It’s easy to take online search for granted. If you’re looking to buy something online, connect with an old friend, or just figure out who was in that movie you just watched, you’re a short query and a few seconds away from getting what you want thanks to Google and other search engines. It’s been that way for so long that there’s an entire generation of adults who don’t remember a time before search was available.
But the truth is, online search has a long and storied history — and it wasn’t always very effective. Over the course of decades, online search evolved to the masterful form it exists in today. And learning about this path of evolution can help us understand – and prepare – for what search has in store for us next.
The Origins of Online Search
Online search originated as a kind of digital transformation for historical archive and searching functions. Rather than consulting the Dewey Decimal System and combing through card catalogs — an automatic algorithm could connect users to the resources they want to find.
The earliest known search engine was Archie Query Form, a program from 1990 designed to search FTP sites and automatically create an index of files that could eventually be downloaded. Throughout the 1990s, as the internet became more widely known and accepted, a number of competing search engines arose to serve the general public.
Names like Yahoo!, Lycos, WebCrawler, and AskJeeves became household names, and people began getting used to the idea of using search engines to direct their online traffic.
The Rise of Google
Of course, it wasn’t until Google arose that search engines became streamlined and universally popular. Google wasn’t the first search engine – in fact, it didn’t launch until 1998, almost a decade after the earliest known search engine. But it was easily the best to date.
There are several factors that gave Google the edge, including:
- Faster speed. To the average user, speed was a top factor for consideration – if you could get results 10 times faster with Google than with other search engines, why would you use anything else?
- A deep index. Google’s bots crawled webpages constantly, always discovering new information on the web. Within a year of launch, searches were capable of generating tens of millions of results.
- Simplicity. Yahoo! and other search engines attempted to make their search engines a small component of a bigger web service, offering news, products, and services in addition to search and complicating the online search process. Google’s homepage only included a search bar and two simple buttons. It was remarkably easy to understand.
- Quality of results. Thanks in part to PageRank, people could reliably get high-quality results –in terms of both relevance and authority.
Accordingly, it was only a matter of years before Google became the absolute dominant search engine. It remains in that position today. But how has it grown?
Some of the earliest updates to Google were focused on improving the functionality of components that already existed (such as Googlebot and PageRank). From there, it was a matter of perfecting search engine results pages (SERPs). Early updates attempted to streamline SERPs, making them easier to see and comb through, and incorporating extra features – like separate tabs for News and Images (and later on, Videos).
Future updates would advance SERPs even further, eventually morphing them into the form they enjoy today. But from the start, the focus was on providing a faster, simpler, more streamlined process for search users.
Early on, people began to realize just how much potential SERPs had to make websites more visible and easier for potential customers to find. To take advantage of this, webmasters tried to game the system, stuffing their websites with keywords that might help them rank for relevant terms and spamming links across the internet.
Google quickly took notice of the black-hat-hackers and put measures in place to prevent and address the most egregious offenses. But these “black-hat” tactics in search engine optimization (SEO) persisted for many years, until Google took more serious efforts to combat spam. Google’s efforts were in the form of the much-needed algorithm updates.
Panda and Penguin
The Panda and Penguin updates, from 2011 and 2012, respectively, drastically changed Google – arguably for the better.
Panda was released to improve Google’s ability to detect (and reward) content quality. Websites that stuffed keywords into content, hired non-native speakers, or engaged in other low-quality content production practices were penalized with lower rankings. By contrast, websites with high-quality content were greatly rewarded with higher rankings.
Penguin was released a year later to apply higher quality standards to the world of link building. In the old days of SEO, you could get away with spamming links recklessly, without much planning or forethought. Today’s link-building practices, post-Penguin, are much more sophisticated, prioritizing quality and relevance over all else.
Hummingbird and Smaller Updates
From there, Google rolled out Hummingbird, designed to improve Google’s capacity for “semantic search.” In short, Google wanted to “understand” the intent behind a user’s query, and not simply look for keyword matches on the internet. A follow-up to Hummingbird, RankBrain, introduced a machine-learning algorithm to get better at understanding complex user queries.
