It doesn’t matter if some people are still arguing about whether the hype is over or not. The fact is that extended reality (augmented reality, virtual reality, 360° film) has become indispensable in many areas. It has already solved many problems in marketing alone. You just need to take a close look at what the differences and therefore advantages of the individual presentation forms are to see this.

There can only be one search engine! This statement does not sound very much like diversity and transparency, but rather monopoly, one-sidedness and dominance. But the reality is that Google has unrestricted control over the global search market. Whether this will remain the case depends largely on global competition. This issue of SEO News for the month of February is dedicated to the challengers and eternal second-placers in the global search market.

No choice but to be happy with Google

Data protection is not just a local issue, a fact which has recently come to the attention of Silicon Valley. In the last few years, European and national competition authorities have put massive pressure on Google and Facebook with sensational rulings on the collection and use of personal data.

According to recent figures, Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. had to spend more money on fines last year than the company paid in taxes. The justification for bringing these successful proceedings is always the same: abuse of a dominant competitive position in the provision of services or products.

There are many causal factors influencing the often quasi-monopolistic market shares of search or social media platforms in the digital world. But the search industry is more than familiar with examples of how former market leaders (Yahoo, Alta Vista) can be overtaken by an unknown competitor (Google). So what about competition in organic search in 2019? Is there a contender for a post-Google world? And is it worthwhile for SEOs to take the broader view when it comes to competition?

You don’t have to spend much time checking the numbers to demonstrate Google’s market power, which currently stands at around 90 percent worldwide. The company’s professed goal is to combine the industry’s largest data mine with artificial intelligence to form an invisible and omnipresent information, solutions and convenience machine. The voice-controlled Google Assistant is an important cornerstone for Google. But when we look closer at the issue of Voice Search, we see that the subject is more complex than it may seem. Those grey talking boxes are just the information middlemen in a larger game. Usually, the search engine inside is not a product of the brand on the case. For example, Microsoft’s search engine Bing is the actual supplier behind the search results for Amazon’s bestselling voice assistant Alexa. Up until the end of 2017, Bing was also behind Apple’s language assistant Siri. More recently, the company based in Cupertino has started using Google search results, with the exception of image searches, which continue to be supplied by Microsoft. In particular, as local searches on smartphones or in the car are increasingly conducted via speech, Bing should not be written off or disregarded as a search system.

Expansion is creating a more diverse search market

The search market continues to expand as a result of technological evolution, so that even small search providers can show surprisingly good results in their own niches. “Duck Duck Go“, the search engine for anonymity and the protection of personal data, claims that the number of searches carried out on their platform has almost doubled since 2016. According to an analysis by the analytics service SimilarWeb, the provider from the Midwestern United States leaves even industry giants like Bing in its wake when it comes to bounce rates and user engagement. According to the study, this is in part due to the fact that DuckDuckGo users are more technologically aware and sensitive to data protection issues.

The fallen giant Yahoo is not planning to make a search comeback

With just under four percent of the global market share, the former search pioneer “Yahoo” is still in the game. However, for several years its search technology has been provided by Microsoft, and since the portal was sold in 2016 to the US telecommunications company Verizon, a return to a separate search business is no longer on the agenda for the company founded in 1994, although the service is still quite popular in Japan.

Similarly, even the small search engine “Ask.com” is still in business, and is holding onto a stable market share of around four percent, at least in the US. Ask started in 1996 with their own search technology, however, around 15 years ago, it morphed into a social question-and-answer portal that attracts a relatively stable core audience, though this never got past the beta version in Germany.

The real challengers for Google are in the Far East

You have to look all the way to Asia to find a potential challenger for Google: China has developed into a search engine market of its own with a similar economic potential to that of the West. However, under the conditions of national censorship, it operates according to its own rules, and Western corporations are systematically denied access. But companies like Baidu or Tencent are in no way inferior to Silicon Valley in terms of technology. The race between the USA and China in the fields of artificial intelligence and quantum computing will also be trendsetting for the global search market.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke came very close to predicting the future in one of his laws. He wrote that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

In today’s world, in which technological innovation seems to be moving forward at warp speed, the revered science fiction writer seems to be closer to the truth than we might think…

Technology is in the air

In just ten or so short years, technology has gradually become invisible. The cumbersome computers that once took up space on our desks have morphed into tablets and smartphones. Bulky cathode-ray tubes have yielded floor space to flat-screen TVs, that some people even use as works of art. The wires that once connected telephones to the network have disappeared, leaving behind WiFi waves and 4G. Technology is now omnipresent in our daily lives. But it has moved out of sight.

