It was back in 1992 when Herbert F. Barber came up with the term VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – but it also happens to be a near-perfect description of how things are right now. Although initially introduced by Barber as a concept for strategic company management, VUCA also reflects the problems currently facing managers – including outside of their respective organisations. Today, it describes the influences that global dependencies, political controversies, technologisation and changing consumer behaviour are having on companies and entire sections of society – and therefore keeping 21st-century managers on their toes.
However, hardly any of these influences has brought about such far-reaching changes as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been hanging over us since March 2020. It has led to events that many people had previously thought impossible: e-commerce penetration in the US grew from 16% to approximately 34% within the space of three months (by way of comparison, it took about ten years to increase from 5% to 16%); internal projects for which a timescale of around three years had initially been planned were launched over a single weekend; and entire industries were turned on their heads – restaurants, healthcare and traditional retail being cases in point. The coronavirus has led to longstanding certainties losing their currency and being replaced by a new normality – meaning that VUCA has taken on a whole new importance.

Digitalisation: the constant factor in the new normal

In the ensuing uncertainty, digitalisation is now a central instrument on the agenda of all company bosses as it allows them to respond more flexibly to these volatile influences and to introduce countermeasures. Although it had already been quite a challenge for many companies to take their company processes to the next (digital) level, the advent of the coronavirus now means that this has become a survival factor that will determine each company’s future. Whether it’s a question of expanding the online area to include offline sales, implementing projects entirely by digital means or managing teams via digital channels – digital services and platforms facilitate these initiatives in only a fraction of the originally intended time and are therefore a central component of company management. And one that is here to stay.

The challenges for managers involve overcoming the physical distance to individual colleagues brought about by the need to work from home and, in spite of largely decentralised teams, to create digital interactions with a view to implementing project processes and encouraging team spirit. As a result, the pandemic has increased the urgency of implementing digital solutions as this is the only way to counter the crisis adequately and to respond more swiftly to the impact that it is having. So it’s no wonder, then, that – according to a DMEXCO trend study – approximately 70% of managers based in the DACH region indicated that the pandemic will speed up their planned digital transformation projects to enable them to meet the new requirements.

Adaptability will determine future company success

Managers are currently being given a crash course not only in digitalisation, but also in change management and New Work. Here, one of the main critical success factors will be how individual managers practise ‘remote leadership’ in companies – this is because the agility and flexibility of the predominantly cross-functional and decentralised team members must be ensured continually. One fundamental aspect for companies is therefore how skilfully and quickly they can respond to crises and changes in their organisational environment and adapt their organisation accordingly.

VUCA 2.0 – an antidote for the current state of uncertainty

Driven by external influences, managers feel forced to explore new avenues and acquire new skills so they are in a position to face up to increasingly pressing questions. This is why it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the organisation’s common orientation and to be able to convey this successfully within the company and tackle the challenge together.

This is done by communicating a Vision, by Understanding the context, by presenting these with Clarity and implementing them with the necessary Agility – or, in short, with VUCA 2.0. This can be seen as the antidote to the VUCA term introduced by Herbert F. Barber. VUCA 2.0 gives managers guidelines that they need to apply in their operational management functions in order to keep on top of current and future challenges:

V ision:

More than ever before, managers need to be able to provide continual orientation in the context of changes and to put forward a vision that the organisation can gear itself towards. This not only requires the definition of a ‘guiding star’ but also the necessary degree of transparency that will allow each and every employee to devote themselves to the mission at hand. At the same time, it is important to create a common understanding of values and the organisation’s strategy so that managers are in a position to make relevant company decisions, thereby enabling their teams to take the same route.

U nderstanding:

As well as defining a common vision, a far-reaching understanding of structures and processes is important in order to be able to apply skills that exist within the company quickly and effectively. At the same time, an in-depth understanding of the company context must exist – this is necessary for adapting flexibly to dynamic requirements from customers, competitors and changes in the political climate. To this end, transparent communication and networking need to be established throughout the company so that any volatile influences can be nipped in the bud. Only in this way is it possible to respond flexibly to external changes, to minimise risks and encourage resilience.

C larity:

One way to deal with the complex internal and external organisational environment is with focused and clearly formulated company management. This will bring clarity to the existing fog of chaos, enabling effective countermeasures to be defined and implemented. As a result, processes can be structured more clearly, communication channels used more efficiently and company decisions conveyed quickly and resolutely so that, in spite of the existing complexity, they can be communicated transparently to employees and continually made visible.

A gility:

In order to remain viable for the future, companies need to be agile enough to adapt to external requirements and flexible enough to respond to a changing environment. This means that agility not only needs to be reflected in the company structures and processes – at the same time, it constitutes a leadership quality that is evident when managers demonstrate an agile mindset. This is why initiating a cultural shift and establishing flexible processes and cross-functional cooperation models is a central function for managers today. To do so, they must be able to communicate openly within the organisation and find suitable solutions for external changes quickly – without losing sight of the aforementioned ‘guiding star’.

