Imagine you have 550 siblings, daughters and sons. Add best friends and acquaintances to the mix. Now imagine you want to get them all to sit down at the same breakfast table. Or for a nice cup of coffee now and then. Or generally just to sit down and talk on a regular basis. How’s that sister in Switzerland doing? What was daughter 137 celebrating the other day?

In the future, employees at large companies will be able to answer questions like these in the space of just a few minutes, thanks to the company’s own InfoHub. But what does an application like this need to do in order to deliver and manage business communications on time?

Distillation of all information into one single app

Hours of searching in e-mail inboxes, on the intranet or on websites is now a thing of the past! Simply log in and see all of the group’s announcements and changes on one platform – well sorted and easy to grasp at a single glance.

Improved relevance of messages thanks to a filter function

More than 550 family members and joint venture partners can quickly amass countless pieces of information. That’s why a sophisticated filter function, which allows a personalized representation of the user interface, is an absolute necessity. Ideally, the function will do this without losing focus on general but important messages.

Well informed and on  time, through push notifications

What was that celebration that took place recently? When you ask yourself this question, it’s usually already too late. A brief message about when an event will take place is definitely an advantage in cases like these. That’s why push messages need to be triggered directly by the app as soon as a message is published. This ensures that everybody is immediately updated and – circumstances permitting – can even propose a live toast to daughter 137 to celebrate her anniversary. The additional bookmark function helps to ensure that no event is lost in the permanent flow of information.

New opportunities for corporate influencers

Sometimes there are messages that employees would like to pass on to their friends. For this purpose, subfunctions for preferred channels such as e-mail, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter should be implemented in the tool. This way, employees can easily become corporate influencers in their own company.

In the case of confidential company information, on the other hand, which must not leave the “family circle”, the sharing function should of course be deactivated.

Messages served in bite-sized chunks

The main appeal of the InfoHub, and a good reason why this form of information exchange is so readily accepted by many users, is the way information is prepared. All news is presented virtually on a silver platter, with content that can be grasped immediately with the help of expressive images, short headlines and teasers. The articles are best simply linked to the original source and/or can be downloaded as PDF files.

InfoHub at the Lufthansa Group

The international aviation group’s “InfoHubSales” platform, which went online in April 2018, was developed together with Plan.Net Connect – a subsidiary of the Serviceplan Group – especially for the sales department of Lufthansa Group Network Airlines. Since its global rollout in early 2019, the app has already become a big hit among Lufthansa Group sales staff.

For the further development of the InfoHubSales platform, Plan.Net Connect made use of the technological features of CMS system Contao. Regular updates, high functionality – also and especially when creating editorial content –, simple usability and control, social sharing options, stable performance, and worldwide availability: these were the most important factors when it came to choosing this system.

In addition, user behavior is constantly documented through permanent reporting in order to further increase the degree of personalized output.

Looking to the future

To ensure that every piece of information, however important, is preserved for future generations of large corporations, the communication platforms of today will become the knowledge databases of tomorrow. Digital reference works for company histories filled with technical developments and achievements are now in the process of being created. This way, even 50 years from now, everyone will still be able to read about what it was again that daughter 137 had to celebrate.

Artificial intelligence has many facets. In addition to autonomous driving, media planning and other application areas, it is also a major driver of innovation in the field of voice recognition. But can voice technology offer real added value, and if so, for whom?

Even five years after Amazon released its first Echo device, voice technology is still in its early stages. The glut of new devices, both from Amazon and Google, and the ongoing release of new features and upgrades demonstrate that there is still a long way to go before voice technology reaches its full potential. Having said that, voice recognition technology already makes life easier, or at least more convenient, in may ways. For example, even for the older generation, using speech recognition to switch the light on and off, control the heating, ask about the weather or find the right answer to a Trivial Pursuit question isn’t rocket science. And in certain situations, it even makes more sense to use voice control, for example while driving (at least as long as we still have to drive our cars ourselves), cycling, or for people with disabilities or older people who do not feel confident using other interfaces. Voice control is easy to understand and accessible to everyone on account of its intuitiveness.