Screens themselves also seem to be disappearing, giving way to connected speakers and voice command technology. We are more surrounded by technology than ever, but let’s face it… we can no longer see it. The ultimate expression of this disappearance is Amazon Go. In reality, there is nothing technological about the customer experience at Amazon’s checkout-free supermarket. You go in, take what you need from the shelves, fill your basket and leave. All the shop’s electronic equipment – sensors, cameras, and of course computers – is hidden behind the scenes, out of customers’ view.

From their perspective the shopping experience is no more “digital” than buying a lemon on a Friday evening from your local grocer’s. All the technology that Amazon uses has actually become completely transparent.

But there is still a magical element about this shop, in which there are no human interactions at all. Helping yourself, leaving the shop, and seeing your bank account automatically debited with the correct amount is the most positive brand of magic that modern technology can offer!

Power and Data

The magical Amazon Go experience owes its appeal to a whole host of technological innovations that we now place under the umbrella of “Artificial Intelligence”. Amazon Go uses weight sensors that detect when a product leaves a shelf. Cameras follow buyers and identify their movements. And there are computers that can link up these sources of information and determine who has purchased what.

In a nutshell, the boom in information transfer and processing capabilities is what has made Amazon Go possible. While just a few years ago, we were still strugging to analyse complex statistics, the increase in computers’ processing abilities and the deployment of high-speed networks (fibre and soon 5G) mean that we can now process images or videos in real time. Computers have learnt how to handle eminently complex data on our behalf.
Image interpretation is commonplace, and opens up a plethora of new possiblities. If only to mention some of the most striking: the facial recognition experiments that were carried out in Shenzen, China: detection of cheating during exams, identification of a criminal inside a crowded stadium, etc. not to mention the attribution of a “social” score to inhabitants, depending on their behaviour.

Here again, we are talking about transparent technology that has a very real impact on people’s lives.

The end of empathy

In fact we are seeing the impact of accelerating technology in our everyday experiences already. What criteria can be used to deny a Chinese citizen access to an international flight? And most of all, what can the citizen do to argue against these criteria?

Doesn’t basing administrative decisions on thousands of statistics mean casting shadows on real life?
In the United States, local authorities are using AI to decide how social benefits should be attributed. An increasing number of cases are being processed “digitally”, based on solely objective criteria. By developing fully automatic, and therefore “objective” systems, the authorities are actually creating discord.

Most federal employees using these systems have found them to be a way of relinquishing the burden of responsibility: “Our system has denied you access to this loan”. For beneficiaries, the programmes are seen as the end of empathy and human understanding. A refusal that is backed up with the humanity and compassion of a real-life personal explanation is easier to accept than when the decision is generated by a heartless source of artificial intelligence, which allows no response or opposition to its arguments.

Lost in digitalisation

In addition to Arthur C. Clarke’s “magic”, there is a fear of a certain modern illiteracy, the human mind becoming unable to understand the ins and outs of a decision. Because obviously, the ability of computers to store and process information bears no relation to human intelligence.

When faced with a decision involving an algorithm that impacts our daily lives, we don’t know how to react. Simply because we can’t understand and discuss the various factors involved in the decision. A counsellor can present arguments, even though they may be clumsy, whereas AI remains cold and explains nothing.

In fact, that’s the problem. The very criteria that make AI such an efficient mediator are – by definition – too complex to be understood by the people who are affected by them. How can the Shenzhen resident who is refused access to an international flight understand the reasons for this refusal? And above all, is the person given the opportunity to know how their actions may impact their visa request before it all begins?

And that’s what digital illiteracy is: not understanding the impact that technology has on our daily lives, and feeling that we are losing all control. It’s a type of curse.

While progress in artificial intelligence has aroused fear about the destruction of humanity – known as the Skynet syndrome – we worry somewhat less about the stranglehold that algorythms have on our daily lives. No longer understanding the world around us, how we interact and make decisions, and above all what impact our actions may have, are increasing dangers for our society.

While Arthur C. Clarke did predict the rise of magic, he couldn’t have known that it could be of the black variety.

Translated into English by Ruth Simpson

This article is part of Serviceplan’s Twelve #5 issue.

In our regular series The inside story x 3, experts from the Plan.Net group explain a current topic from the digital world from different perspectives. What does it mean for your grandma or your agency colleague? And what does the customer – in other words, a company – get out of it?

As we continue to take advantage of online services, apps, and websites of all kinds, we are creating enormous quantities of data. This data is often stored in clouds and can be linked back to each and every user. At the same time, most Internet users are failing to take the protection of their data as seriously as they should, while companies are often failing to keep up with the rapid pace of developments and resolve dangerous security vulnerabilities fast enough. Even policymakers have only recently reached the point of being able to enforce existing data protection laws.