After around 2015, major updates stopped coming. Instead, Google introduced small tweaks and minimalistic updates on a near-constant basis, refining the algorithm progressively.
Voice Search and New User Interactions
Over the years, Google and other tech companies have also introduced more ways to search. Instead of typing a query into a search bar, you can search using your voice. Instead of using a desktop computer, you can use your phone, a tablet, or even a “smart speaker,” with no visual interface whatsoever.
The Goals of Search Evolution
All of Google’s updates have focused on one or more of the following goals:
- Quality and accuracy. To make money, Google needs people to use and trust its search engine. That means prioritizing content quality, relevance, and accuracy. Disinformation and “fake news” continue to be problems, but today’s search engine experience is very streamlined.
- Speed. Speed is a non-issue today, but it took time to get to a point where users could get information in a fraction of a second.
- Intuitiveness and convenience. It should be easy even for a novice to get accurate search results. Voice search and other mechanisms have simplified the search experience even further.
- Reduction of manual effort. Recently, Google has leveraged the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve its search algorithm automatically – with no manual human design or development.
What Does the Future of Search Look Like?
Knowing all this history helps us understand what has made Google so successful, what Google’s priorities are, and how the search engine must operate if it’s going to survive. So what does that mean for the future of search?
For starters, we’ll see more efforts to automate search engine improvements — learning more from user interactions and constantly refining how search results are found and presented. Quality standards could grow to become more significant and more impactful, eventually targeting disinformation and inaccurate content.
We could also see the development of more interactive forms of search, such as the development of advanced chatbots that can work with users to help them find what they’re looking for. Gesture-based search and other advanced forms of input could also catch on.
But we also need to recognize that novel forms of technological advancement are often fast, and so novel they’re unrecognizable. While Google keeps making iterative improvements and taking baby steps, we could see the next leap forward in search from a young, agile competitor – with a model for online search we’ve never even considered.
In any case, online search remains an important technological staple of the modern world, and it’s come a long way from its humble beginnings. Whatever the future holds in store for search, it’s bound to be amazing.
Image Credit: christina morillo; pexels
6 Ways to Perfect the Online Presence of Your Business in 2021 – ReadWrite
There are around 1.95 billion websites on the internet. This means there are 1.95 billion online businesses out there who want the same thing as you: the attention of their customers.
The competition might not be direct but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. At the end of the day, the more time they spend watching movies on Netflix, the more time they are not shopping on Amazon or interacting with people on Instagram or Facebook, or interacting with your brand.
Perfect Your Online Presence
To be their first preference, or be in the top-of-mind awareness for a specific industry or category, maintaining a consistent and engaging online presence of your business is essential. But occupying premium space in your target audiences’ minds doesn’t have to be expensive or hard.
The key to making your online presence more effective is to be human. This makes your brand relatable, giving your target audience a chance to connect with your brand.
In addition to that, let’s explore some other effective ways you can strengthen your online presence in 2021.
6 Ways to Strengthen Online Presence of Your Business
1. Optimize Website User Experience
Your website is your business’s first impression. And to make the right first impression, you will need to create an intuitive and rewarding experience for your visitors.
Start by removing unnecessary steps and elements that create friction in their overall experience. The simpler your website, the better the customer experience.
If you are still in the website designing and development phase, here’s an amazing website design cost estimator to help you create an appropriate budget.
Secondly, there’s nothing more boring and off-putting than a static website. So try adding interactive elements like videos, slides, quizzes, games, etc. But also make sure they are fun, add value to their experience, and create unnecessary friction for them. Such elements should complement your website’s main goal and shouldn’t drive your customers’ focus from the main goal.
Lastly, invest in tools that can help you create personalized experiences for your visitors. Netflix and Spotify are the kings of a personalized experience, as they recommend movies and songs, playlists to their viewers and listeners based on their past choices. This is a great way to make your customers feel special and heard.