Voice can enhance a brand’s personality

Brands communicate with their customers primarily through combinations of text and images. And, of course, every brand is very individual in terms of tonality and imagery. But until now, ‘real’ dialogue could only take place with representatives or brand ambassadors. Voice technology is changing this. Companies have to think carefully about how they present themselves as a brand to the outside world, what answers they want, and are able, to offer and how – and how they can do this as authentically as possible.

Therefore, voice should always be viewed as an opportunity to broaden and enhance a brand’s personality. In doing so, it is helpful to experiment with different approaches, content formats and sales pitches in order to find your brand’s ‘voice’.

At the Plan.Net Innovation Studio, we have been working with clients from various sectors over the past few years as they take their first steps into the world of voice technology. These sectors range from finance to automotive, retail to travel, and many others.

The first question you should ask yourself with projects like these is: what role should my brand actually play on the market? Do I just want to promote my own products and services, or do I want to try to occupy an entire field? Do I just want to inform, or do I want to give my customers the opportunity to buy something directly?

Whatever you do, the important thing is that you provide added value, and dispense with mere self-promotion.

Voice technology has become integral to our working lives

Voice technology is here to stay. Like the Internet, it has become a permanent feature of day-to-day life. That is why it is essential to examine the relevance of voice technology in every field.

Let’s take web searches as an example. The first three to four search results for a keyword will garner a click from the majority of users. With voice search, only the first result is actually relevant. This leads to even greater competition, and the platforms now answer many requests completely independently. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for third-party content to jockey for position. Moreover, the platforms are still very careful when it comes to the use of advertising. They are – rightly – fearful of squandering the trust of their users. That is why we are currently seeing a renaissance in audio ads, which audio streaming providers place as pre-roll ads, for example, before their content – a tried-and-tested mechanism used by YouTube for years.

In view of the above, it is especially important that colleagues and employees get to grips specifically with voice technology, that they are granted the necessary freedom to do so, and that they are able to experiment in this area. Given that there are still relatively few experts in voice technology, this presents an opportunity for interested colleagues to upskill, and in doing so to create added value for the company in this innovative field.

About the author: Jonas Heitzer works as Creative Coder at Plan.Net Group’s Innovation Studio since 2017. His responsibilities include technical development.

As we sweat through the first heatwave of summer 2019, Google is slowly but surely coming under pressure from the US antitrust watchdogs. That’s why in June’s edition of SEO News, we will be examining whether the search engine should be seriously concerned about the possibility of being broken up.

Google is set to become a global portal

Since Donald Trump’s election to President of the United States, governance on the other side of the Atlantic has not been quite as rigorous as it once was. Given that no important legislation is being passed in Washington D.C. anymore, politicians are even more eager to figure out how they got into this mess in the first place. That’s why the bosses of digital giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple are being summoned by Congress, in no particular order, for the purposes of fact-finding and damage limitation. With the threat of antitrust laws being used to break up the corporation hanging over his head like a sword of Damocles, last December Google CEO Sundar Pichai was also forced to answer the question of what his company is doing with its legendary reach. More precisely put: How many hits does Google forward to third-party sites as a conventional search engine, and how much of this reach does the company retain for commercial exploitation and monetisation on its own Alphabet Holding websites and apps?

The answer Pichai gave at the time was not terribly helpful; rather than citing specific figures, he instead made vague statements about the distinctive characteristics of the user journey in Search. The search engine from Mountain View is also about to turn this user journey completely on its head: At the recent search marketing conference SMX Advanced in Seattle, observers were in agreement, for example, that Google is becoming increasingly less a search engine and much more a portal.

Clickstream data confirm the trend

A recent blog post from SEO aficionado Rand Fishkin conveniently fills in the gap in the numbers. Using clickstream data from analytics firm Jumpshot for the US market, he showed that around half of the approximately 150 billion Google hits in the US in 2018 were so-called ‘no-click searches’ – in other words, end points of the user journey, with no further click to a third-party site following the search request. This means that Google answers every second user’s query on its own website, thereby itself becoming the end point of the user journey.

New design layouts and clickable features in its once cleanly structured search results give the impression that Google is increasingly taking on the function of a classic web portal, according to the intention of the user request. What’s more, Google forwards around twelve percent of clicks to its own third-party sites, such as YouTube, according to Jumpshot data. According to Fishkin, what is not known is how many search requests are forwarded to a Google app such as Maps or Gmail on mobile devices and opened in those. This still leaves a significant proportion of more than 40 percent – over 60 billion clicks annually – that are forwarded to third-party sites as organic traffic on the Internet.