A case currently receiving wide media coverage, in which a 20-year-old man is accused of spying on politicians and celebrities, shows just how easily data stored in the cloud can be used to infiltrate entire personal networks.

“No Grandma, you haven’t broken the Internet!”

Let’s admit it: who among us hasn’t been just a click away from a potential hacker attack? Even younger users are often tricked by false landing pages or phishing emails that invite them to reveal all of their data and passwords, together with those of their contacts. And net-savvy grandparents who have opted to embrace progress unfortunately aren’t safe either, as their grandchildren may have been kind enough to save all of the passwords to sites bookmarked in their browser. “It’s all just a click away, you see?”

Users are most commonly tricked by deceptively convincing emails that invite them to open an attachment or link. Once opened, a website asks the user to log in to their bank account for the purposes of authentication. If fallen for, this provides hackers with all of the access data they need to empty pension accounts and cause a great deal of upset. And as if this wasn’t enough, criminals are now able to purchase security vulnerabilities on the Dark Net, meaning that they no longer even need a hacker’s technical know-how in order to ply their trade online. Attacks of this kind are completely random, placing even unsuspecting grandmas at risk. No one solution is enough to protect against a threat as complex as this.

A first step in the right direction is using complex passwords and a password manager app – and, most importantly, only using one password per online service.

“Safety first – even in the ‘safety’ of your workplace”

As an Internet user, you aren’t only responsible for yourself, but also for the security of your colleagues and of the employer whose data you are working with. Backups of your own or your company smartphone are now often stored in a cloud automatically, which makes it almost impossible to prevent your colleagues’ data and contact information from being stored externally. If a hacker gains access to a personal account, such as Google Mail, Apple, or Facebook, this will give them automatic access to others’ business accounts and contact information, even though the company’s security standards have been followed.

One solution for this problem is provided by “sandboxes”, which manage the context of usage to help distinguish what is private from what is work-related. To begin with, however, businesses need to establish guidelines that make it clear which clouds are generally suitable to use and which should be avoided in a work-related context.

So what can my company do to properly counter this rapidly growing threat? Here too, your top priority is to not underestimate the human factor. Even the most complex technical safeguards can be rendered ineffective by one employee’s careless actions. Employees who use the Internet in their work should follow the same safety measures that apply to private users. For management this means that, in addition to the company making use of the available technical solutions, employees must also be trained regularly in the safe use of cloud services, smartphones, email accounts, and other tools. If a company provides goods or services over the Internet, there is always a danger that an attacker will succeed in hacking into its applications.

“But why on earth would anybody want to hack my company?”

Many clients, and small and medium-sized businesses in particular, underestimate the threat that hackers pose to them, asking: “Why on earth would anybody want to hack us? We’re far too small and insignificant.” The mass-hacks of today aren’t about hackers targeting specific victims, however. The Internet is home to search engines which, like Google, scan the entire Internet in order to catalogue the infrastructure that it uses, including the manufacturers of servers, routers, and so on, as well as the versions of software installed on them.

If a hacker knows that version 1.4 of web server software “A” contains a vulnerability that they could exploit, they’ll first run a search for the version online before launching an automated attack on all of the potential targets that the search engine suggests to them. This means that anybody present on the Internet can be identified by hackers – albeit indirectly – as a potential target. The only way of protecting yourself is to know the threat, and to invest in security for your system and training for your employees. In a live interview at CeBit 2017, Edward Snowden answered a question about how the Internet could be made a safer place. His response: “Everybody who contributes something to the Internet, whether via text, videos, apps, shops, cloud services, or similar, has an obligation to make their contribution as secure as possible.”

Even when using third-party software (software libraries) and other service providers, without which modern e-commerce platforms would cease to exist, it’s important to know the security risks. Only in this way can the risk be minimised of an apparently secure system being weakened via the unsecured “tunnel” of a third-party provider. Regular updates are an absolute necessity here. Regular pentesting of all system components is also a security precaution providers should take. Specifying security requirements (for example, in the form of secure coding guidelines) is also necessary nowadays when utilising implementation service providers, hosting companies and so on. As no software industry standard has been defined in this respect, it’s important to work with experts capable of defining a state-of-the-art standard. When service providers keep their cards close to their chests on this score, this is often the first indication of there being no long-term guarantee that security vulnerabilities will be resolved.

Nope, no SEO trends for 2019 at this point – definitely not. Someone else can take care of that. Instead in the first SEO newsletter of the new year, we take a look at what makes life really exciting: contrasts and conflict. Having said that, anyone who thought we might get involved in the current gender discussion can rest easy. We are sticking with search engines and, more precisely, the antagonism of range versus conversion, as well as the eternal SEA versus SEO dichotomy.

