Part one Search Engines
No this is not a chapter that teaches you what the internet is or where and when it was invented. That information is nice but it is freely available on any decent google search on the subject and is not the reason you are here right now reading this. And if I have to explain how you got here then……! You want to know how to get your site, argument, charity or cause noticed, maybe making you money, gain you subscribers or supporters, and so on. You don’t need a history lesson for that.
So back to the question, how do you do this? How do you get your “thing” noticed in a busy, noisy digital world?
First off let's say that I am considering a bit of a digital experiment in the world of digital marketing. And I am thinking of using this site to do it. The reason being is that so far I have done very little in the way of promoting and marketing this site. Mainly because I want to focus on getting out a body of quality articles/content first. But this is a great potential platform for me and others to promote views, bring about change, and even potentially earn some income in the process.
The thought process is that while I talk to you here about digital marketing, digital ecosystems, and using behavioural and psychological insights to get attention, attract and convert your visitors into potential paying supporters, I intend to show as I go. That shows you what works and what does not, for me, what gets attention, what gets results. In the spirit of open source, I am aiming to have a free information source that you could use to your advantage for your digital project. From that point on I intend to build paid training elements and toolkits for people looking at marketing for social and behaviorual change.
So, first, a basic understanding of how the internet works will help and starting with how the search engines work will help you no end. I am not talking about the highly technical garble that will leave you confused and bang your head against the wall in boredom but instead I am talking about how searches work and why they work, why one website comes up above another. Together with the role of social media and other digital platforms at your disposal.
As I had stated a few times previously my background before internet marketing was as a manufacturing & design technician. As an engineer, you develop the skills and ability to take products apart and rebuild them. You develop the capability for doing this mentally by just looking at something and breaking down its component parts and then almost always than later physically breaking it down as well. It becomes part of your nature to take apart everything, most of the time just mentally, to visualise how it works. From computers to car engines, to the internet and how people think; you want to know how something works and ultimately improve it. You want to hack it.
So, when I came across the internet, around about 1998 just as it was getting started, I0 wanted to understand how it worked or at least why out of 800million web pages one came up above the other. Mainly at the time because I wanted to make some cash selling tools on the internet. Now, this might sound like a big job, and to a degree, it was not so much a big job, and it was, but it was also a job that required understanding a range of basic principles. From how computers, databases, programming and software work and the way these elements of the internet “think” and react to each other. Yes, I know they don’t actually think for themselves, (well not yet but AI is coming) but they do “think” or look for an answer to questions and tasks we set them. If you understand why a database or computer will do what you ask it one minute but not the next you are on the way to understanding the internet and how it works.
It’s not you, it’s me!
In the case of computers, databases, and software nine times out of ten that statement is true. It's not the equipment, database or software that’s at fault it's you. It’s us the human beings. Yes, like it or not it’s true. If your search engine is bringing back results for something, you were not looking for. Or if your computer screen is freezing more often than not it is something you have done, it's not the software, system, or equipment you are using. And if it is not you then it is something some other human has done, like the guys in the IT department that have gone overboard on antivirus software or web monitoring tools locking everything down or watching you! Are they watching you now?
The computers and the software will do what we ask them to within the confines and boundaries of their programs. Search engines and social media sites are no different.
Your computer doesn’t just sit there sulking and refusing to do anything because you shout at it; it doesn’t do what you want because you haven’t asked it in the right way. No, it's not just a stubborn spouse, it is confined to what it can do in relation to the data stored in it or in the locations it has access to. When you understand this, you know the basic principle of technology. Computers and the internet are not intelligent, they hold and have the knowledge, they are very quick and very smart but they are not intelligent as humans are. They cannot make smart decisions or cannot discern when you have made a mistake or asked an incorrect question it cannot figure out or make a suggestion as to what the right question to ask might be. Unless its programmer was smart enough to put a set of variants in place as alternatives for it to choose from. With artificial intelligence and machine learning, which search engines like Google now employ, they are starting to learn without the need for programmers to program them. These AI’s, and machines are learning from the positive and negative reactions or actions the users take in relation to the results that they receive back from the specific enquiry entered. But for the sake of this guide let us keep things simple. Computer programs, operating systems, and so forth work as designed, as programmed, and are limited only by their programmer’s ability.
The internet is the same what you put into it is what you get back. The primary focus of internet marketing used to be getting to the top of search engines, that is where I came in as an SEO guy. Because as you are no doubt well aware when you enter the words of your search into the box, you can get back hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of results. If you have not had the experience with search engines, then I suggest before you even think about starting an online business or tackling social norms through digital warfare that you spend a few weeks searching the internet for products, services or its endless stream of useful and useless information. Oh and porn, there is lots of porn.
I intend now to explain the basics (and I mean basics) of how search engines work because these basics need to be understood and used at a later date in the blog when thinking about marketing and promoting your site and vision.
A search engine works by you the user/searcher typing in what is known as keywords or key phrases into a search box to find a website that may hold information, products or services you are after. The search engine then scours sites indexed in its, or other search engines, servers to find the places that use the words and are mostly related to the subject matter search for using a range of semantic and different linguistic indexing rules, together with quality scoring and other ranking factors. To be seen the website owners need to make their sites as focused as possible on their relevant subject matter to make sure that the search engine spiders can find them related to these searches. They also need a good understanding of the rules or algorithms, that search engines use for deciding as ranking factors. For example, if you were after a plumber in Devon you might type in Plumbers in Devon if you were after information on the Russian Revolution you might type in “info on the Russian Revolution”, and hopefully a load of sites will pop up on a list, and they will be sorted by relevance. The more competitive the industry or market is, the harder it is to get ranked high enough to get noticed. We will cover how you tackle this in more detail in future blog posts but one quick question to think is “what makes what I am offering different from all the other websites out there?”, what is your niche?