His traffic analysis also shows that the total number of these clicks has remained relatively consistent overall over the past three years. On the other hand, organic traffic from mobile end devices is falling sharply compared to desktop devices. This can be attributed to the increasing preference for paid and local search results on the small screen. The reason this decline in organic traffic from mobile searches is not yet being felt by website operators, according to Fishkin, is that Google’s reach continues to grow rapidly.

Google is standing at a crossroads

Let’s recap: Google is capitalising on most of its traffic growth on its own websites and apps. This loss of potential visitors to third-party websites is currently being offset by Google’s steep overall growth, however. One of the major reasons for this development is that the search engine from Mountain View no longer differs all that much from its commercial competitors – the price comparison and shopping platforms – when it comes to certain structured search requests, such as for flights, hotels or cinema listings.

The hearings before Congress and investigations reportedly launched by the US Department of Justice are therefore coming at the right time. Google must decide whether it wants to be a search engine or an omniscient universal portal. The diversification of its business model should not come at a cost to other market players.

It is a case in point that brand managers and consumers – but also marketing and advertising managers – all have their sights on the same goal: to come into contact with one another at the right time, in the right place and with the right message. The problem is that they all take widely different approaches and that companies rarely carry out real-time evaluations of the data necessary for this.

Consumers looking for specific products or services expect treatment to be as personalised as possible – and, of course, for this to be available at all times, on all available devices and all possible channels. The proverbial “customer journey” has not been following a straight path for some time now. After all, there are endless possibilities for customers to strike up contact with the various companies. They can approach the brands directly or do so indirectly, for example via performance marketing channels such as price comparisons or social media platforms. The upshot of this is that the labyrinthine customer journey throws up more and more purchase process-related data. Marketers, on the other hand, want to understand and reach digital customers but naturally always have their own ROI in the back of their minds. Accordingly, they pursue a strategy that makes the most of their marketing budget. To do so, however, they must first find their way through the data jungle. And the ever-growing volume of data is making it more and more difficult for them to find the right information at the right time.

The golden growth years are over

For the most part, the vast bulk of the constantly collected data ends up gathering dust in a virtual drawer somewhere. Particularly in marketing, endless amounts of user data are collected with a view to tailoring a personal marketing campaign geared as closely as possible towards each individual shop or website visitor. At present, however, many marketing departments are still failing to apply any coherent strategy to this data and only analyse and contextualise it on rare occasions. Which in turn means that the data rarely points the way to clear optimisation measures and follow-ups. Before you start amassing data without any clear plan in mind, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I really need a constant supply of new data to run successful marketing campaigns?
  • At what point should I start collecting data and at what point should I stop again?
  • How can data be used in decision-making?
  • And what data is actually needed to manage campaigns successfully?

To begin with, the somewhat sobering answer to all these questions is that data collection will never stop. It is more a question of making better use of the (available) data. Which means that marketers should realise that the golden years of online retailing are over and that they need to come up with a decent data strategy. When it first emerged, the online market was able to chalk up rapid growth. In most cases, however, this was generated automatically given that a new market was effectively created, with consumer behaviour shifting online. These days, online sales are still on the rise, but growth is nothing like it was in the early days. This is because users are already online and the market is becoming increasingly saturated. And now everyone is vying for a slice of the pie! Accordingly, online players who want to remain at the head of the pack need to have more than creative campaigns in their box of tricks. After all, market saturation essentially means that all market participants currently have the same starting position. Which, above all, means that a clever data strategy can give players a significant competitive edge.

Data collection will never stop. It is more a question of making better use of the (available) data.

Sharing data across departments

And the good news? The first step towards a successful data strategy can be taken with an initial inventory of available data. Existing customer data is particularly valuable because it provides important information about purchase behaviour, frequency of visits and/or shopping, and the contents of customers’ shopping carts.