SEO & CRO: A relationship with conflict potential

A high retention time for the domain, high numbers of page views per visit, the use of rich media and finally conversion, for example in the form of a purchase or a lead, all represent positive user signals which are usually achieved by search engines with increased visibility. This means the top priority of the search engine optimiser is to generate these positive user signals with relevant content on a powerful, technical platform. So far, so causal, not to mention obvious. But is the connection really that easy? While high loading speeds and suitable value-added content can be achieved with classic SEO work, it requires the generation and measurement of positive user signals using an advanced method: conversion rate optimisation, or CRO for short.

In order to move forward in this area, CRO is used to develop test scenarios with different layouts, designs, mechanics and content. Depending on the results of the user tests, successful scenarios can be implemented, offering the potential target group a user experience with added value. In an ideal world, this approach also improves visibility in the search and performance of the website itself.

So far, however, the interaction between SEO and CRO measures have not been fully explored. In a recent study, Will Critchlow, founder of the prestigious British SEM agency Distilled, devoted himself precisely to this question: in which situations can SEO and CRO come into conflict and, in the worst case scenario, even counteract the positive results of one another? As in most cases, the answer is complicated. Using the example of a website that is not described in detail, Critchlow explains how consideration of the true success of tested and implemented conversion measures is put into perspective by taking into account the potential resulting loss of organic visibility.

This effect is non-linear and can vary depending on the SEO or CRO measures in question. Only after many test cycles it becomes clear that both measures have direct influence on each other and that an overall positive result is only achieved if the interactions of each action are assessed, and that only changes that have a positive impact on both CRO and SEO are ultimately published.

CRO results are immediately visible in the test environment, however the impact of SEO-driven changes are only reflected in the search after a certain amount of time has passed. Therefore, organic traffic and conversion development must be compared, even after the roll-out of design or content updates, and the results constantly and retrospectively reviewed to determine the right balance for their own offering and the defined user group.

In an earlier post, search guru Rand Fishkin made clear that SEO and CRO do not need to have the same impact on every website, and that conversion and search engine experts need to work in harmony. However, in reality this is often not the case: according to Fishkin’s experience, conversion experts are indeed concerned about the impact of their work on search engine visibility, while SEO experts in many cases ignore the potential negative impact of their implementations on site usability – which is of course crucial to conversion. This is where we, as SEOs, should be taking a good look at our own work. After all, as ever in life: the greatest success is achieved through the mindfulness, communication and the cooperation of everybody involved in the complex organisation of operating a commercial website. One-sided points of view as well as inflexible hierarchies stand in the way of comprehensive product understanding and therefore commercial success. Furthermore, agencies in particular are required to interlink their services in the areas of SEO, CRO and analytics in the interests of the customer, and to provide them with comprehensive experience and expertise in the integration of these areas.

Stars in the ring: why do people click search ads?

The English language has a wonderful term that is almost untranslatable: one-trick pony. The search marketing expert learns what this means applied in context during their compulsory quarterly meeting – the presentation of the quarterly results of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. During this short and snappy meeting, the expert learns, in addition to all sorts of insights into international accounting and tax tricks (the company’s effective tax rate currently stands at an affordable eight percent), that Alphabet posted total revenues of approximately USD 33 billion in the third quarter of 2018. No surprise for a conglomerate with around 90,000 employees, which has twelve attractive daughter companies offering everything from energy and information networks, to biotechnology and genetic engineering, consumer electronics, self-driving automobiles and eternal life – in short, everything the modern world needs to survive that little bit longer.

At second glance, however, it is clear that of this total turnover, 88 percent alone is accounted for by the advertising business of Google’s search engine, which amounts to just under USD 29 billion. On the one hand, this is no secret and it saves Alphabet from the ever-looming destruction of powerful corporations in the Anglo-Saxon world by government anti-trust authorities. On the other hand, this is exactly the definition of a one-trick pony, the circus horse that can amaze its audience with a single, amazing trick in the limelight of the ring. When it can no longer perform its trick, the pony becomes worthless to the circus, who send it off to the butcher.

Google’s trick, the auctioning of highly relevant advertisements on its web search site, is called Search Engine Advertising (SEA) and it has been working perfectly for over 20 years. Of course, the company has relentlessly refined and expanded its only truly profitable business model, successfully bringing it into the age of video and mobile, and will continue to perfect it with the help of artificial intelligence in the future. However, no click means no business. So, what is the intention of billions of users who, instead of clicking on supposedly ad-free, organic search results, are clicking on paid Google text ads with clearly commercial intent?