Digitalisation is central to the success of VUCA 2.0

VUCA 2.0 offers managers an approach that can guide them in times of mounting uncertainty. However, this also means that suitable technologies need to be used, digital platforms set up and internal knowledge transfer geared in such a way that relevant information, data and transparency can be exchanged quickly and flexibly with regard to the changing situations. To this end, organisations should do away with siloed thinking, encourage integration and collaboration between different areas and establish mechanisms that motivate self-reflection. In addition, companies have to create an environment for ongoing learning and a values-based culture in order to provide employees with the tools they will need to deal with sudden, unforeseen events. This empowers individual teams and employees – through personal responsibility and reflection – to counter the combination of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is set to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Such an approach ultimately enables employees and managers alike to make use of the necessary information strategically and in the interests of the company – all with a view to optimising resource distribution and avoiding inefficiency.

VUCA 2.0 as a core skill of today’s organisations

Implementing the guidelines of VUCA 2.0 is ultimately a critical factor for managers when it comes to withstanding the challenges posed by the VUCA influences today and in the future – and emerging stronger than ever. By defining a vision, understanding their own organisation and ensuring clarity in their communication and agility in their actions, it is possible to take the edge off uncertainty and, in turn, to follow a common vision together. Changing management and employee conduct in line with VUCA 2.0 will well and truly bear fruit once it has been aligned with the right tools, platforms and technologies. However, intended change only occurs when its wheels are set in motion – and what better time for change than right now?

This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”. The e-paper is available here.

The global Coronavirus Pandemic has slowed the german economy down, which has been accompanied by massive sales losses for large parts of the retail trade. Even the slow easing of regulations will not lead to a short-term recovery in the economic situation of many companies. In this situation, online trade has not only been able to prove itself as an alternative sales channel, but has also emerged from its shadowy digital existence. The new circumstances continue to offer great opportunities for digital marketing.

Paid Media plays an outstanding role in addressing the right target groups. As experts in the field of performance marketing, we have identified the most important developments and trends for you by analysing our customer campaigns on the channels Google Search, Google Display Network (GDN) and YouTube. All statements refer to paid search, as they usually have a consumption-related background.

Our findings do not take place in a vacuum: In recent weeks, customers have already reacted to the altered situation by reducing or increasing their budgets; the same applies to the competition. These effects are reflected in the analysis as well as adapted user behavior.

Google Search:

With the start of the lockdown and consequent restrictions on leaving the house, impressions of paid search ads across our cross-industry client portfolio declined by an average of 29 percent. It was not until the first week of April that we saw a resurgence. One explanatory approach is that the consumer behaviour of consumers had clearly clouded over from the first days of the strict Coronavirus lockdown measures. This was because the volume of brand-related and transactional search queries in particular had fallen significantly. Informational searches on the nature and course of the pandemic have occupied people more than consumption.

After just under two weeks, however, an initial recovery in demand can be observed. The online search is thus also a good indicator of the increased need for information in society. As a result of the falling demand while competition remained the same or perhaps even increased, click prices rose significantly in mid/late March. In April, the CPC already dropped again significantly as some advertisers temporarily reduced their budgets. This dynamic will continue until the market situation is clarified. However, this will only delay the long-term trend towards rising click prices on Google.

Another special feature that we were able to observe in our analyses is that, although the majority of all searches are still generated from mobile devices, the share of desktop searches has risen significantly from February to March compared to February. This is probably related to the increased use of laptop and desktop devices in the home office. In our experience, desktop searches convert better than mobile requests, so here too is an advantage in terms of campaign success that should not be underestimated.

When considering demographic factors, it is noticeable that the aforementioned decline in search demand was significantly lower for women than for men. The female target group still has more consumer wishes, which are also in demand during the Coronavirus epidemic.

With regard to the age demographic, the picture is not very surprising: While young users aged between 18 and 24 years show practically no change in the intensity of use, demand in the oldest segment of users aged between 45 and 64 years has fallen by almost a third. As a rule of thumb, therefore, the higher the age of the target group, the more pronounced the fluctuations in search behaviour.

Google Display Network (GDN) / YouTube:

The development in the GDN stands in stark contrast to the development in wanted ads. Impressions on display ads in the Google Ad Universe have increased significantly with the beginning of the pandemic, by an average of 37 percent since mid-March. The still high interaction on GDN campaigns can be used very well for advertisers, since at the same time the prices in this channel fell clearly, partly by 50 per cent.

YouTube is also one of the big winners of the crisis. On the one hand, the audience has become larger and the time spent on the world’s second largest search engine has increased, while on the other hand, CPTs have fallen to new lows since mid-March.

