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.

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:

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.

Climate change is blurring the boundaries between the seasons, and the search engine business is also facing major upheavals. While autumn still feels like spring, we are looking to the future with SEO News for the month of October.

The profanation of search engine optimisation

Fire has set us apart from the rest of creation, the steam engine has accelerated our lives, artificial intelligence is killing millions of jobs and the mysterious world of search engines is finally becoming a self-service store. From the outside, our SEO industry is still surrounded by an aura of mystery.  Search engine optimisers always enjoyed playing the part of a sort of guardian of this powerful knowledge, who, with the help of magical formulas and actions, could influence the abstract nature of the search engine, at least to a certain extent. An ability that required a minimum level of secret knowledge and a huge wealth of experience.

But now both Google and Bing have announced that webmasters will have more control over how their content is displayed on search results pages. In a blog post, Google has announced a new set of attributes, which enable concrete restriction of the content shown on the results page – the so-called snippet – and can define them in advance for optimal presentation. This is all covered under the title “More controls on searches”. Using structured data, content providers hosting news sites and video portals in particular can more precisely control the preview of their offerings. In addition to a better display in search results, this step is also a peace offering in the conflict between search engines and website operators when it comes to the use of content in snippets and the growing number of ‘no-click-searches’. These allow user’s information requirements to be satisfied on Google’s pages already, without the click being forwarded to the source page.

Microsoft moved on to offer a feature that will help website owners to not just submit a list of URLs directly to the BING search engine, but that will also push content such as text, images, and videos directly. Again, this marks a departure from the two-decade-old paradigm that search engines trawl through content itself to assess relevance and timeliness.

Organic searches in the auction process

So, is it the case that the profanation of search engine optimisation is creeping into our house, in the course of which organic results will not be more than the sum of webmaster submissions through various self-service tools from the major search providers?

At the Bay Area Search Meetup search engine conference in San Francisco,Google’s house-elf Gary Illyes surprisingly outlined an interesting analogy that fits well with this development. According to Illyes, organic searches can be considered like an auction model similar to paid search ads. Instead of a monetary bid, each search hit provides a combination of different arguments that qualify it for the results display. After examining these signals for intention, relevance and quality, the available organic search positions are distributed using these non-monetary bids. Only a limited inventory is available in different intentions categories. For example, if it is a transactional search, such as “Samsung Galaxy S10 without a contract”, a site with a purely informational bias and no opportunity to convert will be excluded from the auction in advance.

Of course, the comparison of paid ad auctions and organic searches is exaggerated, and SEO will not be reduced to clever use of the right tools from Google, Bing, etc. in the future. However, the organisation of information is the central task of search engines and the influence of artificial intelligence on these processes can already be seen to a huge extent today. The boundary between paid ads and organic search services will continue to blur both technically and economically. Monitoring the resulting opportunities for synergy will be one of the key challenges for search engine optimisation in the coming years.

Amazon is getting closer and closer to its declared objective of becoming the global “Everything Store”.

Ever since the platform opened itself up to third-party providers at the turn of the millennium, the numbers of retailers using it, and of products listed, have continued to grow. According to a study by Marketplace Pulse, over 100,000 new retailers joined the German marketplace in 2018 alone. Meanwhile, the number of products listed on stands at well over 200 million.

As this development continues apace, ever more retailers are offering the same products, which is resulting in a bitter fight for conversion-maximising preselection for the trolley – the so-called BuyBox. From both a short and a medium-term perspective, this is a situation that is chiefly benefiting the consumer, with a multitude of attractive offers.

Growing competition between retailers

By contrast, the continual expansion of the product catalogue is resulting in increased competition between similar, substitutive goods. Making their own product visible and preventing it from disappearing amid the mass of similar offers is, consequently, one of the biggest challenges faced on Amazon’s Marketplace by vendors and sellers alike.

The retail giant from Seattle recognised this state of affairs early on as an opportunity to enter into an additional, extremely lucrative business segment. Since as early as the end of the 2000s, Amazon has offered a multitude of advertising solutions that both manufacturers and retailers can use to promote their products and appeal to enthusiastic consumers over the full length of the customer decision journey. 