For companies, data that already exists forms the basis for targeting consumers with individualised advertising at a later stage. Here, it is important to compare existing data with other departments and to identify any overlaps. Regrettably, it is often the case that a company’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is up to. More often than not, this gives rise to data silos that will smother any usefulness the data might have had. Which means that it is all the more essential for all departments – from IT to sales and marketing – to communicate with one another and to pool their data in a common SSOT (“Single Source Of Truth”) solution. For this to work, the importance of the data must be communicated clearly across all departments. Ideally, each company should have its own data manager acting as an interface between the individual departments. This manager must have a clear idea of who constitutes the target group for marketing and sales and, with this in mind, collect, prepare and condense the right data accordingly.

The data manager is also in charge of determining the right format for storing data so that it is available via the SSOT afterwards. Product silos frequently end up being created, particularly in the case of large retailers and corporate groups. The data manager must ensure that data is linked in such a way that it can be used to create campaigns for different products.

Changing focus: meeting needs rather than making sales

A very important structural change in the market is the shift of focus from transaction perspective to customer lifetime perspective, i.e. that the customer now takes centre stage instead of the purchase transaction. Accordingly, it is increasingly important to find out how much individual customers are worth when they can be targeted directly. Consumers looking for specific products or services expect personalised communication complete with relevant offers. Well-informed customers research extensively and shop around, thereby leaving more and more data trails relating to the purchase process. Apart from the transaction focus, which only gears the data evaluation and direct communication towards the purchase itself, the customer lifetime perspective takes into account the customer’s long-term value. It aims to leave behind a satisfied customer who will come back again, who will recommend a service to others – and who might come back and purchase a product after deciding against it three or four months previously.

This gives rise to completely new approaches and questions that marketers must ask themselves:

  • What does the customer think?
  • What really interests them?

Right now, however, the most important question is:

  • How can I be sure of reaching the customer via all channels?

After all, customers move from channel to channel, sometimes going online to find out about a new product, other times approaching a sales assistant at the POS or calling up data on their smartphone or desktop PC.

Marketing managers must be able to bring together all this data from the various contact points and assign them to a specific customer. After all, brand managers and consumers – but also marketing and advertising managers – all have their sights on the same goal: to come into contact with one another at the right time, in the right place and with the right message. The company should be aiming to communicate suitable content to the customer on a regular basis, thus forging a lasting bond with the brand or the company. Without this bond, long-term objectives are not possible, and the company is left with its hastily set short-term goals.

The labyrinthine customer journey throws up more and more purchase process-related data that often remains unanalysed. (Source: Tradedoubler)

BI solutions call for fast marketing decisions

To provide customers with individualised offers, it is essential to be able to harmonise the available data. Its inherent value must be determined and analysed. Given the mountains of data that cannot possibly be dealt with manually, suitable business intelligence (BI) solutions are virtually a necessity for companies and their marketing infrastructure. After all, it is not just a question of automating marketing processes but of interpreting the data correctly. Because if marketing management only includes pieces of the big picture, some decisions have to be made based on “gut feeling” instead. In this case, marketing decision-makers run the risk of making wrong decisions. Or, worse still, they are snowed under with data and can’t make any decisions at all.

What marketing managers need is a tool that allows them to process large amounts of data and to visualise the information needed for business decisions – in the form of easily grasped graphics and diagrams. (Source: Tradedoubler)

As far as the infrastructure is concerned, it is also important to have a central data repository, i.e. customer and campaign data linked and summarised in the SSOT. In this way, the data from all marketing activities – be it search engine optimisation, affiliate marketing, display marketing or social media – all comes together centrally. Ideally, the marketing team would be shown the evaluated data in real time via the corresponding BI solution and would determine optimisation potential based on this. Remembering, of course, to bear in mind the customer journey at all times. This is the only way for the shift towards customer lifetime value to work. Today, we can already see the trend for forward-looking companies to bundle extensive expertise internally, to be highly specialised and for their work to be data-driven and/or IT-supported to a great extent.

The customer journey must always be kept in mind. Only then can the shift towards the customer lifetime value (CLV) work.

From big data to smart data

It is fair to say that companies today have unmanageable quantities of data at their disposal. Only with the help of suitable software is it still possible for them to track online user behaviour completely over a wide cross-section of channels and end devices. This renders the data analysable, giving marketers insight into the extent to which individual platforms, channels, business models and publishers have influenced the purchase decision. Only with the aid of this information can they optimise all digital marketing measures and personalised advertising at the right time, at the right place, for the right person and on a suitable device. The message in a nutshell: successful decisions in online marketing are not possible without smart data.

