Bill Hunt on Google's direction, Part 2

Bill Hunt -- author of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and CEO of Global Strategies, Inc. -- works with global Fortune 500 companies on search strategies and is a member of the Google Technology Council. He talks about what's next for Google.


Scott Laningham (, developerWorks Podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks

Scott LaninghamScott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.

29 January 2009

Todd: You know, Bill, as a long-time Web marketer with IBM and Web person, I'll say, one of the things I think that's frustrated me over the years especially now that we're so deep into the digital age is that we tend to look at these things as apart and separate. And I think sometimes we do that because the P and Ls of an organization are what drive the priorities and we've seen that certainly in a lot of big agencies and otherwise.

Bill Hunt is excited that search is being aligned with social media

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But as I heard some of your earlier comments, it seems to me that looking at this cumulatively is really the way it needs to be approached because media and attention are an ecosystem, right; it's not the tactic that you should be focused on, it's the idea and how that idea or that mean has the potential to get picked up and carried forward.

And if we look at something as simple as the iPhone, we saw that in early '07, right, the iPhone started to have this life as the device was first mentioned, and as you and I both know, the traffic and the search inquiries on that grew like wildfire long before the actual device was even available.

But I think that's because Apple did a very good job along with obviously a lot of help from the blogosphere to introduce that idea in a way that it could carry forward that kind of conversation.

And I don't see a lot of organizations planning that way, planning their campaigns and their initiatives. And I'm just curious if you could talk about how to look at this more holistically.

Guest: Bill Hunt

Bill Hunt is author of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and CEO of Global Strategies Inc, working with many Fortune 500 companies around the globe on their search strategies. He's also a member of the Google Technology Council, a collection of large enterprise tech companies who gather quarterly to discuss search related issues and provide feedback to Google and review Google's latest offers.

Bill: Yes, these are the things you know that are on my wish list that people would do. It's silo'ed and I'm hoping that this sort of turndown will, you know, unfortunately it's going to shrink walls and it's going to cost a lot of people their jobs, but I think it's also going to change a lot of thinking. And maybe one of the positive outcomes of this will be sort of this consolidation, if you will, of marketing thinking.

And I think that it's a no-brainer that ... and we've seen this in case of IBM, where if IBM or any tech company is building something, and let's say a blogger, especially somebody in the developer community makes a post .... Or now with Twitter, can make a very sort of innocent post about some product with a codename. And it's like whatever it is and the next thing you know that codename becomes more, almost is ubiquitous for the product name. People don't even refer to it as the product name because for two years in development they've been talking about it as the codename.

If we start to think product development, what about going out and doing a query to see what people are searching for? And that's what we're seeing now; we're very excited that search is being aligned with social media because what we can do is go out and see what do people have an interest in. Are they talking about anything like this? Is anyone searching for anything in this category?

And then, let's tie them into social media and go out and see [if] they might be interested in it but is anybody talking about it. And then that gets back to your point about Apple, is there's some seeding in the community, and people started talking about it, and there was some buzz about this new object that they could use to do all these wonderful things.

Then very carefully more information started coming out. And you can put this in a timeline, and actually we've developed this, three or four of our clients have used it. It's tying in marketing into a product launch cycle and it's not saving our pennies and then two weeks before a big unveiling we drop $90 million in TV advertising and put a full-page ad in every paper in America. That's not what we're talking about.

But the seeding and then you connect it. Aand because we always talk about this searcher stimuli, and there's three key reasons people go search: One is they need something. My TV broke, and I want to research a new one.

The other is sort of this audience stimuli, which is like I'm at Todd's house and he's got a brilliant Sony high-definition TV, and I do that query. Or, I read about his experience watching the SuperBowl on that great TV and I'm like, oh, I want one of those. And the third is, I see the ad for Sony touting its virtues and how good it is, and it's like, oh, I want one of those.

So it's the same thing we need to do, but it really, like you said, Todd, I think you know agencies are silo'ed and agency's got to break that silo. Companies are silo'ed. Money is silo'ed. And again, talking as a search guy, we're at the end of the list -- always at the end of the list.

And I've worked with companies where it's like, how do you allocate your search budget? Well, it's like whatever we have left over after we've done all this other stuff. And again, bringing back to a developer community, developers are often significantly hamstrung.

I mean, they could build some phenomenal applications and tools and functionality into Web sites and into products that are always ... never, never see the light of day because there's just no budget to do it.

But I think that we've got to start thinking holistically. We've got to think about when someone wakes up and they get that Starbucks cup that's got that little sleeve all the way until they turn off the TV after watching one of the late night talk shows.

