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Thank goodness for curiosity. Curiosity brought us electricity, antibiotics, airplanes, smooth roads, air conditioning, motion pictures, chocolate, coffee, and a million other lovely things. Curiosity is a quality so inherent in humans that Google, in a little more than a decade, built a $500 billion business around it.
So wouldn’t it be the ultimate paradox if the world’s most successful curiosity-based business actually contributed to curiosity’s death?
That may be exactly what’s happened. In a frightening twist, Google has begun preparing for a world where people are simply less curious. With the launch of a personalized information feed on its mobile app, Google has deviated from its iconic blank, lone-search-box search page. Since its founding in 1997, Google has never, ever done that.
That blank page said something (not literally — that would defeat the purpose). It said: “Search is who we are. It’s what we do best, and it’s our fundamental mission. Google.com may be one of the most visited web pages in the world, but we do not use it to sell advertising space, or to feed content to you. Therefore, you can trust what you find using Google.”
So you see, this quietly-released app update is a massive statement — bigger, in my opinion, than any previously released Google project.
But why is this happening? Well, think about it. We’ve always used our curiosity to make life easier. It’s hard to walk 800 miles, so we found a way to fly. It’s hard to sit in a hot building all day, so we found way to cool it. It’s hard to know everything, so we gave you a tool where you can find out anything. We’re now innovating out the last step. It’s hard to look for information, so allow us to feed it to you before you even know you want it.
Goodbye, curiosity. Hello, predictive content feeds.
Personalized content newsfeeds are not new. Social media has exploded because of them. What’s new is the idea that the Western world has become so accustomed to newsfeeds that people are losing the drive to search.
Each year, this technology improves and content feeds are further perfected. They get better at predicting your momentary whims before they happen. Because of this, you love your feed, and you may not even realize why.
Picture this. You’re a 32-year-old married woman living in the Midwest. You have one child, age 2, and you are served a PSA about birth defect prevention with folic acid. You suddenly realize you may be ready for your second child.
Or maybe the miles on your SUV just started to bother you, and you now see ads for a newer model and articles about best-rated family cars popping up in your feed before you’ve even started shopping. Your content and advertising delivery no longer begins with a search. Your interests are predicted almost before they happen.
Is search really dead? No, not yet. But this move by Google is reason to take note of a significant shift in consumer behavior. If you haven’t explored ways to get yourself into those personalized, predictive feeds, start now. The future may belong to marketers who figure out how to “beat the search.” Here are three ways to start:
Use location. You may know mobile devices with GPS are pervasive now. You may know local search engine optimization can make a huge difference in business. Now, take it a step further. Use social advertising tools and mobile tools that can show ads to your target audience when they’re near you — before they’ve searched.
Use big data and predictive analytics to profile your customer and target your ad spend. Think you know exactly who buys from you and why? Unless you’ve had this professionally analyzed, you might not. Market research firms have new ways to apply big data to your customer database, create a detailed segmentation profile, and build predictive models to increase the efficiency of your ad spend. Then, you can deliver your message to people who would’ve been likely to search for you — but before they search.
Use behavioral targeting. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Our online activity creates a trail of data that tells our story, and digital platforms continue to get better at using that data trail to deliver highly relevant ads to consumers. Behavioral targeting is a great way to get smart, predictive feed placements.
I truly hope we never stop searching. As a marketing strategist, I enjoy making advertising more relevant to the consumer, but search marketing is still my holy grail. I don’t like imagining a world where we’re fed all the information we want to know before we want to know it. I hope curiosity doesn’t disappear, because our world is far from perfect, and we desperately need it. So celebrate the next time someone searches for your business — it’s a sign of life.
Jamie Patterson is the director of digital services for Business Times Interactive.