Successful decisions in online marketing are not possible without smart data.

Five steps to better decisions

These five steps allow online marketing managers to keep track of their data:

1. Break open your internal departmental and channel silos! It is all too often the case that marketing managers seek out direct success in their own silo rather than focusing on the customer. Instead of this, you should embrace the customer’s cross-channel user journey.

2. If you want to go one step further, set up a dedicated BI team for analysing and classifying the data. For the best possible results, this should consist of a healthy mixture of people from marketing, IT, data management and sales.

3. The data strategy needs to be based on and geared towards a clear objective. For the BI team, that means only requesting data that serves a clearly defined purpose. A structured approach geared towards a specific objective avoids data simply being collected for its own sake.

4. The number of different software solutions in use should be kept to an absolute minimum. The more individual solutions are used, the greater the data chaos.

5. Make sure that you choose a business intelligence tool that offers uniform reporting and systematic analyses. This is the key to a successful data strategy – only in this way will the data be readable, analysable and capable of helping you make the right decision.

Ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, intense discussions are underway concerning the increase in global conflicts and confrontations. The Internet also has a history of great confrontations. Whether or not the next war of platforms is looming between Amazon and Google, is a topic we will be discussing in SEO News for the month of May.

Voice-controlled assistants: The new competition among market criers

The competition for intelligent, voice-controlled assistants is now in full swing. After the initial commotion about the possibilities of the new voice technology has subsided, the value of these new companions is now no longer measured by the amount of hype they are given by the press. Instead, Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant must now prove their worth in the face of tough competition. The starting situation could hardly be more different: After the demise of the browser and console wars, are we once again on the brink of a battle of platforms?

The question of who will set the standards for the future with their market power is far from being answered. When it comes to hardware, Amazon is apparently in the lead. Although both companies do not like to show their hands, the online shipping giant has confirmed figures which suggest that by the end of 2018, Amazon had sold around 100 million devices with the virtual assistant Alexa – mostly smart speakers, such as the popular “Echo”, in countless variants. According to a study by the consulting firm RBC, Google sold around 50 million smart speakers worldwide by the same point in time.

It is not quantity, but added value that is decisive

Yet, the number of activated devices represents only half the truth: At its developer conference “Google IO”, the company from Mountain View recently announced that, while it is lagging behind its rival Amazon in terms of smart speakers, the software of its in-house Google Assistant, on the other hand, is already available on more than 1 billion devices. This primarily includes smartphones on which the Google Assistant can be used as an app; the function is already pre-installed on Android mobile phones, for instance. Although Alexa is increasingly tucked away in microwaves, toilets or synthesizers, we have to ask ourselves what added value the voice assistant, designed as a shopping and entertainment device, has to offer here.

Google has a much more favourable starting position in terms of usage scenarios. Embedded in a comprehensive range of services and functions from email to shopping, navigation and the appointment calendar, the search engine giant can offer an altogether different range of services. On its way to becoming a comprehensive and ubiquitous orientation, solution and comfort machine, the Assistant is a pivotal tool for Google.

Google is blowing its horn for the attack – but it is not going to war

This also explains the announcement that the display of search results in the Assistant will now be successively adapted to the appearance of the mobile search result pages (SERPs). This will mean that the semantic marking and structuring of content will also pay off for the Google Assistant. In addition, non-structured information fragments are now also displayed in formats similar to the well-known rich snippets (small excerpts of website content on the search results pages), knowledge graphs or direct answers. This observation also seems to confirm the theory of the “fraggles” that have already been discussed here, according to which Google’s Artificial Intelligence will in future increasingly combine small pieces of information freely without any reference to a URL and compile them into an individual search result. Google is also pushing forward in terms of monetization and now wants to target its ad campaigns on Android devices within the Assistant.

The development of virtual assistants is therefore not necessarily resulting in a direct confrontation, and we will probably not be faced with a new platform war. The question of which provider can unite more third-party applications on its platform is no longer as important as it was with the mobile operating system. Rather, it will be up to us, the users, to answer the question of whether voice search in combination with artificial intelligence will produce individual solutions for a multitude of narrowly defined usage scenarios, such as Amazon’s shopping service and music service, or whether the large-scale Google solution with its comprehensive technical infrastructure will assert itself to support human existence in all of life’s circumstances.