Recommendation:

Search continues to distinguish itself as the medium through which users actively disclose their needs. It is therefore more relevant than ever before, and is as indispensable a channel during the crisis as it is afterwards. Many advertisers have already adapted to the decline in paid reach and changed their strategy accordingly. But often this happens on sight, campaigns are stopped, paused and restarted. If hard campaign targets such as sales or KUR can no longer be achieved, we recommend temporarily considering alternative targets. With a focus on lead generation, valuable data can be collected now and used at a later date. Vouchers are another option for securing future sales today. Now is also the right time to advertise products and services that require explanation and to offer comprehensive virtual advice. As a brand, you remain in a position to build up a portfolio effect, i.e. to pick up and inform consumers even without sales. Because demand is still there and wants to be served over the coming months of the new normality.

The coronavirus crisis not only creates losers, but also some winners: online retailers and delivery services in particular, as well as online platforms for tutoring, fitness or cooking are all currently experiencing a massive sales boost. Social distancing is shifting both shopping and communication even more towards digital, which offers great opportunities for providers of such online services. However, even German SMEs that have found themselves in crisis, should perceive this as a digitalization push and initiate the necessary, in some cases long overdue transformation processes.

What does that mean in concrete terms? What steps should companies now take to digitalize their product portfolio and compensate for lost sales? Both B2C and B2B companies have a range of e-commerce measures available to them that make sense in the current situation.

In the B2C sector, action must now be taken quickly.

1. Discounts as an effective means.

Massive discount battles can currently be observed in the B2C sector. In the fashion industry especially, suppliers are currently trying to get rid of their seasonal goods. In addition, price reductions are also ensuring the liquidity that is urgently needed at the moment. The highest possible surcharge can be achieved with the right support through special newsletters and an increased and effective use of social media.

2. Through interactive features directly at the customer.

Keyword: Social Media. If a certain type of customer communication has been given a major boost as a sales channel during the crisis, then it is interactive features such as live chats and sales via live streaming that are most effective. These should definitely be integrated into the e-commerce strategy. The case of the Chinese cosmetics brand Forest Cabin, whose sales had slumped by 90 percent, shows what a great opportunity this offers. After a radical change of strategy with live streaming as the central sales channel, not only were all previous losses made up for, but just two weeks after the initiative was launched, the daily sales of the previous year were exceeded.

3. Digitalising loyalty systems.

Another tool that can be easily digitized are the well-known loyalty systems. For example, a well-known German perfumery chain has over 44 million loyalty cards on the market. These are well suited for contacting and retaining customers during the crisis. This applies in particular to older customers, whose willingness to use digital loyalty programs is significantly higher due to the crisis.

4 Exploiting the online marketplaces boom.

It’s well-publicized that Amazon, Alibaba and Co. are the big winners of the crisis in terms of increased market share. And others can also profit from this. These marketplaces should now be used as (additional) sales channels to take advantage of the current boom in digital marketplaces for their own business.

The Crisis as Digitalization Excellorator

Typically, transformations in B2B business are somewhat slower and are not implemented as quickly as in B2C. However, due to the massive impact that the Coronavirus crisis is also having on B2B companies, rapid action is now also required. The following four points are particularly important and effective.

1. Move Customer Services personnel to Home Office.

Customer services such as call centers and sales services must be made fit for the home office in order to continue to offer all necessary customer services and to be able to generate new business digitally. The fastest possible implementation is crucial here, since such services are needed at all times and this transformation is complex and extensive.

2.Digitalization of the Customer Journey,

The entire customer journey is currently shifting to online business, also in the B2B sector. As a result, all companies whose business model was primarily or even exclusively offline now have to invest more than ever in building their own service platform. This is the only way they can absorb the losses in offline business through online trading.

3.Agile working methods are more efficient than ever.

The crisis requires faster action, and budgets are now only planned in the short term and screened several times. To meet these requirements, agile working methods are a very good tool. A joint sprint every 14 days to redefine what is important facilitates an effective response to all eventualities and developments.

4.Sufficient server capacity is the A&O.

However, implementing all these measures is of little use if the website or even the web shop collapses during a run on your own sales platform. It is therefore extremely important to ensure sufficient server capacity and performance, either in-house or with an external service provider.

Companies that have already implemented some of these measures before the crisis are currently finding it easier to master them. However, the crisis mode in which our economy is currently operating should be seen as an opportunity to make up for lost time or to build on the digitalization steps taken so far. It is now more important than ever to implement the above-mentioned measures and to perceive this crisis as a catalyst and accelerator, because those who take the right steps now can emerge stronger from it.

The Coronavirus crisis currently poses challenges to many areas of business, but also creates new opportunities. In the Serviceplan Group’s first live session of the webinar titled “Acting Successfully in the Corona Crisis”, Verena Letzner, Managing Director of Plan.Net NEO, presented her analysis of the effects of the crisis on social media. In her expert article, she looks at the current situation in Germany and explains what questions brands should ask themselves now, and why it is worthwhile to take a look at the situation in China.

