TMW #094 | A new paradigm for search

Aug 29, 2022

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Here’s the week in Martech:

  • A new paradigm for search: Changing patterns in how we search
  • Big brands and NFTs: How much do brands make from NFT projects?
  • Privacy problems: Oracle’s ad network faces a class action lawsuit
  • Everything else: Twitter’s security whistle-blower, Agile and missed promises, trading PPC for influencers, why is Snowflake so expensive? Google’s attempt at DOOH, and some crazy good AI art.

✍ Commentary

A new paradigm for search

“When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole.”

-Nikola Tesla, 1926

If Google is the brain, then marketing and advertising are the neurons. I say this because, for marketers, nothing is more important to online marketing than Google search. The advent of the search engine has become the main way we gather information about the world. Your customers use it as a tool to explore products and services, compare options, and access vital information about what you're selling. It’s the everything tool that touches every part of a company’s communications.

But you already knew all that, after all, we’ve had modern search engines for more than twenty years. And yet, after all this time, Google still controls more than 92% of the entire US search market, attracts more than 1.2 trillion searches a year and marketing spend on search ad products grew 13% year on year to $40.7 billion last quarter.

And there’s still endless growth for Google search at the end of the tunnel. Surprisingly, about 15% of searches are terms that have never been used before. More than 80% of searches are not monetized with ads. From the outside, Google search is about as enduring as the Roman Colosseum, a fixture of how information flows on the web and essential infrastructure of modern knowledge.

Google? Competitors? Nope.

As it seems as though the world of search is dominated by Google, there are changes afoot. Search is unbundling on the web in all kinds of interesting ways. We like to think about companies in the context of their competitors, but Google’s search product has never had anything close to a suitable competitive threat.

Another way and perhaps a better way to think about Google Search is to understand how parts of the product can be broken off into various verticals and contexts that better suit the end user.

People are always finding better avenues to find information in a time when we’ve never had so many global platforms. And while there’s good reason to think that Google search will never die, there are some very good reasons that it will enter a kind of a half-life of decreased utility and relevance as we enter a new paradigm for search. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google said so much about the importance of Amazon back in 2014, and it’s still as true today:

“Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.”

Search in all directions

This is what the new paradigm for search is about – people choosing to use a variety of search tools based on context, content, device, and use of data.

Search is undergoing a change in all directions. On one hand we have artificial intelligence applied to search, which goes beyond rankings and keywords, to creation, contextual nuance and knowledge sharing. On the other hand, search is increasingly becoming a matter of national identity. Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok have announced recently that they are building their own Chinese version of search while Russia's search provider (Yandex) is the nation’s largest technology company.

The increasing consumer concern for a more private web driving the growth of privacy-focused search engines like DuckDuckGo (which receives 100m daily queries) and Neeva, a subscription-based and private search engine is another catalyst that is taking market share away from Google. Other more ethical-focused products like Yep, backed by AHREFs promise to pay creators for the content that is indexed on its platform. Search is undergoing change because our ethical landscape is changing.

There’s also a generational trend that has younger people prefer to search on platforms like TikTok rather than Google’s suite of products. The SVP of Google Search, Prabhakar Raghavan goes so far as to say that Gen Z using TikTok to search for information is a whole new way to find and interact with content:

“We keep learning, over and over again, that new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to. The queries they ask are completely different. These users don’t tend to type in keywords but rather look to discover content in new, more immersive ways. In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go to TikTok or Instagram.”

Searching for a recipe or for hotels in a city, or local entertainment venues is more valuable to users on TikTok because the content surfaced aren’t web pages, but videos that provide more density per second of information transfer.

Try searching for a recipe on Google, and you have to wade through 4 of 5 ad word listings, click on an organic result and then scroll past the life story of the author before getting to the ingredients list. Google created these mazes for us to wonder, and that’s the opportunity for TikTok.

But it’s not only TikTok unbundling search – LinkedIn is rebuilding its search architecture after strong year-on-year growth of the feature set. You can expect most searches to be career or company-related queries but because LinkedIn has the world’s largest professional social graph and the CVs of more than 800 million users this is another slice taken away from Google Search.

Amazon already takes the lion’s share of product searches on the web because of the unique data model that pertains to products that are specific to the platform. Google can’t do this because its platform is too “open” to compete and is not integrated into the purchasing experience. Amazon has a strong search business because context and relevancy matter to people.

Apple is another example when it comes to the importance of devices. Instead of content, media or privacy as differentiators for search, it’s the device that makes all the difference. The App store is kind of like a browser in its own right. With more than 500 million users visiting the App Store every week, finding apps is more effective and easier in the store, and because searching for apps is integrated into the spotlight feature, users don’t even need to launch an app to find something.

Ranking algorithms = table stakes

Why are people choosing to search outside of Google? Context and relevancy matter, and so does the ability to regionalize how people get information. This is why it’s not correct to say that Google is the web’s search engine, it really matters what you’re searching for and what platforms you spend your time on.