The Amazon division founded specifically for the purpose of marketing, originally named Amazon Media Group, is today simply named Amazon Advertising.  The division provides its advertising partners with a comprehensive tech stack that is extremely complex to use, and can only be fully exploited with the help of profound expertise. In order to make your product as visible as possible, you should devote special attention to the following two systems:

1. Sponsored Ads

Launched in 2015, this self-service tool was known up to the beginning of the year as Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). It currently includes three advertising formats (Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, and Product Display Ads), which can be implemented in a performance-based manner via pay-per-click ads on the search results page and product description pages. The possible targeting options are numerous, and vary from format to format, ranging from an automated delivery to a keyword, product, or category-specific delivery of the advertising material.

Equipped with a corresponding advertising budget, as a retailer you have the option, for example, of placing your product directly among the coveted first search results, in order to appeal directly to potential customers with your range.

Due to the existing demand, the advertising formats are blended into the customer’s experience (pull marketing), and are hardly perceived as adverts thanks to their strongly native character. This means that Sponsored Ads presently represent Amazon’s best-performing advertising solution, and are even responsible for what is the largest share of Amazon’s advertising revenues by some margin.

2. The Amazon Demand-Side Platform (DSP)

Known prior to 2019 as Amazon Advertising Platform (AAP), this purchasing system enables display and video inventory to be programmatically purchased and precision-modulated using search and purchasing data gathered by Amazon from millions of its users.

This means, for example, that users who visit a product description page on Amazon without making a purchase can be appealed to again in a targeted manner even outside the marketplace, and guided back to the product range to make the final transaction (this process is called re-targeting).  Even campaigns that come in at earlier stages in the decision-making process can be segmented into numerous so-called in-market or lifestyle segments, in order to appeal in a targeted way to people with specific tastes, interests, or lifestyles.

The competition never sleeps     

Even though Amazon presently offers what is certainly the most comprehensive and developed advertising portfolio, it shouldn’t go unmentioned that with Ebay Advertising, Zalando Marketing Services (ZMS), and Otto Group Media (OGM), other marketplaces are investing in their own advertising portfolios and developing exciting retail media solutions of their own.  Due to its comparable positioning as a general stockist and offer of mechanics and advertising formats similar to Amazon’s, OGM in particular has the potential to represent more than just a good add-on for advertisers in the years to come.

How email campaigns can be made more efficient, even as personalisation levels continue to rise.

Addressing customers directly via newsletters is a more attractive option for advertisers than even before, as this makes it possible to send loyal fans precisely the information that interests them. The art of the right message at the right moment – it’s what the future of email marketing is all about.

Long gone are the days of the scattergun approach based on sending everybody the same generic email. Also gone is the time when inserting “Hello firstname lastname!” into the greeting was enough. From now on, Mr Jones needs to receive his post right on time for his morning coffee at 7. Mrs Jones, on the other hand, needs to receive hers at teatime – in polished English, of course – and including a weather forecast. It also needs to include an offer for a jacket that goes perfectly with the blouse that she bought yesterday – not to mention with the low pressure front in the forecast. Long live personalisation!

And automation longer still, because without it, these ever more complex levels of personalisation would no longer be possible. But how can email campaigns as diverse as these be developed so quickly and kept so up to date?

Bundling all of the processes involved together makes for faster newsletter generation

CRM and dialogue agencies have already developed future-oriented newsletter toolboxes that reproduce each working step in a single system: from briefing, to creation, to sending. This enables rapid newsletter production, content adjustment, population with variable data, and distribution on a more individualised basis than ever before – to a million recipients in a million versions, with a single click.  What follows is a short summary of what makes these toolboxes so efficient.

Usability In order for everybody involved to be able to work in the same system, the toolboxes are intuitive and extremely easy to use. Theoretically, no training is required. Much like in Tetris, content modules of different sizes can be placed together one after the other. LIVE! MOBILE OPTIMISED! What you see is what you get. This enables the briefer to define the composition of the newsletter themselves without having to expend large amounts of imaginative effort.  The results can be seen immediately.

Filling the modules is ingeniously simple as well: just upload pictures and enter the texts and links, and you’re all finished. Any changes needed? You can make them at any time.

