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John Battelle on Web 2.0 & Google


At day two of the iMedia Agency Summit in La Quinta, John Battelle gave a keynote speech describing the concept of Web 2.0 and his insights on Google. Battelle is probably best known for starting two magazines, Wired (which he co-founded) and The Industry Standard. Most recently he published a book, "The Search: How Google and its rivals rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture." Also, Battelle launched the Web 2.0 conference that subsequently gave rise to a hotly debated concept of the same name.

Web 2.0

The environment where interactive marketers operate, the internet, is constantly evolving. Fundamental to understanding this change is the concept of Web 2.0. The roots of this idea stretch back to the period after the dot-com bust. Though burned by the crash, some web entrepreneurs began rebuilding businesses online. They decided that, "there was still something in this internet thing," said Battelle. In response, he started a conference to cover the burgeoning space called Web 2.0. "Little did we know that the name Web 2.0 would take off and become such a controversial and much debated name," Battelle told the Summit audience. Debate aside, "[Web 2.0] is a descriptor for what's happening now as opposed to what was happening in the first version of the web," said Battelle.

Computer book publisher Tim O'Reilly put together a famous list comparing Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 that helps illustrate what Web 2.0 is. For example, a Web 1.0 item would be DoubleClick; its counterpart in Web 2.0 is AdSense. Also, Britanica Online would be something found on Web 1.0; Wikipedia is Web 2.0.

As Battelle explains, "Version one of the internet was short on execution, very short on profits -- the market and the technology were not ready for all our ideas. Version two is long on execution, it's long on profits, and I think, actually, there's a lot more opportunity now to start new companies."

Guiding the transformation towards Web 2.0 is a fundamental shift in online applications. "The web has become a platform," said Battelle, "it's become literally an operating system of sorts that we, as developers of content and applications and services, build on top of." As entrepreneurs developed an understanding of this change, they began, "building new approaches to old markets," Battelle explained. "And that's really what Web 2.0 is: building on this platform of the web to reinterpret."

Consumers are driving Web 2.0

"Online marketing is driven by conversation," Battelle explained in his speech. In order to leverage the conversation, marketers and advertisers need to know the degree to which consumers are involved online under Web 2.0.

As Battelle explained to the Summit audience, consumer generated content and search queries are powerful elements in the Web 2.0 environment. In fact, Battelle explained, "the best sites are driven by search." To illustrate, he used a concept of his called the "Point-To Economy," which begins with content.

"You have content. If it's good, people want to share it, they want to give it to others, they want to say, 'look, I found this really great thing, I want to share it with you.'"  By "sharing," Battelle refers to linking. "The more you're linked to, of course, the more you rank in search," said Battelle, "the more you're up in organic results, the more you're found." And the more you're found, the more your business has an opportunity to grow. 

Battelle also explained how search allows for an "intent-based approach to marketing." According to Battelle, "The audience declares the intent first, and then finds the content [using search]. They don't go to a content attachment site; they go to search... that creates this intent-based approach to marketing."

He continues, "If I know the intent of an audience, then I can attach my marketing to the intent -- which is a much more powerful place to attach. That's why search took off. So intent drives content… you need to understand how to play in the world of intent in order to make sure you are found."

Another pillar of the Point-To Economy is consumer voice in the form of recommendations and reviews. For example, product reviews by consumers at retail sites (Battelle pointed out Amazon.com as an example of this). "There is this idea that you let your customers build your business for you," said Battelle. 

The Google mystery

A speech by John Battelle would not be complete without a discussion of Google. These days, the search giant seems to be causing a lot of anxiety. According to Battelle, the tension stems from a usual suspect: fear of the unknown.  

"People are not sure what the end game is here," said Battelle referring to Google's recent acquisitions. "And I think that's a very important thing to be thinking about. Google seems to be disintermediating traditional media models. Now, [Google is] getting into the ad agency business it seems -- getting into the image and brand-based advertising."