Other simple and effective ways to optimize your website’s user experience:
- Providing easy-to-access customer support
- Optimizing CTAs based on past data
- Implement responsive web design
- Keep forms short and simple
2. Make the Most of Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool offered by Google to help business owners manage their branded online presence. Optimizing your Google My Business listing can boost your local rankings, improve search engine engagement, and convert more customers.
The first step is to claim your business on GMB and add in the basic information like your business’ name, address, working hours, website link, phone numbers, email address, etc.
Once you are done with the basic information, work on the following sections:
- Question and answers – you can add them based on the past customer questions and feedback
- Product and service listings
- Posts – based on your industry, specific category, and target keywords
- Reviews – ask your loyal customers to leave a review of their experience with your brand
One of the main sections of GMB is the Business section which is a brief description of your offerings. Make sure the description is engaging, friendly, and has the target keywords. Also, keep the content simple and concise.
Lastly, keep adding quality photos of your product or office space to increase customer engagement.
3. Data Protection
The more protection you provide, the stronger your customers’ trust becomes.
Data leaks, thefts, and hacks are happening quite frequently these days. As a result, businesses need to pay attention and prioritize making efforts to protect their customers’ data.
Here are a few ways you can get on top of protecting your customers’ data:
- Endpoint, email, and network protection to filter files containing spam and malware
- Conduct company-wide cybersecurity training sessions
- Secure the web gateway
- Have a data protection policy in effect
- Add encryption on servers to protect sensitive data
4. Create Useful and Engaging Content
When we say content, we mean content in every form and shape—blogs, infographics, videos, podcasts, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, etc.
Creating value-adding and engaging content goes a long way in building a good rapport with your customers. However, the key to successfully utilize the true potential of content is to be consistent with it. And the key to being consistent is to have a content plan in place. But make sure your content plan aligns with your business’ main goals.
Here are a few ways you can create original, engaging, and value-adding content for your customers:
- Tell a story, but make sure it has some useful takeaways, because they are going to spend 10-12mins of their lives reading your content, so make it worthwhile.
- Invest in creating evergreen content and then reuse it into graphics, Twitter threads, Instagram stories.
- Enable your followers on social media to create branded content for you by giving them assets like meme templates, reels, giveaways, and use the user-generated content to build trust among your audience.
5. Engage in Real-time on Social Media
To engage with your followers on social media platforms, talk about what you know: your industry. Don’t just talk about your products/services; share your knowledge and expertise with your audience. For example, if you have a chain of gyms, then you can share your knowledge about nutrition, discipline, exercises, training, etc.
When you share your expertise, you are giving your audience a rock-solid reason to trust you. And for a cherry on top, you can showcase some of your best work through case studies, before/after posts, testimonials, etc.
After you’ve built a small group of loyal followers, you can host giveaways, making it easier for your loyal followers/promoters to promote your brand. You can also host Q&A sessions to answer FAQs and real-time questions about the products or your area of expertise.
One other great way of engaging with your target audience is to share/repost content from businesses with similar target audiences. Following the same example, a gym owner can repost content from dieticians, nutritionists, personal trainers, bodybuilders, etc. When you repost their content, they’ll mention your business which means their audience will engage with your account.
6. Spend Wisely on Advertisement
There’s no way around paid advertisement anymore. After all the efforts improving user experience, social media engagement, and content marketing, you’ll still need to invest in paid advertising to reach your target audience with the right message, at the right time, with the right call to action for better conversions.
Quick tips to start with the paid advertisement:
- Create a checklist for paid advertisement
- Have a properly analyzed advertising keywords list for campaigns
- Test, analyze, optimize, and repeat for the best results
Quick tips to start with social media paid advertisement:
- Experiment with different forms of content, time frames, and audience
- Fine-tune your copies, schedules, and budget
- Always go to social media analytics for new ideas for campaigns and to analyze which kind of content works for your business
Pro Tip: Always have a predefined budget before running any paid campaign, which should be according to what you are willing to pay to acquire leads/customers.