The future of search engine marketing is fully automated and has already begun. As you read this, artificial intelligence is managing millions of AdWords campaigns on Google. Contradiction can still help to put the power of algorithms in their place, but there is no stopping the trend.

The traditional keyword has long been redundant as a sole targeting parameter. In the past two years, the level of partial automation has risen constantly. Responsive ads and smart bidding are already a reality and they hint at the direction that search engine marketing will take in future.

Platforms like “Google 360” and the “Adobe Marketing Suite” show the way: it is clear that both systems are consistently broadening and enhancing the options for integrating and linking external data sources. Google and Adobe are already very close to achieving the aim of comprehensive access to the customer journey.

SEA campaigns are becoming more individual

The range of automation solutions on offer is a major factor in driving demand for these options. Furthermore, the complexity of today’s digital campaigns is always on the rise. Google and Adobe enable campaigns to be enriched with increasing amounts of profile data from a wide variety of sources. Traditional SEA campaigns therefore make increasing use of profile-based, individualised management. Every profile has a scaleable number of matches with relevant search terms – and the total of these matches will replace a more or less extensive keyword set.

At the same time, management of modern SEA campaigns will exceed what is humanly possible and will only succeed if artificial intelligence helps to process the large quantities of data needed for the targeted management of ads. In an ideal scenario, machine learning will help to steer the correct path between campaign aims, competition and search relevance.

Ultimately, the user decides between success and failure

While management of profile data is automated as much as possible, the quality and relevance of campaign content comes from the digital offering of the companies running the adverts. Whether it is a website or a data feed – companies like Google do not mind where the content comes from. Rather, the deciding factor is whether the data is relevant and current, responds to demand among the target audiences and is technically accessible to the marketing platforms. Optimisation of its digital offering makes the ultimate difference between a company and its competitors when it comes to search engine marketing, as its success or failure is still dependent on the user at the end of the day.

For agencies, this means that the SEA manager of the future will have to bring additional skills to the table. Process automation and increased data management in modern search engine advertising require strong division of labour and specialisation within the team. From programming and optimisation to quality assurance, previously separate functions from search engine optimisation (SEO), analytics, consultancy and traditional SEA will need to interact.

In the age of automated search engine marketing, interdisciplinary teams of specialists will need to ensure that agencies and customers do not blindly deliver a technological black box and that they keep the most important levers for economic success in their own hands.

The best way forward is always together. This key phrase characterizes not only the message of the Easter holiday, but also the SEO news for the month of April.

Why IT security is so relevant for SEO performance

Search machine optimisers are happy to label themselves as their customers’ caretaker. After all, SEOs stick their noses into almost all areas of the organisation and operation of digital assets such as websites or apps. Conscientious SEOs are not only required as strategic analysts, but also as nagging quibblers who are at some point confronted with security issues in addition to structural, content-related, and technical problems. Marketing staff are not responsible for IT security, of course, but a lack of awareness of online security is certainly capable of negatively influencing performance in search engines. Today’s basic SEO knowledge base should include the fact that the use of secured client-server connections by means of the HTTPS protocol of search engines has now become an essential quality factor. At least as important as these formal security components, however, is the monitoring of automated bot traffic on one’s own servers, for instance. The multitude of bots has perfectly legitimate purposes when it comes to website crawling. The best example of this is domain indexing for a search engine. According to a current study from the US bot specialist Distil Networks, however, around 19 percent of all active bots have darker motives. These include copying copyrighted content, looking for potential vulnerabilities on a given server, or even the distribution of malware. In total and over time, these generally unproblematic bot attacks can cause throttling of the loading speed or even completely prevent the delivery of websites.

Both have immediate negative affects on visibility within search engines. In addition to automated attacks, the topic of hacking in particular also takes the limelight. The term hacking refers to the act of changing content on a website through illegitimate intrusions from the outside. According to information from an analysis from the world’s largest domain handler, Go Daddy, around 73 percent of all hacked websites are taken over and changed for purely SEO reasons. In most cases, sites with relatively high authority are hacked in a specific topic area in order to deter potential visitors or to set up illegitimate links. The gravest consequences of such a hack would not only be the potential damage caused via search engines, such as a loss in incoming traffic and visibility, but also direct harm to website visitors due to fraudulent acquisition of their personal data (phishing) or direct infection with malware via infected downloads.