In this way, Google Search is more like a generalized commodity that nobody really wants to use but has to when they don’t have other options.

Search became dominant because it used a ranking algorithm. But now every major 100 million plus user platform has ranking algorithms of its own. The same algorithmic ranking technology that’s been around since the advent of Google is now in the hands of many companies of all shapes and sizes. What we’re seeing with the unbundling of search is just different angles on the same value proposition of a search bar.

Use the best, Google gets the rest

This means marketers should start thinking about social media, apps, and retail platforms as part of an integrated search strategy. SEO (search engine optimization) is historically known for helping brands rank in Google Search. But this career path will be unbundled as well.

We’ll start to see more SEOs for Amazon, TikTok, and Apple to help brands optimize keywords, content, and messaging as the new search paradigm breaks apart the monopoly of Google. If your SEO is telling you to write blog posts instead of creating videos or optimizing product or app listings, then it’s time to get a new SEO.

The bad news here is that search has historically been accessible because it’s been centralized in the confines of Google. But now that’s no longer the case for those wanting to harness one of the most powerful actions a customer can take – searching for something you sell. Diversity breeds complexity, and search will be no different.

In the new paradigm for search, people will want to use the best and leave the rest for Google. Algorithms are commodity products, and Google has a monopoly. But that doesn’t mean that people won’t want to naturally turn to the right platform, with the right algorithm for the right search.

📈Chart Of The Week  

Big brands and NFTs. Nike has made $182 million so far with NFTs, through commissions on over $1 billion in secondary volume sales. This is orders of magnitude more than the next luxury brand on the list. If anything, this confirms that NFTs work well as a form of direct brand marketing. Link

📰 Latest Developments

Privacy lawsuits. The ICCL is taking Oracle to court in a class action lawsuit citing privacy violations in their ad network. They claim that Oracle has detailed profiles of over 5 billion people. In other news, Sephora was fined $1.2 million for breaching CCPA regulations and selling consumer data without their consent. This is interesting that it’s a rare case of a consumer brand (cosmetics) facing these kinds of fines. Domino effect? Oracle. Sephora.

Twitter security whistleblower. Peiter Zatko otherwise known as “Mudge” was the ousted head of security from earlier this year (part of the then incoming CEO Parag’s purge of executives). He is now saying that Twitter has been defrauding its own board and investors by holding back information about the company’s lack of security and content integrity. Social media companies are especially prone to threats and bad actors because of the incentives to steal or mislead users online. Disclosure. Analysis. Highlights.

I am once again saying that everyone has a CDP now. VWO adds personalization and CDP functionality to their core AB testing and analytics products. VWO services mostly the small to medium enterprise market, so if they see that adding a CDP to the offering is worthwhile, then perhaps more SMEs are able to use the technology? Link

📚 Reading

Agile is coming home to roost. There are many stories out there about big corporations betting big on agile transformation, only to realize that it slowed things down, and didn’t deliver the expected value. Good lessons in this piece about C-suite initiatives in a legacy brand that tried to work like a technology company. Link

Trading PPC for Influencers. As the online ad economy depreciates cookies and limits targeting options, marketers are investing more of their budget into influencer marketing as a hedge against the tried-and-true performance channels. Link

The backstory to the Facebook pivot to Meta. The VP of marketing at Meta talks about what it took to rebrand the company in perhaps one of the most expensive branding pivots for a technology company ever. Link

🔢 Data & Insights

NFT forecasting. Juniper research is putting out some outlandish forecasts on NFT adoption. 40 million transactions by 2027. Link

Global online ad spending is rising. The online ad industry will grow by 8% this year even in a down market. The online ad economy is resilient. Link

Why is Snowflake so expensive? Link

💡 Ideas

Two questions. Are we better off without programmatic ad auctions?  Are we better off without third-party cookies? Programmatic. Cookies

Building your CEP on the warehouse. More thinking about using the DWH as the command center for marketing automation, experimentation, and CX orchestration. What I like about this piece is the reframing from data and integration (Reverse ETL) to orchestration-focused use cases. Link

Google’s attempt at DOOH. This is the reverse pandemic trend no one is talking about. Google is investing in the technology because guess what? People are outside more. Link

✨ Weird and Wonderful

Insta launches a clone of BeReal. The new app that encourages people to post once a day during candid moments is the latest social media trend in the hype cycle. By now Meta must have an entire division devoted to studying innovative new apps and copying their features. What a 🤡 show. Link

Ding! Google is tracking you. Link

Crazy good AI art. Like, really good.Link

Stay Curious,

Make sense of marketing technology.

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Juan Mendoza

Juan Mendoza is an expert in researching global media, marketing, data, and technology trends. He is the CEO of The Martech Weekly, a media and research brand with subscribers in over 65 countries.

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