Lastly, Stay in Touch
After doing all this hard work, you don’t want your customers to visit/shop with you only once. So, make sure to have an after-sales communication plan in place to keep them engaged with your business. It could be through email newsletters, app notifications (if you have an app), social media campaigns, offline advertising, feedback loop, etc.
Image Credit: anna tarazevich; pexels; thank you!
5 Tips to Improve Your Digital Marketing Efforts – ReadWrite
Digital marketing is an ever-growing part of business success. According to Statista, in February 2020, U.S. marketing executives were devoting a whopping 13.2% of their company’s revenue toward marketing budgets. The allotted budget spend was up from an average of 7% to 10% in previous years. The statistics website also reiterated that digital marketing continues to increase while traditional channels shrink.
Even if a company has already invested in digital marketing in the past and present, facts like these continue to emphasize the need to maintain those online efforts in the future. It’s an ongoing phenomenon that Jason Hennessey is well aware of. The CEO of and founder of digital marketing agency Hennessey Digital knows that online marketing isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of deal. It requires patient and steady attention over time.
Digital Marketing Tips From Marketing Master Jason Hennessey
Truly successful digital marketing requires consistent improvement in multiple areas. With that in mind, here are a few tips that Jason Hennessey has found helpful as he’s reverse-engineered the Google algorithm and perpetually improves the ongoing digital marketing efforts of both his own enterprise and countless other companies.
1. Put Conversions First
Convert, convert, convert. That is the golden rule of online advertising, or any marketing, really. It doesn’t matter how much attention or traffic you generate if you aren’t converting it into sales or some other pre-set objective.
This is why conversion rate optimization is critical to consider, particularly once your digital marketing is up and running. But, of course, at that point, you’ve already created things like landing pages, long- and short-form content, and contact forms.
Now, it’s time to tinker with the formula to see what helps and what hinders your ongoing digital marketing efforts. This can optimize each aspect of your marketing collateral and ensure that it’s helping to generate action on the part of consumers.
A big part of this process involves tracking and analyzing data, something we’ll cover more thoroughly in a minute. The main takeaway here is to keep your eyes fixed on conversions at all costs.
2. Prioritize Continuity
Continuity is another part of digital marketing that’s easy to lose sight of — overtime. When you create an initial marketing strategy, it’s easy to have everything in place. Brand messages, vision, logos, and color schemes are all laid out and clearly understood.
As you create your online content across various marketing channels, though, it’s easy for things to begin to drift. The demands and focus of each platform can chip away at the continuity of your brand’s digital content.
If you’re trying to improve your digital marketing efforts, consider reviewing your continuity. Look for any areas where your branding has slipped over time, and then take steps to ameliorate the issue.
3. Follow the Data
Data is an important part of modern marketing. It can be particularly useful when you’re trying to improve ongoing digital marketing activity.
SEO is a great example of the value that data offers. As your digital marketing gains momentum, your SEO will begin to pick up speed, too. When this happens, you can begin to tailor your SEO efforts to enhance your results.
You can do this by using SEO and analytics tools to research industry-specific keywords that you should try to rank for in search results pages (SERPS.) You can also use analytics to track traffic and engagements, use heatmaps, set up A/B testing, and of course, make sure you’re converting in the right areas. Regardless of the specifics, data and analytics are excellent tools that can hone your digital marketing over time.
4. Focus on a Big Picture Strategy
Digital marketing can often be splashy and exciting in the short term. Pay per click (PPC) campaigns offer a quick and effective way to generate traffic. Social media interactions are intriguing yet fleeting. Emails can get a response, but they don’t last long.
If you want your digital marketing to last over the long haul, you have to both invest in and maintain a big-picture strategy. By all means, continue to plan short-term campaigns and promotions. However, make sure that they are part of a larger digital marketing plan.
This should revolve around your audience. Ensure to stay up to date on your customers’ pain points, interests, and other needs. Keep a fleshed-out and updated buyer persona to inform your digital marketing efforts, as well. Also, make sure to invest in long-term marketing activities like brand awareness, content, and SEO.