State-of-the-art design In newsletter template design, “form follows function” is very much the guiding principle. And this is for a good reason: the ultimate objective of a newsletter is to elicit clicks from its subscribers, in order to achieve the highest conversion rates possible. That’s why text and images are perfectly combined in a way that takes into account reading flow, the findings of eye tracking studies, and other relevant factors.

Automation The modules can be linked with corresponding, intelligent databases that permit dynamic content (such as prices, weather forecasts, and times) to be brought into play on a flexible basis

Personalisation Based on a master layout, any number of versions can be easily copied and subsequently personalised, for example by transfer into other languages. Deluxe options among the toolboxes on offer even support languages with different writing directions, such as Hebrew, Farsi, and Arabic.

A/B testing scenarios can be produced easily and within a matter of seconds using the copy function.
By subsequently enriching the versions with individual content – for example, based on user behaviour data from re- or geotargeting – highly relevant content can be created and the full attention of the newsletter readers secured.

Distribution Test emails are a thing of the past – specially developed high-end technologies and regulations ensure no more surprises. Following a quality check, the newsletter is ready to be sent directly, using a delivery system of your choice: Oracle Responsys, Cheetah, Epi, Marketo, or one of many others.

In daily use by Deutsche Lufthansa AG…

…is the so-called Newsletter Cockpit, a multifunctional tool of the type described above created in Munich at the request of Serviceplan Group subsidiary Plan.Net Connect.   The tool sends highly personalised communications winging their way to over 4,100,000 receivers in 104 countries and 16 languages – and is set to send them to many more in the near future.

Once one or more marketplaces have been decided on and the perfect purchase model is found, it’s time to focus on content optimisation and its appearance. How products are represented and displayed on the selected platforms has to be understood from the point of view of potential customers, to avoid the competetor to attract them. After all, on marketplaces the decision to purchase an alternative offer is always just a click away.

This discipline is generally referred to as marketplace optimisation (MPO) and is particularly relevant and essential for sustainable market success for three reasons:

  1.  Appealing and convincing presentation of the brand and its products

Limited, poor quality and carelessly designed product presentations can quickly ruin all your hard (and capital-intensive) work creating your brand image. Use all the options you have available to optimally present your products. Extend brand experiences consistently across all touchpoints, including the digital point of sale.

High-quality images, videos and engaging content should clearly describe the purpose, benefits and boundaries of the product to the competition. In addition, various components of the listing can be used in many marketplaces to provide in-depth information. This may be promotional campaign elements (such as testimonials) or even product comparisons to aid decision-making. For a better user experience within the scope of the marketplace’s options, it is possible to individually present different variants and product portfolios in specific in-store areas.

  1. Improved visibility of the listed products and increased organic traffic

Whether a search is classified as relevant for a particular product is determined by the marketplace algorithm, based on various criteria. In addition to correct category mapping, the content and keywords used on the product detail page play a particularly important role.

The starting point for any optimisation should therefore be a thorough and comprehensive keyword search. The most relevant search terms determined in this way must then be integrated into the content at a suitable point. For example, on Amazon, these are indexable sections, such as the product title or description of features. Important keywords can often also be added directly in back end. As a result, they are indexed by the algorithm and the product is displayed as a relevant search result for corresponding searches.

With the growth of the digital marketplace also comes increased platform competition. Consequently, the technical infrastructure and user experience are constantly being optimised and adapted. These changes directly affect product detail pages and brand shops. It is therefore of great importance for retailers to keep an eye on the presentation of their products and to quickly adapt or add to content when it comes to platform updates.

  1. Increased performance

The essential heart of any marketplace business model is selling products. Therefore, offers with comparatively high sales are classified as particularly relevant. As a result, these products gain high visibility on the platform and in the users’ search results. But it’s not just strictly sales that make a difference at this point. A high click-through rate of ads or search hits on product detail pages, and the conversion rate of detail page visits to purchases are crucial metrics.

To be able to make both of these metrics positive, a number of other factors must be taken into account in addition to product presentation and visibility. The general availability of the product and speedy, free delivery are also significant factors in addition to an attractive and consistent price. Important psychological factors that also have a role to play are above-average product ratings and a high number of meaningful reviews. Public interaction with customer via product review and FAQ areas also increases brand loyalty and positively sets your offer apart from the competition.