Not an insignificant question, since consumers of classic advertising are inherently more sceptical of the commercial messaging upon which the overall success of seemingly mighty tech giants such as Alphabet ultimately depends. Despite the fact that users around the world eventually click, traffic flows and the trick works, astonishingly few studies have focused on these intentions. People like to claim that Google users don’t distinguish between organic and paid search results, instead just clicking on the top, paid positions. A statement that Google once again vehemently contradicted just a few days ago.

A recent study by market research firm Clutch shed a little more light on this area of confusion. A poll among 506 people who clicked on a Google text ad, initially found that 77 percent of respondents were actually aware that they were following an advertising message. This finding supports Google’s data, and indeed, Mountain View ads are clearly labelled and more recognisable as advertising than, for instance, ad placements for Amazon’s AMS services on the marketplace giant’s search results and product pages. In addition, around 75 percent of respondents said that text ads simplified their search, provided they offered a direct answer to their search query.

So far, this behaviour is not very different from organic search queries. However, if you take brand awareness into focus, it becomes clear that the true magic of text ads lies in the combination of the brand and search query. More than a quarter of respondents said they clicked on the ad because of the brand, demonstrating the decisive role that trust plays here. So, as is true for any other, classic form of advertising, Google’s core business relies on taking the customer seriously. Pure marketing messages that ignore this fact guarantee zero success in the relentless environment of direct competition on search results pages.

As designers we are always on the lookout for something new and unique: something that stands out from the crowd and grabs our attention. Constantly on the hunt for the “face” or the look with the potential to take brands into new territory. Fairly often, even if subconsciously, we return to what we already know. The following three blasts from the past will see a renaissance in 2019:

1. Uromis cake stand at the international design festivals

Posters for the tenth Adobe 99U conference in New York did not stand out at first glance, but caught the attention nonetheless thanks to an interesting hint of retro: two-tone, two-dimensional colour gradients transposed onto the simplest geometric shapes and a note of broken white as the background.

THE YOUNG ONES festival, taking place this spring, uses a similar low-key aesthetic. Even though the overall impression is more figurative, the look is still dominated by merging graphic colour gradients. In this case too, the viewer is left with a sense of intimacy.

If you start delving into design history, the origins of this “new visual idea” can be found somewhere between Art Deco and Functionalism – so around one hundred years ago. At the time, crockery with astonishingly forward-looking designs could be seen on many middle-class tables. Abstract and geometric spray patterns created using stencils adorned many manufacturers’ ceramics. Bright primary colours and incremental colour gradients characterised the appearance of emerging mass production. What once acted as a reflection of the leap into uncompromising modernity now, once again, appears very visually attractive because it comes across as slightly unfinished, rough and therefore artisanal and authentic.

2. Coincidental Dadaism through responsive web design

It is no secret that, from an aesthetic perspective, responsive web design (RWD) comes across as a cost-effective, slightly lazy compromise between desktop and mobile variants. Nonetheless, technical use of this “forced marriage” can also create some attractive visual outcomes as for example on the website of fannymyard design. This new style, which some designers are now producing artificially, tends to originate from sources of error and the straitjacket of the limited technical options when using RWD. The forced wrapping of text and image elements in set stages during programming creates accidental collage-like mixes in which headlines may stick right to the edge of the image as on Julie Cristobals website or, as in a recent illustration by W. Stempler,  overlap with an image, but only halfway.

What was until recently an absolute no-no in design terms is now the new design paradigm for various campaigns and corporate designs. Here too, there are parallels with a wild period of the last century: Dadaism. The two most important characteristics of the revolutionary artistic movement consisted of nonsense and coincidence. Examples for their implementation are pictures influenced by Dadaism (to be seen here, here and here).

3. Brutal Design – the power of the ugly

While web design is still getting used to this new self-determination, poster design has revelled in “bad taste” since the 1950s.

However, the message remains unchanged: fighting convention to take a stand against the arbitrary, the pleasant and the interchangable. In the digital age, brutalism is very different from what we are used to seeing. Design’s new extremism is rewarded with the most important currency in our age of short attention spans: the viewer’s undivided attention. Stylistically, the look is characterised by complete minimalism, plainness, classic Hex colour codes in flashy colours, non-contemporary use of fonts and closeness to the traditional code optics as seen at modeselektor, Vicky Boyd, rutgerklamer and Officeus.

Typographical harmony, large-scale images, micro-interactions, carefully crafted navigational approaches or clear hierarchies: all the rules that we were taught to promote good usability fly out the window. You can think what you like about brutalism, but even its critics agree on one thing: compared to the website designs that we are used to, this design trend offers exceptionally short loading times. And that means conversion!