5. Create a Complete Customer Journey
Finally, make sure that your digital marketing doesn’t stop at the point of sale. If you want to get the most out of your digital marketing efforts, they should be part of a unified and comprehensive customer journey.
This doesn’t mean you have to spread yourself thin as you try to cater to your customers through every possible communication channel. When writing about his personally coined term harmonized retail, strategy and innovation consultant Steve Dennis explains that “the customer is the channel.” Dennis elaborates that “a great customer experience has never been about being everywhere and being all things for all people. What matters is showing up for the right customers, where it really matters, in remarkable ways.”
In other words, your digital marketing shouldn’t be a stand-alone effort to siphon traffic to your website or generate sales. Instead, it should be part of a larger, all-inclusive customer journey that starts with the first point of contact and continues past the point of sale and on throughout your customer service endeavors.
Digital marketing can be an overwhelming activity. As a result, it can feel scattered, disjointed, and expensive. That’s why companies mustn’t just set digital marketing efforts in motion and then leave them on their own.
Instead, take the time to revisit and improve your digital marketing efforts. Optimize conversions, analyze data, consider continuity, and create a big-picture strategy that keeps the whole customer journey in mind. If you can do that, your digital marketing efforts will continue to deliver maximum results both now and far into the future.
Image Credit: negative space; pexels; thank you!
What Does the Future of Telehealth Look Like? – ReadWrite
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us got a glimpse of the potential future of telehealth. Telehealth, or telemedicine, is the ongoing delivery and execution of any health- or medicine-related services in a remote setting, using telecommunications and digital communication channels. That’s kind of a vague definition, but it includes things like doctor’s visits, check-ins, consultations, prescriptions, and more – all done remotely.
The pandemic forced the hand of technologists, healthcare providers, and other organizations. With people restricted by lockdown protocols and concerned about their own wellbeing, remote healthcare and medicine became the only real options – and it worked quite well.
But what does the future of telehealth look like? And will public acceptance continue?
The State of Telehealth Today
Let’s start by looking at the state of telehealth today.
Current telehealth incorporates a wide range of different technologies, including AI-based monitoring, high-tech wearable devices, consultations via video chat, and more. However, not everyone has made use of virtual appointments or digital communication, and many of the applications of telehealth are restricted to the following:
- Behavioral health. Behavioral health services, including therapy, are often easy to provide over video chat and other forms of digital communication.
- Chronic disease management. Patients with chronic diseases or chronic pain typically need some form of ongoing treatment and support – but going to appointments all the time can be exhausting. That’s why telemedicine is ideal for chronic disease management.
- Consultations. Simple consultations often require little physical interaction. Virtually, doctors can still meet with you, talk about your problems, and even look at your body and measure vitals to see what actions are appropriate next.
- Remote patient monitoring. Thanks to wearable devices and other tech, it’s possible to remotely monitor patients, paying attention to their heart rate, temperature, breathing rate, and other metrics.
The majority of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers agree that telehealth can be effective – and that it’s a preferable treatment alternative for many patients. However, regulatory support remains sluggish, and some people are reluctant to make use of telehealth services because of privacy concerns, skepticism of the benefits of the technology, or just ignorance of how the technology works.
The Benefits of Telehealth
There’s a lot at stake in the world of telehealth. Continuing to make advances and drive the industry forward will have benefits in the form of:
- Convenience. Providing medicine remotely is more convenient for everyone involved. Healthcare providers can provide consultations and some form of treatment anywhere. Patients can get care even if they’re at home. This completely eliminates the need to travel to a facility, eliminates wait times, and allows the patient to be more comfortable throughout the entire process. It’s more efficient and more comfortable, overall.
- Reduced costs. Thanks in part to the increased convenience, telehealth has the potential to reduce costs. Patients don’t have to pay for transportation, nor to they need to use the same facilities as they would with an in-person visit. Providing care remotely can also be faster and take up fewer resources, lowering bills for both insurance companies and end consumers.