But what to do if, despite optimised marketplace appearance, organic traffic is still low and your sales figures leave something to be desired? In this case, all major marketplaces now have a vast arsenal of advertising tools to reach communication goals along the entire customer decision journey. You can find an overview of these options as well as tips and tricks to make the most of the promotional inventory on digital marketplaces, in the fourth and final part of this series.

Memes are part of the Internet in the same way as food pictures are part of Instagram. Success Kid, Bad Luck Brian, That’d be great or Grumpy Cat are some of the best known memes out there and have had countless users laughing. At first glance, memes seem like trivial forms of modern online culture. But if you look again, many memes are really creative, pick up on current events and convey political opinions. So, it’s also time to take memes seriously in online marketing. You can discover the different types of memes and how to use them for communicative purposes here.

Memes are now an integral part of social media

My grandmother and older generations are probably shrugging their shoulders when it comes to the question of what memes actually are. The term meme is a derivation of the Greek word “mimema”, which means “imitated”. Memes are photos, videos, GIFs or social media posts whose content, form or message is imitated or modified in a creative way. Memes are then shared via channels such as Instagram and Twitter or even special meme websites and blogs.

39% of German Internet users know what memes are and more than a third have shared these kind of images and videos before. Memes are already very popular with 16 to 29-year-olds online. In fact, 43% of young users regularly share them and 37% even regard memes as art (Bitkom Research, 2019).

Meme marketing: a creative content format for brands

Memes are no longer only created by millennials and GenZ’s – more and more customers and companies now also use memes to reach younger target audiences and to transmit a humorous brand image. To do this, brands can follow two different strategies. They can either create their own, new memes, or jump on the hype wagon of an existing meme.

The beauty brand Glossier often integrates memes it has created alongside product photos on its Instagram feed and effortlessly combines “Internet Ugly” with modern Instagram aesthetics.

How brands can modify and adapt existing memes for themselves can be seen in the current example of Area 51 memes. Background: Two million users responded to a Facebook event on 20 September 2019 that invited them to storm Area 51 in Nevada. Conspiracy theories suggest that aliens are hidden in the highly classified United States government facility. Thousands of memes have resulted from this event and many brands have joined the hype with creativity and humour.
















Whether created or adopted, if brand memes are done well, they can lead to high visibility and increased engagement. In times of infinite content but limited receptivity, memes are an appropriate format to stand out from the crowd and grab consumers’ attention.

Meme accounts and memers as content producers

A company decides to integrate memes into its marketing strategy and tasks its marketing agency with the implementation. But where can the agency employees find the right memes to use for their customers’ creative marketing? Websites such as reddit,, cheezburger and knowyourmeme have extensive meme collections.. Knowyourmeme is particularly helpful as it also explains the meaning and the origin of the meme, as well as showing several variations of the meme.

There are also a number of meme accounts on Instagram, which have considerable reach with millions of followers. The biggest accounts include @epicfunnypage (16.8 million followers) @fuckjerry (14.4 million followers) and @sarcasm_only (14 million followers). These accounts are bigger than the accounts of many beauty, fashion and lifestyle influencers. This is why it is time to take the meme community seriously and to see memers and operators of meme accounts as relevant content producers or curators. They know their community and understand the humour of their young followers the best, so agencies and brands should make use of their expertise and collaborate more with them in the future.

It can be a melancholy feeling when summer comes to an end and the last patches of sunburn are still itching on our skin. But search engine optimisation is exempt from these feelings, as our time is only just getting started. You can find out all about it in September’s SEO News.

Freedom through SEO

The attractiveness of search engine optimisation lies in its great degree of freedom and independence. Multinational corporations are not making money from it, and, when it comes to good conduct in the SEO industry, Google, Microsoft and other major players are not investing much more than some cheap stationery from the Far East. It is therefore with great pride, that we can hold our heads high and say that in our discipline, it is the most creative minds and not the biggest budgets that determine success or failure.