“Great stories can come from anywhere and they can travel everywhere, as long as we use technology to get the right story for the right person and make that a great experience”. Greg Peters, Chief Product Officer of Netflix, used this sentence a few weeks ago to close his lecture at the Web Summit in Lisbon. The vision: to make Netflix the place in the media landscape with the world’s best formats, the best user experience and the best opportunities for producers to tell their stories.

At the moment, however, Netflix is just one provider among many and the likelihood of a single medium ever fulfilling the function of ‘main medium’ again, i.e. becoming the symbolic campfire around which the nation – or even the whole world, in the era of globalisation – sits, seems unrealistic. Nonetheless, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube represent a fundamental shift in media use that has taken place over the past ten years: the age of mass media is coming to an end.

My grandma is never going to get up to speed with Netflix. But what about my parents?

My grandma likes to watch television. However, she turns 100 in February and, before the internet even came along in the 90s, she wasn’t that interested in the entertainment innovation that was the video cassette – there was always television.

It’s a different story with my parents who, both in their mid-60s, are regular users of Amazon Prime Video, even if conventional television still accounts for the majority of both their media usage. There are still lots of regular viewers of traditional TV in all age groups, but the number decreases with age and consumption becomes less frequent.

However, television is still just one medium among many and the big winner is the consumer, as the choice of fantastic formats available on all kinds of media is wider than ever before. Alongside the major media brands, the internet has also given thousands of micromedia and content producers tools and platforms to tell their stories. Whether it’s on YouTube, Twitch, Instagram TV or as a podcast on Soundcloud, however niche the topic – practically all of them can be used any time and anywhere.

Mastering the complexity: fragmentation as an opportunity for agencies

From a marketing perspective, fragmented consumer use of media means that there are now an unmanageable number of touchpoints in the consumer journey. This development has been exacerbated by the long-standing trend towards maximum personalisation of consumers’ life plans, with high demand for products and services that are personally relevant. “One size fits all” has long been a thing of the past.

The complexity of marketing has now reached levels that are no longer manageable without experts at every interface – from strategy to technical implementation – with pressure to be efficient at every stage. On the other hand, the modern marketer has an enormous toolbox of touchpoints and technical solutions to reach every target group with exactly the right message at the right time. AI-assisted differentiation of budgets and channels and programmatic modulation across all media channels enable this. Nonetheless, there are still potential hiccups along the way – a lack of comparable metrics across channels and platforms, greater regulation of the data collection required for precisely tailored delivery and the rules set by major platforms for their ‘walled gardens’ are all issues that agencies will need to wrestle with for a long time to come.

Marketers navigating the touchpoint jungle: stay calm, try out ideas, learn.

Even if it isn’t easy to be an agency in the highly fragmented and complex world of marketing, in all honesty you wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the customers who account for the marketing. The Board supports flagship projects for the brand image, Sales wants to sell, the CRM team needs leads and Product Management services the trend towards consumer customisation with a stream of new line extensions to be offered to the public. And all these requirements have to be met, ideally at the same time and for less money. Then, the long-standing, tried-and-tested measures start to lose their efficiency; whether it’s target audience penetration, short-term available reach or advertising impact – nowadays it’s difficult to work with one medium alone.

Nonetheless, we can only recommend not letting it drive you crazy. You don’t need to start exploiting every new touchpoint straight away and stop using the tried-and-tested methods overnight. Instead, you should plan and optimise across multiple channels, seek to maximise impact and make best use of the strongest channels. Quantify success with the handful of KPIs that are truly important rather than getting lost in thousands of metrics. ROI and contribution instead of last click and cost per order. Start from the beginning of the customer’s journey and invest in awareness and image, instead of skimming the surface. And, last but not least, view the user’s interest as a rare commodity. In future, major brands will emerge as the sum of several small, tailored measures.

Christmas Day 2018 will see any number of brand-new voice assistants take their very first glimpse of the world. Plugged in to charge for the first time, their cameras will take in the cosy candlelight of the Christmas tree while their microphones pick up the voices of their future, human families. Find out which manufacturers are seeing this marketing dream become a reality, as well as how Bing is transforming itself in the world of assisted shopping, in the last SEO News of 2018.