Strong together

The consequences of insufficient IT security for marketing and searching can be so severe that this creates a great commonality between the two areas. Neither effective search engine optimization nor comprehensive IT security can be outsourced; they must be the result of shared responsibility and teamwork. Those who continue to compartmentalise their thinking and organisation will not really be successful in either area.

The gaming market is booming: According to GfK, the gaming industry generated sales of around 4.37 billion euros in Germany in 2018. ESports tournaments fill entire stadiums worldwide, the Candy Crush Saga leads the Google Play Store ranking of the top-selling apps, and the augmented reality game Pokémon Go led millions of users on a hunt for virtual Pokémons. Playing triggers emotions that marketers can take advantage of: Fun, ambition and happiness.

There’s a child in every one of us

The play instinct is a natural instinct in humans. Especially for children, playing is important for their mental and physical development. But anyone who believes that the play instinct is limited to children or adolescents couldn’t be more wrong. According to a study by the Association of the German Games Industry, 28 percent of computer and video gamers in Germany are 50 years and older. With a total of 9.5 million players, they represent the largest age group in Germany. The average age of gamers has been rising for years: Whereas it was 32 years in 2013, it rose to 36 years in 2018. These figures show that my grandmother is a target group that should not be underestimated, especially against the background of our ageing society. Due to their social interaction character, games can perhaps even counteract social issues such as loneliness in old age.

In addition to the classic target group of so-called heavy gamers, i.e. players who spend an above-average amount of time playing video games, there are also people who only occasionally want to play computer or video games, but the relatively high purchase costs for a gaming PC or game console often put them off. This however may change this year with the planned launch of Google’s new game streaming platform “Stadia”. According to Google, the games can be downloaded from the cloud and played on any device using a dedicated controller. Although nothing is yet known about the pricing model of the service, it can be assumed that this will create a previously untapped target group potential.

New technologies offer a wide playground for stationary retailers

According to the German Retail Association, the stationary retail sector is still struggling with declining customer numbers. One way to attract more customers to city centers and shops is to make the shopping experience more exciting and interactive through gamification. Gamification is the integration of playful elements into a non-playful context. These playful elements address human needs such as the desire for interaction, ambition, competition or reward. The aim is to motivate the players to adopt the desired behaviours, such as increased buying intention and loyalty or an increased number of customers in the store.

Some companies have already successfully implemented the gamification approach in their businesses. In the spring of 2018, the bookseller Hugendubel motivated customers to visit the branches with its “Bookbuster” campaign. They developed a mobile game in which users could test their knowledge about current books in three levels. Level 1 consisted of a virtual book cover puzzle and Level 2 required users to guess book titles represented by images. Augmented Reality was used for the third level. The participants could collect virtual birds and win books in the process. According to Hugendubel’s Marketing Director Sarah Orlandi, the campaign has led to increased visitor numbers and increased sales.

In addition to Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality is also ideal for making the shopping experience more exciting and playful. For the opening of a new IKEA store in Dallas, the furniture manufacturer has developed a Virtual Reality Experience where visitors can immerse themselves in the IKEA world. A virtual cushion throwing game enabled playful interaction with the products. In another VR experience, the participants learned in a playful way about the sustainable design process of an IKEA bamboo lamp.

Another successful gamification model comes from NIKE. In order to promote the new “Epic React” shoe, the trial fitting of the shoes in the store was combined with a three-minute motion game. Before the customers got on the treadmill, they created an avatar of themselves. This avatar was controlled by the running movement of the customers and a hand-held button for jumping. In total, there were four different worlds for the participants to explore as they playfully tried out the new Nike shoe.

As you can see from the results, there are no limits to fantasy and creativity in Gamification. However, retailers should make sure that the game elements support the shopping experience and are not just a gimmick and distract from the buying process.

Gamification supports everyday agency life

Gamification will also play an increasingly important role in the ELearning sector in the future. The online advertising industry continues to evolve, new disciplines are being added, and often new tools are emerging whose functions employees need to learn.

