The Great Advertising Platforms - Search Engines and Social Networks - need to get paid! There are shareholders to please and backward overflows to synergize. Search Engine Optimization is the art of sailing your web pages to the top of organic search rankings. If revenue needs to go up but the eyes are looking at organic results, will organic results - and therefore SEO - suffer in this spooky world of advertisement-as-a-multi-billion-dollar industry?
Search... Through Time!
For the advertisement platform - the search engine or the social network - the eyeballs are the dollars. Heralded as havens for organic, objective, and relevant information, search and social were to become benevolent discovery and sharing systems based upon empirical merit and social proof. But is that so?
Hmmm... Let's follow the money. We'll take a dance through time and examine a Google search result through the ages -- to the Way Back Machine!
We'll begin in 2002. The separation is clear. Advertisements are branded and their relevance to your search is evaluated. You can get to the goods. Organic traffic is the majority of the result.
Time passes and the layout becomes cleaner. Advertisements are separate from organic content. They're differentiated by design and positioning. The blue colour separation is removed from side advertisements and relevance is no longer made apparent.
A couple years later and results are tighter. It's clear what is advertised and what is organic. But, the separation is less pronounced.
In 2016, lines start to blur. You are told which results are paid results but it's even more subtle. The
[Ad] demarcation has had its colour blended and it dissolves among the rest of the results. One ad is present and the side column has been abolished.
Today, it looks similar to 2016, but note the number of advertisements and the regional specificity. With a VPN running through Eastern Canada, it shows results for Quebec. An advertising platform can make more revenue with more ads. They can provide more premium placement to advertisers by ensuring their viewer-ship is local. Ads are smarter and take up the majority of above-the-fold spacing. They contain richer information than organic results.
... And we can't forget about mobile. In 2014, mobile browsing surpassed desktop browsing as the primary platform for Internet consumption. What do we see when we conduct a search on a mobile device? The fold is dominated by rich advertisement space -- an advertisement takes up the first placement under the mobile fold, too!
This year, Google will earn over 75% of the $36.69 billion dollars in US search advertisement revenue. Total search revenue is set "to increase 24 percent over the next three years, from $36.69 billion in 2017 to $45.63 billion in 2019". Advertising revenue for social advertisement is projected to hit 17.5 billion in 2017. Search advertisements, for now, make up the bulk of advertisement revenue, with social advertisement coming third behind display advertising; social media revenue is set to double by 2021 to $30.8 billion.
Where will this money come from? It'll come from the overall growth of the market and the shifting of value away from organic result over to paid result.
Advertising platforms within search and social will continue to refine their heuristics to manipulate people into clicking on their advertisements; machine learning and neurological refinement of marketing capability is a harrowing reality. More advertisements and more clicking; advertising platforms will grow; the time of innocents will be drained by the legions of -- oh, err, ahh - sorry... got carried away...
... The takeaway is that web advertising is a leviathan of gray self-propagation. Is organic traffic still valuable when top billing is more emphasized and attainable through cash alone? Does the rise of paid advertising mean that SEO is dead? Do walled social networks herald the demise of search? Are those with larger wallets destined to roll over those that can't shell out the dough?
Mobile traffic and social traffic are growing, garden walls are getting thicker, advertising is taking over the fold, and both social and search networks are learning to predict and capitalize on your desires and spending patterns; yes, this is all true. This does not herald the death of SEO. It does, however, signify the transition of SEO from a point-of-focus to a valuable by-product with a shaky underlying foundation. What does a product strategy look like when it's tailored to take advantage of the new paid-driven paradigm?
Just as advertisers have become more skilled at their craft, web developers have become more skilled at theirs. Web creation has become more nimble. Static page hosting, theme marketplaces, Application Delivery Networks like Fly and CMS' like Wordpress, Shopify and Squarespace - among many things - have made creating beautiful webpages faster, easier and more cost-effective; it's a great time to sell products. You can create an elegant and versatile store-front with little work. Our product: JetPacks.
We start with the domain. The options are fascinating. No longer do
.org, or regional Top_Levels like
.io reign supreme. You can have
.computer -- there are many unique Top-Level Domains and the list is growing.
We want to sell as many JetPacks as possible. We know that we're going to pay for sponsored advertisements, so we will create different permutations of our store-front that will appeal to disparate stylistic, regional, or cultural niches. We purchase
jetpack.boutiqueis a swanky, premium version of the standard JetPack. It has the same features but is more expensive. It's marketed towards people in wealthier areas with high-paying occupations who are interested in alternative means of travel.
zooming.diamondsis the hipper version. Funky colours, radical language; this is for the younger affluent adult interested in the latest trends.
flying.shoesfor the conventional folk who just want a way to rip around in the sky. Nothing fancy, no bull, just your JetPack, courtsey of
fireflying.codes... fireflying is the rage in Germany and they sure seem to love the
The presentation is unique, starting from the domain, to the page design, to the copy, and the paid advertising and targeting. Underneath, it's the same JetPack. But, now we have 4 different arrows in our quiver; perhaps one will smash the mark, maybe one will falter and not resonate, maybe two will do okay, two will fail and you'll learn a lot. More horses in the race, more chances to win the pot.
If we no longer optimize for page authority building as characterized in SEO, we can advertise to specific cohorts based on culture, region, style, and so on. We can dream of different ways of presenting our products and services; baking soda was once just for baking, now it's co-marketed as an air-freshener for refrigerators.
Is SEO still relevant in this scenario? Yes. If you strike gold and your product sells well, is shared around social media and reviewed and interlinked by people and media around the world then you'll experience the benefit of higher search rankings -- especially if you've built your site to be fast, have HTTPS, and have polished meta-information.
Many frameworks and CMS' have these practices baked in by default; Fly provides faster TTFB, HTTPS, and One Hostname to Rule Them All -- great things for SEO. The ironic reality therein being that the only people who know how to crack the voodoo of SEO practices are the search engines/advertisement platforms themselves.
What of organic search? Is it relevant in this scenario? It is! You may be feeding the ruthless, time-thirsty advertisement machine, but you are growing your popularity within organic search where the eyeballs still linger... Until they're coaxed into paid advertisements.
Advertisement platforms are eroding the egalitarian ideals behind organic results. Money is becoming the major driver of Internet trend and visibility. As major players refine patterns that generate more advertisement revenue, the service-makers, the creators, the product sellers, need to adapt -- if not resist -- this weird, hyper-controlled future that's on the horizon.
While teams like Patreon and Medium craft services to thwart the ascent of the Great Advertising Platforms, the rest of us can become aware of where things are trending and choose to either buy into it or develop away from it. Aging SEO magic is alive and well, but the bountiful "organic traffic" that sustains it might not be around much longer.
Fly started when we wondered "what would a programmable edge look like"? Developer workflows work great for infrastructure like CDNs and optimization services. You should really see for yourself, though.
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