Months ago, we reported to you that internet marketing was dead. That was August 2008, when MySpace overtook Yahoo in display ads totals for the month. Our argument then was that people prefer to interact with other people, even online, and that the original internet age of “blindly searching” the portals was dead. They just didn’t know it then. And for another seven months the world of SEO, PPC, page ranking and site relevancy made a few valiant attempts to remain relevant themselves. Yet today, David has finally slain Goliath: Advertising Age reports that Facebook has become a bigger source of traffic for some websites than Google.
How the mighty have fallen.
How we got to this point in internet evolution is not entirely unexepcted. In fact, it’s almost like the modern history of the Western world. The original web was a wonderful but overwhelming magical place where lots of information was stored “somewhere” online. Only a chosen few knew the secret words and algorithms that could lead you to it. The Pope of IP addresses, of course, was Google, whose methods of search-ranking madness were known only to the inner circle. Mere mortals could only dabble at guessing how the Google-gods would rank their sites, and send sacred torrents of traffic their way. Offering millions of dollars in a frenzied dance of pay-per-click prayers, websites marekters hoped the great Search Engines would look down favorably on their sites. And thousands of Lower Priests of Web Optimization, Metatag Monks and Archibishops of Analytics provided their intercession on behalf of the great Unwashed Surfers of the Web. Internet alchemists could turn a few leads into gold for some. For others, regular offerings were required for the Mighty Search Engines to hear your pleas.
In a world where holders-of-secrets had long been the business models of choice, many paid their dues for a few moments of glory. REALTORS especially felt right at home with this model, since it reminded them of a time when they, too, held the market secrets in the Great MLS Comparables book. Even today, some still try to shroud their data behind the curtain of “site registrations” and Oz-like “MLS rules.” Perhaps hoping the tide would once more turn against the common man, companies paid millions of marketing dollars to the Mighty Search Engines so they could be positioned as the “new” Cardinals of Home Comparables online.
And for a while, it worked. Until today.
The quest for a spot in the search engine’s elusive first Ten Rankings has consumed marketing budgets by the millions. Many companies have sacrificed their dollars without anything more than a gut feeling that their site would please the “spiders” and “crawlers” that trolled the “web” choosing winners and losers. Even the language of the original internet was downright creepy. But for a time, everyone seemed scared that of internet-irrelevance if they didn’t pay the search engines, like a Boatman, to ferry them across the sea of Forgotten Bookmarks.
Yet all good Dark Ages must come to an end. Eventually a period of Enlightenment emerges to save people from their unfounded fears. Replacing “spiders and webs” with “friends and networks,” Web 2.0 has opened the eyes of billions of ordinary folk worldwide. They no longer need secret handshakes to find their friends, nor must they pay internet fealty to have their voices heard. Just as science replaced mysticism during the Age of Reason, so Web 2.0 shall sweep away the confusion and chaos of the first millennium of the internet.
And with it will go the Feudalism of Search Engines.
Like a broken system of organizing society, search engine organization of the web has become too unwieldy to be useful. In the Dark Ages, peasants could barely eke out an existence on the land they worked, with massive amounts of taxes taken by their landlords. The same has become true for the first Internet era, except it is significantly worse. Whereas the peasant could count on the protection of his Lord in exchange for his fealty, no website owner could count on the Search Engines to be consistent and steady. One day the secret formula guaranteed you high ranking and traffic, the next day it might not. In fact, the search engines inconsistency caused so much frustration and wasted so much money that it seemed inevitable that a popular revolt would eventually happen.
And just as feudalism ultimately collapsed because it consumed more than it output, so is search engine marketing about to meet its end. In its place will be a new internet order, like the one that replaced monarchy with democracy in the real world long ago.
The parallels between the economic development of the real world and the virtual one are amazing. As usual, it simply takes a short crisis, like our current recession, to trigger just enough frustration for people to create change. At the close of the 18th century, human society moved from trusting a royal few with the keys to the kingdom into one where millions control their destiny directly. The internet is about to experience the same evolution. Almost like a Declaration of Independence for the Information Age, the rise of social networks as the next centers of the internet pays tribute to something important in the human psyche:
People prefer to trust themselves than a single or few authorities.
This principle is so simple, so basic, that it’s amazing that Google and others missed it. In their quest to make even smarter artificial intelligence, and control even more human activity online, they overlooked the most powerful competing computers of all: human beings. Humans have always molded their tools to be more like them, and less like the machines they started out as.
And the next version of the internet is turning out to be no different.
Social networks are liberating people worldwide from the tyranny of internet secrets held hostage by a few. Suddenly, anyone can stake a claim in the New World 2.0, without understanding one iota of HTML. Applications and mini programs known as widgets can be created without writing a single line of code. Beyond text, the use of multimedia images and video have become as commonplace as clicking “browse” and “upload” – or the clicking the trackball of your Blackberry.
When the internet can be commended by a single thumb, everything changes.
Social networks are a giant leap for mankind. Suddenly, the stars seem closer to us all. The web becomes as close as the smartphones in our pockets. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to leverage its possibilities. This is the incredible significance of the news that Facebook is sending more traffic to some sites than Google. Certainly, search engines won’t disappear anytime soon. But their daily attendance will definitely diminish. Fewer people will choose to stop their on their way to work, to play, to life. They will find that there are many ways to a fulfilling life on the web; not only those granted by the first Ten Results of the search engine pages. Just like men, now all websites may not only be created equal, but they may finally find new life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness online amongst the friendship of their fellows, in social networks both real, and online.