Anyone who has ever attended such a course knows how theoretical they can be and how quickly they forget what they have learned. If onboarding events and tool trainings were gamified in the future, knowledge could be imparted in an entertaining way. Companies can, for example, set incentives that motivate employees to further their education and thus collect points or reach the next level.

Salesforce, an international provider of enterprise cloud computing solutions, is a prime example. A special learning platform called “Trailhead” was developed for a playful introduction to their software, where learners receive points and badges as a reward for solving tasks. The competition character promotes learning and later use of tools in everyday work.

Gamification approaches are also conceivable for recruiting and innovation workshops. So, dear colleagues, be creative and let your play instinct run free!

New technologies, devices, and content formats are challenging search engine experts around the world at an ever-increasing rate—but now help is coming from an unexpected source. What little helper can we expect to see in future strategic development and day-to-day business? Find out more in our March edition of SEO News.

Fraggles are back

The fraggles are loose, and they’re slowly taking over the Google world of tomorrow. Just to clear up any confusion right from the start: we’re not talking about the radish-loving, 65-cm tall (source: Wikipedia), cave-dwelling humanoids from the 80s TV show of the same name.

Like their namesakes, the fraggles our search engine optimisers have been working with for some time now are small and dynamic. Here, though, the word refers to content fragments identified by Google that can be scattered, either isolated or in innumerable combinations, throughout the ever-growing landscape of platforms, devices, and technologies.

Cindy Krum, a Denver, Colorado-based mobile marketing expert, was the first to use fraggles in this context. She says fraggles is intended as a portmanteau of “fragment” and “handle”, and describes them as Google’s response to dramatic changes in user behaviour and to the technological structural framework of websites, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), personalised web services, and data feeds.

What these digital assets have in common is that most of their content is assigned to a single URL. One driving force behind this trend is the process of adapting to the needs of the mobile age; another is the development of server-based technologies like Javascript or Ajax, which are capable of generating individualised content dynamically.

Google, Bing, etc. adjusting their indexing

As a result, Krum says, the fixed allocation of content to URLs is being supplanted; search machines are increasingly indexing mere fragments of content from individual websites, feeds, or apps. Rather than indexing entire websites page by page, she explains, Google, Bing and friends now face the challenge of fishing the most relevant content fragments from the massive ocean of conventional HTML, dynamic Javascript, and endless streams of XML. Krum believes that Google’s Mobile First Index, which has been online for over a year, is simply a huge dragnet for fraggles of all types.

Indeed, looking at how the major providers’ search results have developed over the past two years, the fragment theory makes sense. Both Google and Microsoft are continuously experimenting with new content presentation modes and formats, especially on mobile devices: everything from integrated map and rating displays on local search results, to comprehensive reports on people, places, and brands through Knowledge Graphs, to concrete answers to FAQs through Features Snippet.

Search engines: the universal assistants of the future

Moreover, search engines are adapting their results more and more precisely to users’ search intentions and usage contexts. This development is sure to continue through the dawning age of voice assistants. Virtually calling a computer-generated Google Assistant while at the hairdresser’s is just the first of many coming high points in terms of search engines differentiating themselves as ever-present, universal information and assistance systems.

Relevance and consumability are inextricably linked in systems like these. Whether on the phone, watching television, or driving, modern users have neither the desire nor the ability to look through a page of search hits for the answer they need—much less scroll through a website. The real advantage of the fraggle concept lies in the immediacy and flexibility of small fragments of information, delivered to countless combinations of usage situations and device preferences.

Fraggles highlight Google’s growing emphasis on the customer journey

Fraggles also fit seamlessly into Google’s new strategic alignment of search results to user journeys. To celebrate the 20-year anniversary of its search engine, Google announced its intention to stop viewing search activities as a series of individual queries, but rather to use context and history information to try and pinpoint the user’s exact intentions and position within the customer journey. This, combined with artificial intelligence, means that search results are now meant to be seen not as a results-based service, but as a conversation. Fragments can be incorporated into this scenario as well, whether as product information, concrete purchase offers, or special queries during the post-purchase phase.

What does this all mean for SEOs? First and foremost, it means they will need to continue developing their own approaches to voice and visual search queries. Markups for structured data and voice responses (Google Speakable) need to be part of their standard repertoire, as do keyword analyses organised by intentions along the customer journey.

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.