The use of social media platforms, from Messenger and video platforms to classic social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and others, has risen significantly. Due to the lockdown and social contact restrictions in Germany and the resulting social distancing, people increasingly use the Social Web to inform themselves, discuss and get in touch with others – including brands. This creates opportunities for brands to strengthen their market position sustainably during the crisis, however the procedure brands follow in order to do so is important. Only those brands that make a helpful contribution now will become part of the conversation and have the ability to emerge from the crisis stronger.

1. Improve people’s situation

Brands should create an offering on the Social Web that adds value to the many people who currently must stay at home. Brands can support important areas of life such as sports, health and education through their offerings, or create alternatives for activities that are restricted or completely forbidden during the lockdown phase, such as eating out together, shopping and maintaining physical social contacts.

2. Have a purpose and radiate optimism

Currently, the “Time with brands” is in a peak phase, which means that users engage more with brands on the Social Web than usual. For brands, it is important to use this time to authentically place values such as solidarity, community, care, trust and optimism at the centre of their communication, thereby increasing their brand capital in the long term.

3. Benefit from changes in media usage

Due to the withdrawal of many advertisers from the paid social sector, the advertising pressure and the competition for placements is currently decreasing. Therefore, it can be especially useful for brands to buy cheap advertising space or to get more reach for the same budget.

Five questions that brands should ask themselves now

In order to exploit the potential of social media during the Coronavirus crisis, brands now have to urgently address the question of a strong and relevant social media strategy. The following five questions provide a guideline:

  1. What role can social media play for my brand in the communication mix during the Coronavirus crisis?
  2. How do I deal with my community in times of crises?
  3. Which channels are the right ones for me?
  4. How can I establish a performance-oriented social media approach and invest my budget effectively?
  5. How do I measure my success ­– during and after the crisis?

A look towards China – Looking ahead

An interesting question is certainly what happens as soon as the lockdown in Germany eases. It is worth looking at China, where the crisis and its effects are ahead of European countries. In China, too, the social media use of various services and platforms increased significantly during the lockdown, and the personal exchange that usually takes place in shops, such as product or purchasing advice, shifted to the Social Web.

And after the lockdown phase? Social media use in China has remained high, only the daily usage time has decreased slightly again. In a survey of Chinese marketers on how they would invest budgets in the future or which fields they would use more after the crisis, most of the respondents cited the social media sector.  This shows that long-term business opportunities are seen here.

Nothing motivates the advertising market quite like the search for purpose. Even the search segment, which has always been one of the central points of contact in online marketing, is now reacting to the ever-increasing demand from users for an overriding sense of purpose of the providers. In this edition of SEO News, we take a look at new search engines and why ‘search’ has always had a purpose.

A binary search for meaning with an after-taste

Purpose is the word of the hour. Artificial intelligence and voice search have been all but forgotten again, with meaning and purpose taking their place as the latest marketing vehicles. Now, therefore, a positive contribution to society should also be made in business life. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has been dealing with search engines for a while now.

Google has always wanted to organise the world’s information. Microsoft has made empowering people the mission of its Bing search engine from the very beginning. But even beyond these visions, the issue of search and purpose could not be simpler, because search engines basically have these functions: finding meaning, providing information, reducing fear, and facilitating decisions.

In return, people not only entrust their search bars, microphones and camera lenses with their innermost doubts, fears and worries, but a technologised society also transmits location and transaction data, as well as behaviour and movement patterns to tech companies in the East and West. Although data protection has also been a topic of growing attention in Germany since at least the 1987 census, paradoxically it is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity in the information society.

To put it bluntly, one could say that the digital economy, loaded with great expectations, has so far done no more than collect the personal data of billions of people by the petabyte, only to then market said data to increase the prosperity of a few.  Simply adding up the current sales of the performance advertising top dogs Google and Facebook, advertisers’ exposure to our privacy is worth around US$60 billion a quarter.

As a result, data is increasingly being privatised with private companies profiting from their sale and everyone having to take responsibility for their own protection. For this reason, the US telecommunications giant Verizon has now launched a search engine called Onesearch which, similarly to the privacy search engine DuckDuckGo, which has been established for years, is committed to special measures to protect the privacy of its users.

Meanwhile, we ignore the fact that Verizon’s corporate portfolio also includes Yahoo, the classic data-handling mother of all search engines. Besides ignoring cookies, retargeting and profiling, according to Verizon search queries are transmitted in encrypted form. As a special feature, links to search results that are stored in the browser history, for example, are deleted after an hour, and the personal search result is then no longer visible. It almost goes without saying that the search history is not saved.

While the birth of a new search engine is always a big event, despite all its well-meaning features, Onesearch will probably have already experienced the peak of its use with the press release for its launch. This is because data protection alone is not enough of a purpose for a search engine. Users are not only prepared to hand over their lives in Is and 0s to search companies, but they have learned over the past 20 years that hardly anything makes the symbiosis of humans and technology as immediately tangible as a search engine. We are fascinated by the comprehensive store of knowledge, but also surprised by helpful information about our own neighbourhood. In contrast to social networks, the negative effects of the algorithm economy on society play a secondary role in the universal search. As important as the protection of personal data is in the networked society, Google’s long-term vision of a convenience engine with comprehensively personalised information seems to be a logical response to users’ need for technological meaning.