But that doesn’t mean that we get it right every time. In the fight for visibility and conversions, search engine optimisation has also left a trail of devastation in its wake over the last 20 years. Blogs, user forums, bookmark collections, infographics – whenever there has been an opportunity to misuse a meaningful feature through overpopulation and overstatement for our own purposes, we have usually taken it. For the majority of content and formats concerned, this usually meant the end. Nobody really likes to remember the ugly, keyword-filled spam pages promoting “cheap car insurance” from the middle of the last decade.

But every ending must have a beginning. One collective achievement of our industry that cannot be overstated is its evolutionary professionalisation. As a consequence of this, both spam and black hat SEO have been marginalised, and sometimes it puzzles those who take an interest how a relatively small, scattered crowd of enthusiasts across the globe managed to tackle a problem that few people at the time ever anticipated could become one. From its beginnings with nerdy, lone wolves who organised in loose networks, our discipline has evolved into a veritable agency business. Today, search engine optimisers are also firmly established in-house at most companies with a digital business presence.

The NOFOLLOW frenzy

Something that has changed little over the years, however, is the incredible tendency of the SEO industry to throw itself into discussions and conflicts with genuine enthusiasm, as if there were no tomorrow. A topical example at the moment is the discussion surrounding NOFOLLOW links. To quickly bring everyone up to speed on the issue, NOFOLLOW is an HTML attribute that can be used to tag links to control the crawling of a website by search engines and to differentiate relevant content from promotional offers. It is a method that is 15 years old – almost as old as search engines themselves.

There was great excitement earlier this month when Google published an article on its Webmaster Blog announcing an evolution of the NOFOLLOW concept. From March 2020, two new link attributes will be activated to help separately display sponsored and user-generated content. This is a meaningful extension of the existing concept, which is particularly useful for large marketplaces and shops with different forms of content.

And the entire SEO industry quickly jumped onto this latest bandwagon. Between wanting to deliver the best result to the client and the fear of missing out on an important innovation or trend, news is rapidly being spread that suggests immediate action, prophesies nightmarish scenarios for the future, or advises that it is best just to wait. As is often the case, only the Google liaison officers Gary Illyes and Danny Sullivan have been able to provide some calm to the SEO bubble.

SEO – a collaborative model with a future

However, this process is a fine example of how search engine optimisation has maintained its pioneering spirit despite larger budgets and increased responsibility. We discuss and experiment passionately across borders, even at the risk of this being an exhausting experience at times. The result of this 20-year passion project is ultimately a clear increase in the quality and user-friendliness of digital products.

For example, the transition to mobile Internet without SEO as a catalyst would, between industry standards and users, have run much less swiftly and smoothly. The channel of “organic” coverage, which is often ridiculed today, has lost nothing of its importance in information-finding and e-commerce. And that is why specialists who can navigate between closed systems and highly polished “user journeys” on the wide river of human intentions and needs will continue to be of key importance in the future.

In order to master the challenges posed by the advancing digital transformation, many advertisers, media companies and agencies from the marketing and communications sector have invested in data-based technologies and infrastructure heavily in recent years. Despite this investment, however, they are often unsuccessful in getting this “horsepower” on the road and turning it into a relevant competitive advantage – this is due, among other reasons, to HiPPOs frequently operating on instinct.

The truth is that the digital transformation, that companies are facing, is not just a technical one, but also and primarily, a cultural one. For that reason, according to a Capgemini survey, problems in corporate culture are hindering the digital transformation to a far greater extent than factors like outdated IT systems or resource constraints.

At Plan.Net NEO we are intensively focused on establishing a consistently data-driven range of services, and on the data-based integration of media and content. These data, and the insights gained from them, are intended to serve both the creatives and the media experts on our team as “fuel” for the development of relevant content and its effective media activation.

This far-reaching process of transformation has taught us a great deal – not least about the critical importance of corporate cultural aspects on the journey to becoming a data-focused agency. The key lessons that we’ve learned can be distilled into five practical tips that are valid not just for agencies, but for all organisations.

  1. Develop and promote data skills

A data culture that is lived in practice begins with “empowerment” and the democratisation of data. It pays to equip your team with a range of technology to enable them to analyse data and make data-based decisions for themselves.

This is because the problem often faced by companies isn’t a lack of data, but a lack in the process of getting from data to decisions. When a company’s datasets are concentrated in the hands of a small number of experts, the potential that they represent for the company’s commercial success remains largely unexploited. In order for the company to extract the greatest possible benefit from them instead, every employee needs to be able to access the data and integrate them into their own decisions on a daily basis.