What happens here is that a piece of software known as a search engine spider will search all the websites in its database to find the ones that most relate to the search terms or keywords you have typed in, and then they will sort them by relevance. This is again important later on. You may also have a range of paid-for ads on the search engine that will be for companies offering a service or product that relates to the service or product you are after.
That’s the basics of how search engines work. And I mean basics. I may have left so many items out, but I am considering that the reader has discernment and is more interested in getting to the heart of the matter and learning how to get their website at the top of those search engine lists. Patience though as we are not quite there yet.
My experience in internet marketing soon became that of an SEO engineer. That is as a Search Engine Optimisation Engineer. Whereby I would reverse engineer competitive websites from those of my clients to find out how they worked and what made them perform better than others on the search engines. I would then take that information and run a full technical review of the client's site to code it and refine it to outperform the competitive taking into some different factors.
Search engines have with their programs algorithms help define the worthiness of a site after the spiders search the site to then decide whether it is relevant to the search/ Tese algorithms will decide how will be ranked, or not, higher than the others that it determines are relevant to the search in question. Some that break the rules (rules that are set out in the secret algorithms and all but impossible to find out) can end up not being listed or indexed at all. Or even worse, have their sites blacklisted.
Part two: The digital world moves fast, and digital ecosystems are born
The digital world moves incredibly fast, and while search engines and SEO was the king of the internet marketing world back when I started, at the end of the last century (that makes me sound older than I am). Today there are so many elements to the digital ecosystem that can determine your marketing path that it can become mind-boggling. Some companies now pay no heed to search engines, partly sick of trying to figure out the ever-changing ranking factors and partially because their customers may be bypassing search engines and going straight to their favourite social media site or app.
Facebook drove the internet in a new direction, and a digital social world was created. Yes there were others before it (I do miss my old MySpace page) but Facebook was a game-changer, and often still is. While Google and Facebook fight it out to be the leaders of the digital world trying to get your, mine and everyone’s attention many smaller new and exciting digital companies are creating new and exciting digital ecosystems that are attracting more and more of us away from the mainstream. Think of the potential of virtual reality, 3D systems, and augmented reality not to mention the instant messaging platforms that are just exploding everywhere and becoming every parent's nightmare to understand.
Now, of course, we have an entire raft of social networks, instant messaging apps, smart TVs, even intelligent cars. There are systems within systems and connections within connections that form these digital ecosystems. And from our smartphones to our fridges we are part of the relationship, we are buried in the ecosystem.
Understanding and learning how these ecosystems connect, how they interact with each other, and how people communicate with them will be vital to success in any online endeavour. Some technical knowledge is helpful, but it doesn’t have to be a highly specialised level. But understanding what does and does not work both technically and on a socio-psychological level will be very helpful.
Social media has become a real game-changer in the world of digital marketing. It has opened up new ways for individuals to connect. But also for businesses, politicians, and others to communicate with us. Our data is stored, and we are profiled. Our screen time is then sold to the highest bidder that profiles their adverts, pages, and updates to us and quite often we hardly even notice. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook will suggest friends based on who you are friends with, who works where you do and with people, you kind of know but have no way of knowing how Facebook has made the connection between you and that person (we will go into how they do this a bit more at a later date).
The internet has gone from being focused on good web design and search engine optimisation specialists like myself trying to guess what you might search for and create a site that might entice you into a place where the customer, the public, and beyond is profiled down to the micron. By psychoanalysts, working with big data scientists, together with the web programmers and creative departments to deliver a website or product to you, in real-time just before you even knew you needed it. Add in machine learning and predictive analytics. With social media listening tools and linguistic profiling we can speak your language about the subjects you are interested in as you start to express an interest in them, sometimes before you have even clicked on that link, that like button or that share.
Now the digital marketing books and the search engine companies even the Facebook and Twitter chiefs will tell you that they all collect data to improve the “user experience” and to deliver a more personalised digital experience. Which is great. You can create the digital world that most represents what you want to see. The things you like and the things you are interested in. Sounds like utopia right? Well, maybe it is but whatever happened to find something new that you never knew about before. Or finding out you like something that you would typically think you do not? Or more importantly what happens to hear another side of an argument. Another side of the debate. What happens to the chances that you will be persuaded or will persuade someone of opposing views when neither of you sees each other argument because it doesn’t fit your profile.
When have seen in the section that briefly touches on behavioural economics how social proofing, liking, and commitment can reinforce our biases. Behavioural studies have shown that people whose views may be moderate to the left or right of a discussion will go more extreme either way when they are put together with a group of people that think one way or the other. They move from sitting on the fence to following the crowd. As much as we like to think of ourselves as individual free thinkers, science shows we are entirely predictable.
Never before have advertisers, big business, mass media, and politicians been able to get so close to their prospects at just the right time, with the right message with more accuracy. This does though open up opportunities for us for bringing about real change if we can use these tools in an ethical way.
Want more? More articles on digital marketing, SEO, and search engine marketing are below. Maybe some SEO hacking advice coming soon