Escaping the cold and out into the sun. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter whether you book your next winter break at the travel agency around the corner, or on your mobile phone. In January’s SEO News, we will discover how, with Google’s help, we will soon be sending ourselves jet-setting off into the distance, and why you should never underestimate supposedly harmless hoaxes.

Travel agencies – fasten your seatbelts

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

It’s safe to say that 2019 was not an easy year for the travel industry. Not only did the insolvency of the British tour operator Thomas Cook send shock waves through the industry and cost many jobs, but “flight shame” and “overtourism” have been two social trends that have really put the brakes on growth within the sector, rather than strengthening it.

The traditional travel agency, which has for decades been the administrative headquarters of our holiday dreams, has experienced a small uptick, despite the adverse conditions. Although their numbers have been steadily declining for years, physical travel agencies have recorded a small but constant increase in turnover over the past 15 years. The reason for the success of travel agencies in the age of online bookings lies in the comprehensive, personal advice they provide and the transparency of prices and fees for customers. Both of these factors are forces that the online travel business has not yet been able to overcome. Against a background of changing travel behaviour, moving away from package tours to individual holidays, all market participants seemed to have settled down comfortably into their respective segments of the almost 800 billion US dollar global travel market.

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

As humankind’s entirely natural digital partner, the Search channel is virtually predestined for such a venture. A large number of us think nothing of trusting the input field of a search engine with our most intimate secrets, greatest fears, and most hidden passions.  For companies, webmasters, and SEOs, though, the challenge of generating genuine value from this social potential is growing ever greater. Paid ads, answer boxes as featured snippets, and the beloved “People Also Ask” questions – each of these is displacing the classic, organic click result from the top spots on the search results page. This is the other side of Google’s metamorphosis from a gateway to a portal for all of life’s questions and situations.

Google Travel as the new gatekeeper

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

But all that is about to change… After several acquisitions, iterations and experiments, Google is starting to expand its flight and hotel search into a comprehensive, personalised travel consultant and planner. The new travel search tool “Google Travel” has been live in the US since the start of the year and has received positive initial reactions  from both the press and users alike.

Bookings are still made on the travel providers’ own websites, but as a gatekeeper Google will certainly soon be monetising its dominance. Last spring, SEO veteran Rand Fishkin had alreadyexpressed his regret regarding this to the start-ups and online travel industry employees present at SMX Munich. A few months earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, a small website called Touringbird, an individual travel planning provider, which could not even be found via organic search, was launched. As it turned out a year later, the supposed start-up was in fact an experiment by Google’s incubator, Area 120. The site, which has since been discontinued and merged with Google Travel, allowed the search giant to test the application of its wealth of data in combination with the use of artificial intelligence under market conditions.

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

A recent patent shows that, in addition to online check-ins and reviews, Google also wants to incorporate offline user behaviour into its quality evaluation of local companies. According to the document, movement patterns of individual users or EXIF data from uploaded photos are to allow conclusions to be drawn about the quality and relevance of local listings. This leaves a lot of room for imagination as to how conventional SEO work at the computer may also shift into the real world in years to come. In addition to optimising website technology, structure, and content, clever strategies for obtaining good signals from offline searches are now set to be in demand as well. Before long, the free cup of coffee offered in exchange for a longer stay at the corner shop may very likely count among the modern search engine optimiser’s trusted tools.

Successful linking of different Google services

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

Google actually laid the foundations for its development work a few years earlier with its app Google Trips, which has also now been discontinued. The result they are now presenting is a tool that combines personalised searches with historical and real-time data to offer the entire spectrum of individual travel inspiration and planning using three simple tabs.

Broken down into “Where to stay”, “When to visit” and “What you’ll pay”, at first glance all the basic questions relating to travel are presented in an easily accessible and comprehensive manner. The comprehensive and familiar information from Google’s local search for almost any location around the globe can not only be marketed within the immediate geographical area, but can now be directly monetised as added value in travel planning. The company deliberately places the transparency of the final price at the centre of its marketing communication in order to distinguish itself positively from the competition. According to a study by EMarketer, despite ecological and social headwinds, the global travel market will be reaching the trillion dollar mark in just two years’ time. This means that the pie is getting bigger, but who gets a slice is still up for grabs.

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

The proliferation of technologies that enable open searching with the help of visual information is now also underway in Europe and North America, several years after Chinese search machines like Alibaba and Baidu first made important pioneering achievements in this area. Through advancement in the development of artificial intelligence and the gathering of ever more extensive volumes of data, it’s becoming increasingly easy for users to perform search queries that would be difficult to express assisted only by text or even speech.