- Better turnaround. When meeting with patients virtually and monitoring data streams remotely, doctors and healthcare professionals can typically see more people in a given period of time. This is an especially important benefit, considering our current doctor shortage.
- Higher responsiveness. With live data feeds and automatic alerts, doctors can often be faster and more responsive to the patients who need care the most. This can avert medical disasters and ultimately provide better care to the people who need it most.
- Improved outcomes. Overall, patients will enjoy improved outcomes. More available doctors, broader reach, lower costs, and more immediate treatment will save lives and make people more comfortable.
How Telehealth Will Evolve
So how will telehealth evolve in the future?
- Custom solutions. For starters, we’re going to see more demand for custom solutions – both for individuals and for healthcare providers. Every hospital and practice in the country is going to be hungry for their own proprietary apps, software, devices, and other technologies to provide their patients with the best possible care. Accordingly, there’s going to be a golden age of healthcare technology development – and thousands of new technologies that will push the limits of our medical knowledge.
- Inclusion in health policies. We’ll also see the inclusion of telehealth- and telemedicine-specific policies and outlines in health policies. Government departments, insurance companies, and other organizations will work to make specific rules and regulations for telehealth, legitimizing it in the eyes of the public and setting the stage for future developments.
- Wearable devices. Wearable devices are already a big part of telemedicine, but they’ll be an even bigger part of the industry in the future. Wristbands can currently detect and transmit your heart rate remotely, along with other metrics like body temperature. In the future, wearables will become more diverse, more discreet, and more sophisticated, capable of measuring a much wider range of data points while being hardly noticeable to the wearer.
- Data-based profiles. Big data and telemedicine go hand in hand. If you’re wearing devices 24/7 that collect information about your body and health habits, doctors will have access to enormous volumes of data about you as a person. With that, they’ll be able to make much more individualized plans for treatment – and give you exactly what you need to maximize your chances of improvement or recovery.
- AI bots. Though telehealth will have the potential to free up doctors’ time with faster appointments and greater convenience, we’re still likely to suffer from the ongoing labor shortage in the field. To make up for this, we’ll likely see the emergence of AI chatbots who can handle the majority of initial consultations – providing care to more people and saving time and money in the process.
- Virtual reality. Video chats are effective for most forms of communication, but sometimes, navigating a 3D environment together is even better. In the distant future, appointments may include interaction in a virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) space. It could be a way to preserve the “human connection” element of health or simply provide better care.
- Real-time care. Wearables and diagnostic tools will be capable of sending a constant stream of information to healthcare providers, resulting in a real-time feed of data from which providers can make important decisions. If someone is experiencing a life-threatening situation, a healthcare provider can respond immediately.
- The dissolution of “telehealth.” Eventually, “telehealth” will be a foreign concept because technology is so ubiquitous that it becomes the norm. Telehealth tech will just be a normal, accepted part of healthcare.
Collectively, these effects will lead to:
- Higher public acceptance. Better tech will lead to higher public acceptance. More people will be on board with remote health services – and demand will rise.
- Greater accessibility. Cheaper, more ubiquitous tech also has the potential to increase accessibility. It will be in the hands of more healthcare providers, more people will have new ways to get healthcare, and there will be more provisions in insurance policies to provide that care.
- Lower costs. Tech has been reducing healthcare costs for decades, and that trend is only going to accelerate.
- Better outcomes. Almost every aspect of our current system has the potential to be better, and yield better results, with better, more embedded tech.
When people see these benefits, it’s going to inspire even more ingenuity, investment, and acceptance – resulting in a positive feedback loop that keeps the industry growing.
It’s all but a certainty that telehealth and telemedicine will continue to progress over the next several years and decades – but it’s not certain how or when it will become the new normal. It’s an industry that’s young, with a lot of potential, so it’s an important one to watch whether you’re a doctor, and investor, or just someone interested in better health outcomes.