If there are two things you can set your watch by in SEO, it’s the launch of a Google Killer each summer, and the time of year when we start talking about how next year is the year when Mobile Internet will finally take off.
So here we are, middle of 2010, a decade on from the dot.com crash, Google are still the dominant force in search, and I’m reliably informed that next year will be the big year for mobile.
Except it will, and it’s also likely to be the year when we finally see a credible competitor to Google’s dominance.
One of the factors that drove the insane growth that led to the dot com collapse was the idea of the network effect, the concept of spending as much money as possible in order to make a land grab. The web was seen as an opportunity to be a single store serving a million people, whereas the reality was that the web actually became an entity in which a million stores could serve one person each.
Search is tough. You need a lot of cash to do it properly. Google’s earnings report may state that they had revenue $6.24billion in the last three months, but they had to spend heavily to do it. It cost them just under $2 billion. That’s a hell of a barrier to entry.
When you employ around 20,000 people, many of them highly paid PHDs from some of the best universities in the world, you’re going to end up with a pretty big wage bill. Add onto that the cost of building massive data centres all over the world, buying thousands of servers, and the electricity you need to run them, and you soon see why it’s tricky to offer a credible threat to Google. You don’t become a Google killer overnight, and right now there isn’t the space in the market to be one.
So where is this Google Killer?
Biggest threat to Google? Apps.
Whether they’re on an iPhone, Android, WebOS, or Windows Mobile, Apps are becoming the de facto way of accessing information via a mobile phone. When they’re well designed, they can quickly become essential. They’re also typically developed cheaply, require comparatively little infrastructure to host, and they serve a single function for a single small audience – the equivalent of a million shops to serve a single person compared to Google’s one size fits all.
The fact is that even with a 5 bar signal on a good quality 3G network, it still takes too long to access the “proper” internet for it to provide a compelling user experience. With an app, where the interface is stored locally, and the data is provided through a compressed xml feed, users get a much better experience – try Twitter via mobile web, and Twitter via an iPhone client to see the difference.
The Data Makes the Difference
Or rather, the presentation of the data makes the difference. The availability of data via feeds or via API access to 3rd parties means that it is possible for developers to create high quality, useful applications that provide instant access to huge amounts of data without the need for a complex back end infrastructure – you can call it Search Lite if you like.
Without the infrastructure, you can iterate quickly, and throw out new versions on a rapid cycle. You don’t need to crawl billions of web pages to find information, simply process the data from other feeds. With traction and a significant user base, paid inclusion becomes the norm.
So Where Does SEO fit in?
Wherever people search, and whatever they search for, they tend to behave in the same way. Provided that SEO people understand a little bit of psychology and perform some analysis into how traffic is generated for a particular vertical, transferring the learnings from one platform to another is straightforward. Every search function works in a similar way, so whether you’re optimising a feed for use across apps, or a web page for Google, the rules are the same – make it relevant to what the user you want to target is looking for.
James Lowery is the Head of SEO and Affiliates at Latitude Digital Marketing. Apart from his obvious infatuation with the Internet, he likes a laugh at the wrong moment, and badly structured PowerPoint presentations. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/yrewol