The most important driver for visual search, however, will turn out to be that optimal searching is the ideal partner to e-commerce. With the launch of its visual search tool, US fashion chain Forever 21 has succeeded in increasing its average shopping cart value by approximately 20%. Inspiration portal Pinterest recently announced that around 80% of its users begin their shopping session with a visual search. The shortening of the customer journey in the young target group of 18 to 34 years is a powerful factor in the battle for online sales. Soon enough, the path from “I want” to “I have” will be just a camera click away.

From the point of view of search engine optimisation, this means it would be advisable to extend content strategies by a visual dimension, and to optimise technical deployment of picture and video files within digital assets. 2020 will not only see us experience the proliferation of visual searches, however, but also witness the first steps on the road to a multimodal search matrix consisting of text, speech, camera input, and (offline) context.  That’s why we advise you to stay on the ball, keep reading our little column, and, most importantly,  have an excellent start to the new year.

Duck Duck Go buys into Android

With almost 90% of the market share, Google’s Android dominates the smartphone operating system market worldwide. Hard-wiring your browser to your own search engine gives you quite a valuable asset. The EU’s competition watchdogs have now also realised this, imposing on Google a fine of around five billion US dollars in March 2019. In addition, the company was required to provide users with a choice of search provider when setting up their mobile device, much in the same way as Microsoft had to make alternatives to the Internet Explorer browser available in the Windows 7 operating system in 2009.

Google has now successfully fulfilled this obligation with the help of an auction, much to the disappointment of the search engines participating. Three selections were auctioned in a total of 31 EU markets. The bidding was on the click price that the third-party provider would be prepared to pay Google for each search action.

Duck Duck Go comes out on top

The result of these auctions now reflects neither the market position nor the quality of Google’s alternatives. For example, Microsoft’s successful search engine Bing was only used in the high-revenue UK. In Germany, new Android users will have the choice between the US providers Duck Duck Go, InfoSpace and GMX-Suche from Germany’s United Internet group. The search engine Duck Duck Go, which specialises in the data protection, was the biggest winner in the auction and was used immediately in all markets. Despite criticism from participating companies, this procedure has not yet been called into question by the EU. Even though the auction procedure is a proven method of ensuring fair access to a limited market, the demand for a permanent click price speaks volumes about our beloved monopolist’s understanding of the market.

Christmas is widely recognised as an opportunity for us to put our mobile phones down for more than 15 minutes and feel truly at ease in the offline world. To explain why that would be a bad mistake, here’s December’s edition of SEO News.

Left out in the cold

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

As humankind’s entirely natural digital partner, the Search channel is virtually predestined for such a venture. A large number of us think nothing of trusting the input field of a search engine with our most intimate secrets, greatest fears, and most hidden passions.  For companies, webmasters, and SEOs, though, the challenge of generating genuine value from this social potential is growing ever greater. Paid ads, answer boxes as featured snippets, and the beloved “People Also Ask” questions – each of these is displacing the classic, organic click result from the top spots on the search results page. This is the other side of Google’s metamorphosis from a gateway to a portal for all of life’s questions and situations.

The prospects of local search

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

A recent patent shows that, in addition to online check-ins and reviews, Google also wants to incorporate offline user behaviour into its quality evaluation of local companies. According to the document, movement patterns of individual users or EXIF data from uploaded photos are to allow conclusions to be drawn about the quality and relevance of local listings. This leaves a lot of room for imagination as to how conventional SEO work at the computer may also shift into the real world in years to come. In addition to optimising website technology, structure, and content, clever strategies for obtaining good signals from offline searches are now set to be in demand as well. Before long, the free cup of coffee offered in exchange for a longer stay at the corner shop may very likely count among the modern search engine optimiser’s trusted tools.

A special look

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

The proliferation of technologies that enable open searching with the help of visual information is now also underway in Europe and North America, several years after Chinese search machines like Alibaba and Baidu first made important pioneering achievements in this area. Through advancement in the development of artificial intelligence and the gathering of ever more extensive volumes of data, it’s becoming increasingly easy for users to perform search queries that would be difficult to express assisted only by text or even speech.

The most important driver for visual search, however, will turn out to be that optimal searching is the ideal partner to e-commerce. With the launch of its visual search tool, US fashion chain Forever 21 has succeeded in increasing its average shopping cart value by approximately 20%. Inspiration portal Pinterest recently announced that around 80% of its users begin their shopping session with a visual search. The shortening of the customer journey in the young target group of 18 to 34 years is a powerful factor in the battle for online sales. Soon enough, the path from “I want” to “I have” will be just a camera click away.

From the point of view of search engine optimisation, this means it would be advisable to extend content strategies by a visual dimension, and to optimise technical deployment of picture and video files within digital assets. 2020 will not only see us experience the proliferation of visual searches, however, but also witness the first steps on the road to a multimodal search matrix consisting of text, speech, camera input, and (offline) context.  That’s why we advise you to stay on the ball, keep reading our little column, and, most importantly,  have an excellent start to the new year.

