hat and deceitful. Google focuses all of their efforts on serving up the most relevant content to its users. That means it’s up to brands to develop relevant content that can outperform UGC powerhouses like Amazon and Wikipedia.
Next lets look at Facebook. As brands started to recognize the opportunities on a network like Facebook, they swarmed there with the single goal of getting as many likes as possible. Because more likes meant more reach, right? Turns out just because a user likes a brand page doesn’t mean they want to subscribe to their e-newsletter. Facebook recognized this and tweaked their algorithms to only show content in news feeds that was most relevant to the user. Now posts from brands only show up if users regularly engage with that brands content.
The Semantic Web
Originally proposed by Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of what we today call the internet, the semantic web is an effort to standardize how we represent things in code so computers can interpret them as well as humans. The semantic web ties in well to my idea of the honest web as we began to represent entities online as more than just web pages. The semantic web even makes up the virtual representations of ourselves.
What if the internet as we know it today is only a small blip in a larger trend towards digital. These machine readable online entities form a graph of information that the next generation of services can tap into for finding better content faster. Google Now is already taking advantage of this trend and essentially cuts out the middle man while users shop, browse reviews, check movie times, monitor traffic and more.
As the web continues to evolve there will be fewer opportunities to game the system and we’ll be forced to change how we represent ourselves online. People online will no longer just be a screen name and avatar but extensions of their real world selves. Understanding this is the key to understanding the future of digital marketing. Consumers are changing their usage patterns faster than the marketing world can adapt. It’s time to embrace these changes and put forth efforts that benefit the community.