Voice assistants amid the Christmas madness

Christmas is a celebration of love for all the family. This year too, we can expect to see that circle of loved ones grow a little wider, with the addition of more omnipresent voice assistants. And if Alexa and the like were among the top picks to grace last year’s Christmas tree, with market leader Amazon reporting the sale of several million Alexa models in time for Christmas 2017, this year likewise finds us glued to the sales figures in anticipation. At the same time, we find ourselves wondering whether the trend will solidify to seal the devices’ status as a staple product, and who will finally emerge victorious in the race for market dominance. For now, 2018 has seen the competition grow stronger, with some of the biggest rivals succeeding in significantly expanding their market share. According to corporate consultants Strategy Analytics, the world’s largest shopping platform from Seattle remains the market leader for the time being, accounting for around 75 percent of all smart speakers. When it comes to year-on-year growth, however, Amazon’s lead is threatened by Google with its Google Home assistant. After managing to increase its sales by more than 420 percent, the search engine giant from Mountain View now holds second place in the ranking, with just under 16 percent of the market. Especially striking, though, is the fact that the joint market share held by Amazon and Google has fallen year-on-year from around 90 percent to just 69 percent, with competitors from Asia gaining the most ground. China’s answer to Amazon, Alibaba, for example, presented an assistant at Canadian AI conference NeurIPS which seemed to match technology leader Google completely when it comes to the range of abilities featured. Just as Google made the headlines at its development conference with a spectacular phone conversation between man and machine (see our report), Alibaba too chose a human conversation to demonstrate a development version of its own assistant, AliGenie. Put to the test arranging a delivery date, Alibaba’s machine kept a cool head even when hit with interposed questions. The system was even able to draw the correct conclusions about the delivery destination from indirect hints supplied by its human conversation partner – a challenge which has so far proven to be more than other voice assistants can handle. Unlike Alexa and Google Home, which are intended to establish themselves as smart speakers for our living environment, Alibaba is directly integrating its own voice assistant into the business processes of its own corporation. According to the company, telephone orders, price comparisons and delivery management are set to be the first areas of activity to benefit from the assistance of the AliGenie system. And just how far the digital world is split, even in the realm of voice assistants, is demonstrated just as much by sales figures from China as it is elsewhere. According to data provided by Strategy Analytics, in 2017 Google managed to sell the world’s biggest market just half a million of its voice assistant devices. By comparison, the number of smart speakers sold in the USA is already nearing the 50 million mark. The race is therefore still far from decided, and the future of voice search technology as open-ended as ever.

Shopping over searching

Microsoft has fitted out its search engine Bing with a range of new functions intended to help support users who are looking to make a purchase. The tech giant from Redmond chose Black Friday as an ideal opportunity to present these new capabilities. Some of the new functions had even been conceived especially with Black Friday in mind, and were only available for this day. While the majority of the functionalities will be available all-year-round, they are intended to be especially helpful in the pre-Christmas period. With a product comparison function created specifically to compare mobile phones, Bing displays ratings, expert reviews, and product highlights prominently over organic search results. According to Microsoft, this will make it easier to follow the latest hardware trends on the mobile phone market.

A second function presents products in a table comparing featured snippets. Searching for the superlative “best laptop” (see our report), for example, results in a comparative overview that includes product pictures, a list of functions, and links to further information. This is not an extension of Bing Shopping, however, but instead deals in organic search results. Only the exclusive Black Friday function was available via Bing Shopping, enabling users to rummage through local and interregional flyers filled with offers for the biggest discount battle of the year. While Google is attempting to remove its shopping product from the supervisory authorities’ firing line with the help of dubious competition, Microsoft is putting its money on organic search innovations as it has often done in the past. This goes to show that whether or not a search engine is entirely dependent on advertising revenues does make a difference, after all.

2019 is already knocking on the door – new year, new trends. At the end of the year, we asked the Serviceplan Group experts about their personal trends for 2019. What’s coming next alongside influencer marketing, new work and sustainability? The communication professionals give their verdict here. Happy reading!

Scrum, Kanban, design thinking, prototyping and collaboration are working styles and methods that have their origins in product design and software development. In recent years, they have found their way into the development of digital platforms, products and services. Now we are experiencing how they are beginning to change the way people work across communication agencies: in the future, communication strategies and communication campaigns and measures alike will be designed and planned more and more collaboratively – including in partnership with customers – in sprints.

 

This article is part of the Trends 2019 series of the Serviceplan Group.

We take a look back at over 20 years in the digital world and the players involved. Then most importantly, it’s time to focus our eyes on the road ahead, as digital agencies, and the challenges we will have to face. Action!

The new Western

It’s a tired metaphor. Way back in 1990, when American activists were worrying that the government was going to take over the Internet, they named their cause the Electronic Frontier Foundation [1]. And the word “Frontier” wasn’t chosen at random. In the American West, the frontier was the artificial boundary between a civilised world governed by laws and a wild and untamed territory [2].

The EFF saw the burgeoning web as the new Wild West, a country beyond the American frontier, where people could say whatever they liked, and were free to create, undertake and experiment.