It will soon be time once again for us to take out our Advent calendars and start opening another little door with each passing day. Meanwhile, Google is announcing acquisitions and partnerships at almost as rapid a rate – and with the biggest players in the most important industries and sectors. Here to explain what it all means – and why we should be giving Sesame Street another watch – is the November edition of SEO News.

BERT and ELMO from the big brain factory

The best school for life is a happy childhood. Despite being barely out of puberty at 20 years old, Google too now seems to have cottoned on to this piece of universal wisdom; what other explanation can there be for the Mountain View-based search engine’s decision to name its new colleagues from its artificial intelligence department after characters from Sesame Street? Helping machines to understand people better is now the responsibility of BERT and ELMO. Both are acronyms for digital manifestations of machine-learning processes (“Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers” and “Embeddings from Language Models” respectively). If that all sounds rather complicated, we can use more analogies from our childhoods to help simplify things: For one thing, sheer human curiosity is overwhelming the abilities of Google’s impressive tech stack. The company reports that, more than two decades after the search engine was founded, it still can’t understand even the gist of around 15 percent of search queries. The extension of input technology from text to speech has made this problem even more acute. For another thing, the complexity of speech, reality and life can only be accommodated by organising the learning process of machines in the same way that we approach the education of a child. This means that every individual expression of a search query has to be considered and understood in context. It’s only in this way that accuracy can be reliably predicted. The new BERT algorithm enables Google to more reliably identify different intentions in a search query based on language constructions and changing contexts, and associate them with the most relevant results. Compared to artificial intelligence used by its competitors, this represents a decisive step for Google, because Facebook, Microsoft, Alibaba and Tencent are all working away on the same problems.  Although this doesn’t mean any direct transformations for SEOs and website operators, for Google’s vision of developing an omnipresent information, solutions and convenience machine, BERT marks a ground breaking turning point.

Google’s transition to portal status

Even though Google’s motto for its first twenty years was “Don’t be evil”, the search engine giant from Mountain View appears to have a harsh future ahead of it. Increasing numbers of public voices are now saying what daily use of the search engine and an enlightened glance at the columns of the business press should have made clear long ago: that Google is presently undergoing a backwards metamorphosis from a search engine to a good old-fashioned Internet portal. The inflation of so-called “no-click-searches” – search queries that are answered on Google’s own pages and no longer generate any organic traffic for third-party sites, the aggressive dismantling of sales verticals in such areas as travel, medicine and finance, and the upcoming relaunch of the Shopping division, including payment processing with Google Guarantee, leave us wondering just where this journey is headed. At his recent talk at the “Transformation of Search” conference, CEO of analytics firm Jumpshot, Stephen Kraus, personally awarded Google the title “AOL of the Year 2020” (5:50 minutes into the video). In his keynote address to the “SMX East” conference, veteran SEO expert Rand Fishkin bemoaned the fact that the sector would have to adapt in the future to optimising in Google’s direction in order to meet its customers’ expectations. According to Fishkin, brands are being caught in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma by the fact that, rather than positioning itself as a moderator and provider of relevant traffic (and of turnover with it) as it did before, the search engine is now positioning itself as a market participant in almost all areas of the sale of products, services, and information. The result is that brands are finding themselves obliged to choose between click-free visibility and avoiding the competition in unused keyword niches. The outcome is sub-optimal in both cases.  Fishkin’s answer to this predicament, which he calls “On-SERP-SEO”, can be understood as a form of brand building on Google’s search results pages in combination with widely distributed awareness campaigns. The consequence of these developments won’t be the much-desired “death of SEO”, even in 2020, but instead a signal for closer cooperation between the search sector and conventional marketing channels, and for the need for the technological professionalisation and automation of SEO in order to make it possible to keep up with the search engine’s evolving complexity. Google hasn’t turned evil overnight; it’s just grown up.

Fortnite has shown the way forward: the brilliant (and interim) end of the online game captivated hundreds of millions of viewers, and still has people talking more than a week after the event.  For the advertising sector, this demonstrates one thing in particular: that e-sports and gaming are niche no more, and promise a multitude of marketing opportunities.

The first chapter of co-op survival game Fortnite recently ended with a big bang, in the truest sense of the phrase: the conclusion to season 10, entitled “The End”, saw developer Epic Games destroy large swathes of the in-game world with a meteorite.

For more than two days, millions of fans, players, and the media were left in the dark about whether and how the game would continue – those keeping watch on their screens saw nothing but a black hole.
The breadth of reporting on the event was enormous. Outlets ranging from the New York Times, the Independent, The Verge, Forbes, and Spiegel to Bild, Sport1, and, of course, countless social media accounts wondered what could lie in store for the extremely popular game and its predominantly younger fans.

This end of the game’s first chapter can readily be compared with other highly popular live events, such as the football Champions League, the Apple Keynote, or the Game of Thrones series finale, so enormous was the attention that it attracted.  For us as an agency, this points to advertising impact: e-sports, or gaming under competition conditions, are niche no more!