As evidence of Google's brand-based ad ambitions, Battelle pointed to the divergence of Google's major revenue streams. "Google is separating Adsense from Adwords and starting to have site-specific and image-based advertising," Battelle explained, "which says obviously there's a lot to do with branding. We're only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg." 


Before closing, Battelle listed several key takeaways:

  • Online marketing is driven by conversation, offline marketing is driven by interruption and dictation.

  • Creatives should invite that conversation and not demand attention, but rather ask for an endorsement to be invited into that conversation.

  • Employ your customers to create new products and campaigns.

  • Criticism is okay -- in fact, if you are criticized as a marketer or brand, how you react can actually build your brand.

  • Media is ruled by distributors, it's ruled by attention.

  • Search rules, but not just paid search, keep the Point-To economy in mind

Attendees also took home a copy of Battelles book, and if they were quick enough to catch him, his signature as well. 

Mario Sgambelluri is managing editor for iMedia Communications.

It would be wrong to call this the Holy Grail of data because, after all, SEO is largely about making recommendations based on estimated results. And this data isn't predictive, it's reactive. But it tells us a lot about how well a client's site is converting, and it can be extremely valuable for any SEO or agency that has developed niche expertise.

For example, let's say you are an SEO with a lot of real estate clients. For searches like "homes for sale in Los Angeles," you can tell a new client, with a high amount of confidence, that you know how much traffic is available for that particular search term because you have seen it before. Over time, you can make highly educated guesses about how much traffic can be expected from different search positions, assuming that you are collecting and trending all of your data.

Image courtesy of SEO Book

But the real value of this new Google feature isn't predictive anyway. There are three basic types of organic searches: navigational, transactional, and informational. And all of them behave differently. Earlier this year, Aaron Wall, arguably the best SEO in the business, wrote an excellent article on his site, SEO Book, about how to interpret the data in Google's new feature. In the above example, Wall shows that ranking No. 1 on Google for the keyword "SEO" drives only about half of the traffic that he receives from his top two branded search terms, "seo book" and "seobook." He also points out that branded searches tend to bring traffic that is more likely to spend money on your products and services.

The conclusion here is that brands need to be careful about spending time and money on vanity keywords because ranking No. 1 isn't the end all of SEO. Perhaps the most valuable point Wall makes in the entire article is, "Rather than sweating trying to rank well for the hardest keywords first focus on more niche keywords that are easy to rank for."

Google has provided an easy-to-read interpretation of what different searches actually mean. In other words, ranking No. 1 for one keyword is not at all the same as ranking No. 1 for a different keyword. Therefore, SEO strategy has a lot more to do with the keywords themselves than their ranking positions. But the final, and perhaps most important question related to this topic is, "If I can't rank in the top 10, is it worth trying to rank at all?" The short answer is "no."

On Google and other search engines, most searchers don't navigate past the first page, and the percentage of traffic drops sharply after the first result and almost disappears after the tenth result. Add to this the fact that Google's universal search (blending video, image, maps, and local alongside standard organic results) is pushing search results, even from the top 10, off the bottom of the first page.

Of course, there are exceptions to this, including robust long-tail search strategies, but that's a different topic altogether. But the fact that top 10 rankings are so important should be informing new variations on traditional SEO strategies. For example, strategies that pursue local search, video SEO, and image results can put your pages directly at the top of the page for targeted search queries. And in many cases this is more valuable than traditional organic results.

In addition to being a nice little history lesson about measuring how traffic is affected by rank, there are some important takeaways, including:

  • Ranking in the top 10, especially for branded terms, is important.

  • Brands should carefully evaluate the ranking impact of their top organic keyword terms; are people actually clicking the result?

  • Remember that searcher behavior is heavily influenced by the type of query: navigational, transactional, and informational.

  • Once an SEO strategy has been started, brands should closely monitor the results with Google's excellent Webmaster Tools.

  • If you are interested in SEO and you aren't already reading Aaron Wall's blog, you should be.

Drew Hubbard is a search and social media consultant.

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