The metaphor still holds some truth, but history has now caught up with digital. For those who have been living in the digital world for the last twenty years, life is now strangely reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in the West [3].

Twenty years ago, pioneers created the first websites, the first businesses, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a free and boundless world. Ten years ago, the first infrastructures – search engines, social networks, eCommerce platforms – began to consolidate, and become successful companies. The internet is now comparable to big cities that sprouted from the desert: some companies are still flourishing, but only under the cover of GAFA, and the infrastructure they provide at varying costs. The pioneers have become the users. From creators who started out with the tools to express themselves in a basic style, pioneers have now become residents in a gigantic network of sites and platforms with which they interact daily.

The Electronic Frontier of the pioneers has all but disappeared, giving way to a digital space that we would like to think of as civilised, or at least created logically and with infrastructure. And their fear of the internet falling under the jurisdiction of the government has now given way to their concerns about the stranglehold of Silicon Valley giants.

Our internet civilisation begs the question: where are humans in all this?

The Civilisation of the internet

While its infrastructure has become more sophisticated, the internet has also become democratised. Such a large number of human beings have never been connected to the same tool at the same time. All you need to do is take a look at the attendance figures of some social networks to realise how much digital technology has disappeared from our screens… and given way to interactions: Facebook reports 2.2 billion users, Instagram 1 billion amateur photographers and WeChat has exceeded 1 billion members.

But what do these figures really mean? Do digital users have a real understanding of the ecosystems to which they are contributing? Far removed from the approach taken by the pioneers and creators of the digital world, today’s users consume digital interfaces superficially, without knowing how they work, nor even being aware of the consequences of how they generate and share their content.

In a digital and increasingly automated world that relies more and more on algorithms – and soon Artificial Intelligence – digital illiteracy is becoming more serious, and more widespread.

The myth of the Digital Native – a child who grew up with a computer being naturally gifted for technology – has long since been disproven…

Honesty and transparency

So without full knowledge of how it all works, users not only need simple interactions, but also clear and straightforward interfaces that are honest about the impact of their online behavior, or which digital players are privvy to the content they share. Better still, interfaces are needed that educate and enlighten people about the real issues of our digital society. Between Cambridge Analytica and GDPR, 2018 has been a year of raising awareness.

Digital interactions must be created transparently and honestly, but must also be simple and beautiful to look at. In a nutshell, they need a great design.

These concerns are at the heart of the design profession. Designers should be coming up with systems that interact with humans while being practical, aesthetic, real and economically viable.

Theory of evolution

Between giant and industrial infrastructures and users who aren’t fully aware of what they are doing or what they could be doing, intermediaries need to start redefining their roles.

More specifically, digital agencies that support companies in their daily digital experiences, those that provide users with the tools, content and interfaces that are the gateway to the digital world need to take a good hard look at what they are developing.

Web agencies used to create ecosystems (websites, platforms, intra- and extranets), but are now seeing their role slowly mature.

First because the systems used to create digital platforms are being industrialised. CMS, Workframe and other SAAS platforms sometimes render custom development completely unnecessary. Brands are now online, and services often involve adjusting an existing solution rather than developing an idea from scratch.

Audiences are also now gathering on a handful of very large platforms. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, as well as other content platforms attract billions of users every day, and have become cornerstones to the online experience. And it’s often easier and more useful to approach people on these networks rather than trying to create a new online contact point. Digital consumers are now being targeted on the spaces and systems they already use.

Digital agencies are having to answer a new question: they are no longer asked to create new ways to use a system, but how to make the most of the existing digital space. They are asked to optimise digital interactions between brands and users. Morphing from their role as creators and builders, agencies have now become developers, interior designers, promoters…

In a word, they are now being asked to design.

Digital agency, Design agency

What is Design? According to some definitions, including Wikipedia’s suggestion, design is the intentional creation of a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity of process. Design is where art, technology and society converge. And that’s what digital agencies are doing right now.

Agencies aren’t just creating websites, campaigns or content, they are also coming up with the tools and methods that allow these elements to exist and be maintained in the long term. What about the aesthetic and technical aspects of the internet? They’ve been an integral part of agency work for years. Any online content needs to be effective and beautiful, useful and enjoyable. That’s what the internet is all about.

Perhaps the new element in all this is societal responsibility. Digital agencies are now creating, designing, and recommending digital tools to a vast audience whose daily life can be influenced and transformed at the tap of a finger. And that responsibility – if not societal, then at least human – must now be shouldered by all online companies.

Creating daily digital interactions is what makes digital agencies genuine designers in their own right.

Translated from French by Ruth Simpson