Positioning of (non-)endemic brands

It’s clear at this point that the fascination, appeal, and attention enjoyed by the gaming genre have also been gathering momentum outside the scene. Brands that are taking advantage of this pull and harnessing it from a technical marketing point of view are still few and far between, however. Why is this the case? Our hunch: company and brand decision-makers are still assuming that e-sports are “only” of interest to gamers, and therefore irrelevant to their brand.

In response to that, here’s another impressive figure: the finals of the League of Legends World Championship in 2018 were followed by 205 million people – while the Super Bowl, which is as much about the ads shown in the breaks as it is about the match itself, was watched that year by “only” approximately 160 million.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/490480/global-esports-audience-size-viewer-type/

Marketing and Sponsoring in E-Sport

The advertising opportunities in e-sports are just as numerous as they are in “classical” marketing or sponsorship, and are always revealing new horizons – including for non-endemic brands.  This is because online games and e-sports users are very open-minded towards brands that are active and position themselves in this sector, with just over half of users surveyed even expressing the opinion that advertising and sponsorship make the gaming world feel more real. They know that if it wasn’t for advertising and collaborations, the beautiful, colourful world of e-sports wouldn’t be possible.

Another welcome side effect is that engagement of this kind makes the brand more interesting as a potential employer. HR and recruiting departments will take note of this as a positive development, as the younger generation has grown up with e-sports and views them far more positively than current company decision-makers or parents.

Want to learn more? Willi Kaiser also made an interview with Alex Müller, CEO of SK Gaming, one of the most successful esport teams in Germany and Hiro Kishi, VP Sports Sponsoring at Deutsche Telekom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak0MLcUf71g&feature=youtu.be

Companies and brands beyond sponsorship

In the meantime, entire leagues, individual events such as Gamescom and the League of Legends (LoL) World Championship, and company e-sports teams are now being sponsored. Deutsche Telekom, for example, now supports SK Gaming’s LoL team in the LEC (League of Legends European Championship). Fashion brand Puma has released its own Teamwear collection for Cloud9, together with a powerful ad on YouTube.

The same principle can easily be applied to the gaming/e-sports world itself. The implementation of creative in-game advertising is still at a relatively early stage, not counting classics like the virtual perimeter ads in FIFA. A striking example of where this approach is headed is the collaboration between Nike and basketball simulation NBA 2K20. As the American sporting goods manufacturer recently announced, from the end of October players will have the opportunity to unlock and purchase exclusive trainer models.  It’s easy to imagine a similar development in Fortnite, with equipment and maps powered by a favourite delivery service or  holiday provider. Once a brand also finds a clever and creative way to get in on the Big Bang buzz in content marketing (keywords: real-time and always-on marketing), this will open up completely new fields in online communications that go further still.

In conclusion, the possibilities are numerous

Engagement portfolios in e-sports can be driven by solutions ranging from ads in the context of in-game events or campaigns, podcasts, influencers on Twitch and similar platforms, and event sponsorship all the way to in-game advertising and item provision,   with the marketing of own teams and product development for the gaming market serving as two yet more extreme examples.

Whether and how a company ventures into the e-sports world is largely dependent on its target group and product, and should be considered with the help of expert analysis.  Such a venture needn’t always involve extensive funds for sponsorship; smaller brands with a modest budget also have many and diverse opportunities for content-based collaboration.

Many website owners were shocked by the news earlier this week (perhaps reading this article) revealing that Google was “planning its biggest algorithm update in five years”. According to the information provided, a new technology called BERT (which stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers”) is set to provide better recognition of search queries.

With horror we remember that in 2015 the search engine released its mobile index, which was dubbed “mobilegeddon”, and which was dragged by the press. Just a few months later, hardly anyone remembered this paradigm shift on Google and the effects of the update were, thanks to diligent search engine optimisers, barely noticeable. A similar situation is expected when it comes to BERT.

It has been several years now since modern SEO work has been focused purely on keyword optimisation. The focus has rather shifted to the coordination of search intention with digital offers. The new BERT algorithm enables Google to more reliably identify different intentions in a search query based on language constructions and changing contexts, and associate them with the most relevant results. When it comes to artificial intelligence competition, this is a big step for Google. Website operators, on the other hand, do not have to respond immediately to the announcement from Mountain View. The creation and optimisation of relevant content for human users should continue to be a top priority in order to build authority and trust for generic searches in key target groups with their own offerings. This content should provide appropriate results for high-volume search queries for maximum relevance and engagement. For websites that primarily benefit from brand searches, the BERT update is unlikely to have a significant impact. What’s more, the company also states that the new algorithm will initially only be rolled out for the English language. A date for its launch on the German market has not yet been announced.

In any case, it is a good idea to regularly monitor your organic traffic when a search engine update like BERT has been rolled out to detect mid and long-term changes. However, there is no need to blindly take action, as Google usually extensively tests its updates, rolls them out slowly, and regularly re-calibrates them after they’ve gone live.