This doesn’t mean that every employee needs to become a data scientist (or that this should be possible). It does however mean that everybody should either already possess at least basic analytical skills, or be able to acquire them through qualifications, in order to be able to assess data-based issues and use data in decision-making.

  1. Technology has to adapt to the people who apply it, and not the other way around

The technology and tools used for realising the everyday use of data in the workplace play an important role. If these are to be used by team members other than data specialists, the following characteristics in particular are key to ensuring that they are broadly accepted among users and perceived as being usable and valuable in practice:

  • Convenience and intuitive operation

The easier and more intuitive data handling is set up for the user, the sooner they will appreciate its value for their daily working quality and no longer want to miss it.

  • Intelligent data visualisation

Dashboards and other display formats make it easier to rapidly grasp the central messages of the data and ensure that everybody involved sees the same picture. Reducing complexity in this way is an important prerequisite for efficient individual work and effective teamwork.

  • Opportunities for dynamic interaction with data

Decision-making processes seldom follow a linear path. That’s why data analysis platforms should make it as easy as possible to explore data, test hypotheses, and try out different scenarios.

A good example of data “empowerment” enabled through technology is the “Brand Investor” tool developed at our sister agency Plan.Net Business Intelligence, which we have been using for some time.

The tool enables our consultants and planners to determine an optimally efficient communication plan for our clients’ brands, without needing to rely extensively on the skills of data and BI specialists for this kind of demanding task as they did before. The Brand Investor uses artificial intelligence to make the knowledge gained from over 2,000 calculated media plans and more than 200 conducted marketing mix models available at the touch of a button. With the help of an interactive, visualisation-oriented user interface, users operating in “do-it-yourself mode” can optimise the budget allocation for their data-based decision-making. The results are shown through the significantly shorter time for planning scenarios of all kinds than before, and through forecasting their impact.

  1. Encouraging critical curiosity in interactions with data

Being fundamentally curious is a key driver of innovation and growth,  and also lays an important foundation for an analysis culture. After all, this is all about seeking out new approaches and the desire to try things out and experiment. At the same time, and especially where data are concerned, the cultural framework also needs to ensure that critical thinking doesn’t get neglected.

In particular, a “data first” corporate culture mustn’t mean blindly following indicators based on bare figures without discerning the broader context.  It’s far more important instead for the culture to motivate team members to be able to interpret data critically, so that your organisation doesn’t only base its decisions on reliable data, but also knows when it’s better not to do so with regard to data quality.

  1. Set the example for practicing a data culture from above

It may be less surprising to hear that successfully establishing a data-oriented corporate culture starts at the top. It’s important for management not to lose sight of this, however, as real life unfortunately shows that this is all too often forgotten amidst hectic everyday schedules.

Management teams need to set out a clear vision if data are to become ingrained in a company’s DNA. Rather than simply developing and diligently communicating this as a concept, however, it’s also important to set an example by practicing it on a daily basis. The key buzzphrase here is “walk the talk”: follow up your own words with actions.  When management teams set a good example, other managers and employees will be sure to quickly adapt their own behaviour – whether consciously or unconsciously.

At the same time, cultural change is also a two-way process: it works both from the top down and from the bottom up. It’s the role of management teams to set an example, but also to give focused encouragement to suitable and engaged employees, who will then go on to function as multipliers, or “agents of change”, in their respective teams.

  1. Don’t go with your gut

Closely linked with the previous point, our recommendation is to make every effort to replace gut feeling consistently, permanently and throughout the company with decisions that instead are based on data and facts.

Many company teams are still led by HiPPOs (HiPPO stands for “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”). This means that decisions are often made by the highest-paid members of the team, who can often be far removed from the actual issue or problem. This is especially problematic in cases where these HiPPOs make decisions based on their instincts, as informed by their subjective experience and intuition, rather than reaching out for their teams to provide analyses and recommendations supported by data which would enable them to arrive at a decision objectively.

If data play a genuinely central role for corporate culture, then as a requirement, all decisions taken in the course of daily business life has to be based on those data – without exception.