Our vision on search marketing and its future with Drupal.

Thursday GoalGorilla's excellence in search marketing was recognized by two Dutch Search Awards.

'How predictive marketing and who holds your data will shape the web.' An opinion piece by co-founder Mieszko Czyzyk. Read time: 9 minutes.

How predictive marketing and who holds your data will shape the web

The Dutch Search Awards is an annual event recognizing the very best in search marketing. Our team was shortlisted in two award categories at the Dutch Search Awards. We won both categories; the best 'SEO campaign' and 'best agency'.

Keynote speakers where  Mascha Driessen (Senior Director Strategic Search, Microsoft), Kate Adams (Head of Performance Solutions & Innovation, Google) and digital marketing expert Bas van den Beld.

All speakers identified similar trends. The most prominent is the increased use of Artificial-Intelligence (AI) technologies in search, driving innovation in both voice based search and visual search. Google demonstrated their new Pixel phone powered by their Allo assistant. Microsoft talked about predictive powers of their Bing search technologies and impressed the audience by its live image recognition engine available through captionbot.ai.

CaptionBot AI by Microsoft does live image recognition and writes descriptive captions.
Actress and columnist, Victoria Koblenko was our host at the awards. CaptionBot understood the crowd and the rather large TV, but there is room to improve in recognizing the stage :)

At the beginning of her presentation, Mascha Driessen jokingly said it was 'The End of Search'. She of course meant of 'The End of Search as We Know It', but I would argue it is 'The End of Search Data in the Hands of Your Organization' if we as open-source developers and marketeers don't step up our game. I will come back to this later, but first to summarize the evening, Mascha concluded that the future of search will be:  

  • pervasive: search is available to you on any device, anywhere;
  • proactive: search answers your question before you ask them;
  • predictive: search gives you smarter answers by machine learning from big data.

Our successful search marketing vision: process enables creativity

    Our team won in two categories; 'best SEO campaign' and 'best agency'. The jury, which consisted of 24 (!) digital marketing professionals, was represented on stage by Eduard Blacquiere, principal consultant at OrangeValley. He explained that cases were scored on seven factors out of which three weighed in most heavily:

    1. A consistent and clear methodology. This shows an agency doesn't arrive at a great business case by chance, but engineers success by applying best practices and a proven workflow.
    2. Results, not only in absolute terms but also relative to the potential of a project (think market size, relative growth compared to competition etc.).
    3. A fair amount of creativity. This involves multi-channel thinking and taking campaigns beyond the known search marketing paths.

    At GoalGorilla we are strong believers in the importance of the first factor; executing strategies against a proven method. William Demming, which views on manufacturing inspired the Japanese principles on continuous improvement and putting quality above costs, famously said:"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.

    William Deming said: "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.”.

    One could argue that building a sustainable business that delivers consistent quality is all about process. Now, many people that see doing business (and thus search marketing) more as an art than a science, might not approve of this message :) But I believe there are missing a key point: having a process doesn't mean you can't be (very) creative in the execution. Also it doesn't mean there is no serendipity or other non-predictable elements involved in getting the desired results...

    But it does mean you know which parts of your work you control to achieve consistent quality. I would argue that this leaves more room to be creative for critical elements that benefit from creative approaches, such as design and content. 

    To bring this back to our discussion on our marketing vision. The technique that delivered us the best 'SEO campaign' win is a perfect example of a thorough process mixed with creative execution. The blog describing the technique is in Dutch, so to summarize; we co-create online content by involving experts in a certain domain. This follows a process with predictable results, but ends with unique, creative content that is valuable for users as well as search engines. 

    Search marketing, Drupal technology and the future of web

    We are a company powered by open-source technologies, focused on Drupal especially. While the newest generation of billion dollar search companies, such as Elastic, are open-source, the leading search powerhouse is proprietary Google (and Bing by Microsoft).

    Nevertheless, the relationship between (open-source) content management technologies such as Drupal and search companies has been symbiotic. For example; Microsoft has been a long time sponsor of the Drupal association. The reason is simple: search, cloud and advertising companies need content to index, host and serve ads with. Well, Drupal runs about 8% of the world's 100.000 biggest websites. That's a lot of pageviews to serve and users to display ads to :)

    If you create a valuable digital experience, you want to make it available to a large audience. This will continue to involve search marketing for the foreseeable future. Smarter search means it will be harder to game the system and focusing on the user, with marketing principles that have worked for decades, will remain key to long term success.

    From 'State of Drupal' keynote at DrupalCon New Orleans 2016 by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert.

    Still, technology can provide a much needed edge. Drupal 8 is a valuable tool that covers things that, by now, should be considered the 'basics' by serious marketeers such as mobile and multi-language accessibility. In addition, we see Drupal moving in a few key ways that empower the digital marketeer of the 21st century:

    • progressive web app technology (pervasive): thanks to advanced HTML5 techniques websites increase their pervasiveness by behaving like native iOS and Android applications. This is good news for search because by its open nature web based content is easier to index and serve by search engines. Early efforts in Drupal include de WPA module and AMP module for accelerating mobile pages. Our community software spin-off Open Social employs similar techniques on Drupal to offer things as notifications.
    • real-time advice to authors (proactive): in-line content editors that proactively help craft compelling content. An example of this is the SEO module for Drupal, which GoalGorilla co-develops.
    • personalized experiences (predictive): content management systems are joining the newest frontier of predictive and personalized content based on user data. Think of serving content based on customer interest, or even more cutting edge: on predictions of interest based on otherwise still anonymous user behaviour. We have services like Acquia Lift moving into this space, but also tools focused on marketing automation such as SilverPop by Microsoft.

    I believe the biggest challenges and opportunities lie in the predictive techniques. Interestingly, there is a conflict of interest here between search giants such as Google and organisations deploying content management systems such as Drupal. Content management systems used to be dumb databases serving pages. But now, as we explored here, these systems are learning to capture user and customer data and act on it! 

    Interestingly, Google's mission is to 'organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful'. While that may well be true, they also want to sell this data to their advertisers. They would prefer you hand them over your content and customer data instead of capturing it in your content management system. And this is no fearmongering; Google's so called Knowledge Graph search results have been expanding to involve airline tickets, Wikipedia entries, movie and music and much more. For an increasing amount of search tasks Google users don't visit your website anymore! If this trend is taken to the extreme your investment in a content management system and a great brand experience goes down the drain :(

    Google results on a movie related query show all content in Google's interface effectively hijacking the user experience. Food for thought for search marketeers :)
    Google Knowledge Graph results on a movie related query. Note how most content is shown in Google's interface, effectively hijacking the user experience. (Try pressing 'reviews' to go even deeper into Google's Knowledge Graph.)

    To give Google credit; they have been opening up their Knowledge Graph through an API so that developers have access to the data that is used to build these advanced search results. And exactly here lies the role of the future search marketeer: we need to embrace data, take from Google and others what we can, and craft amazing, personalized and predictive user experiences to our visitors.

    In the future only these user experiences that are integrated from predictive search result to unique, personalized website will leave your users wanting more! In the long term this also brings value to your organization by balancing the data in the hands of search giants and the data you and your users own and gather through your open-source content management platform.  

    Get in touch to talk search 

    My team and I love to talk search, Drupal and the future of the web. More importantly; we love being part of it by doing challenging projects both for clients and through our own Drupal distributions such as Open Social. Leave your thoughts on the future of search and Drupal in the comments below or meet as at one of the many DrupalCons.

    Hope to see you at the next Dutch Search Awards or at a DrupalCon Baltimore :)

    Further reading:

    Mieszko Czyzyk

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