If we think that day in the life of the consumer, and where can we touch them, and we work backwards from how they actually integrate or using technology, they get up, they probably get on their computer, they surf for some things, they listen to satellite radio on the way to work. I mean, it's really changed, so we need to change and change very quickly.

developerWorks: I wonder if you could talk a little more about some of the technological implications and even opportunities for developers and site managers around all of this.

I mean, budgets are more of a challenge, but including that and this market we're in, but also these trends you're talking about. Can you talk a little bit more about some of the things that developers should be looking at in this?

Bill: Yes, I think my biggest pet peeve with like Web sites, we take sort of Web development, most people start with the front-end scan that's created by some creative person. And then the developer team are sort of forced to engineer something around that front-end interface.

And I love it when we get engaged with someone that hasn't built anything. It's like, look, we're going to build the back end around what is it we want people to do.

You know, the simplest sites and I think the sites that have been engineered correctly are sites like Progressive and Geico. I mean, they know definitively you're there to get a quote. You're not there to buy home insurance. Maybe you want that, but they know that 99 percent of the people who land in their Web site want the simple thing -- a quote for auto insurance. And I think those developers have done a phenomenal job of building very fast tools that they can intersect different points of data and bring back a result very, very quickly to people.

And I think that often developers are hamstrung to where they're given budget restraints that force them to cobble something together, to do something not necessarily half-assed, but you know if people thought through the end game and how do we increase customer satisfaction, things would be build exponentially more differently than what they are.

I think other things are, I think if we start to think about how people consume information on the Web, most Web sites today and most applications are simply an adaptation of someone's belief of how TV works. Or how TV comes in.

And we have to deal a lot with Flash developed, now Flex and Ajax sites that give.... I saw a quote the other day that said, you know, Ajax developed applications give visitors a seamless integration without any breaks or lag because of server calls or state to state between browser loads.

And it's like, well, that's wonderful but all of that has significant search and Web functionality implications to it. And so we've got to balance it. And I think that those are some key countries for developers.

I think widgets, not just because that's Google's name for it, but handy transportable applications I think are just phenomenal little tools. We used to call these back in the early days of Web advertising applications. And they're little hooks.

And to Todd's point, before nobody cared about Google widgets or Yahoo gadgets and any of these things, but look at all the things, the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of little micro applications we have on the iPhone. I mean, I have like three screens of these little applications of my phone, everything from The New York Times to calendar ... not calendar, but world clocks to currency converters.

And if you think about it, if our developers while they're building bigger things, if during that process there is the one or two people that said we need to think about the little micro interface of this. How do we take what's probably 12 screens of information and get the most critical stuff to where we could load it into an iPhone or a Web applet that sits on the desktop?

And if you look at some of the new coding that's coming out like Adobe [Air] applications and things like that, all of that's going to start to change. And I think if our developers are forward thinking and ask that question, how do I take 12 screens of interaction, put it into one cool little applet that will sit on an iPhone, I think that's a huge leap forward for anybody who does that.

developerWorks: More and more niche, more and more focused, right? I mean, it's all driving in that direction.

Bill: It is. And I mean if we think of that, if we take the niche; I don't think there's enough discussion about that. So we think back in the 1950s, what's the highest rated, not Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, but in terms of TV shows, the highest rated in terms of viewing audience ever was like in the fifties with I Love Lucy.

Today the highest rated show, whether it's Idol or whatever, isn't even a fraction of that viewership. And when we look at the ratings in TV, it comes back and it's like the highest is like 15 million. And you see the top five shows, you think almost equal between plus or minus two to three million, so TV is fractured.

Look at all the people that have migrated to Sirius or XM Radio because they want to listen to a channel, whether it's talk radio, or mine and Todd's favorite is ... you know, and my wife's definitely is the hair band channel on Sirius Radio. All the people will listen to is their niche. And I think that the iPhone, and the Web, and social media's probably the biggest example on how people want to belong to a very small and selective club and mass anything really isn't that applicable anymore.

And I think that goes back, Todd, to your point about Google creating and anyone creating sort of a series of smaller applications that maybe fit a smaller niche audience. And the question is, how do we start reengineering our companies and our programming way of thinking to accommodate more niche areas.

Todd: Could you just read the tea leaves in the big, you know, capital S search space and even at surrounding orbits of social media, what are some of the things that you think developers, marketers, people in this environment, need to be thinking about or are ... should be looking towards in the next, say, I don't know, two to three years?

Bill: I think probably one of the biggest ones is searcher intent modeling. So as we just had our nice little discussion about privacy, let's take advantage of this data that we have of what people are searching for and what volumes, and I think the developers ...

Todd: Just a moment, though, before you go on. What do you mean by searcher intent modeling?

Bill: Well, when someone does a query, let's say you put in the phrase "Linux server." We don't know what they want. Do they want the server, do we ... we don't know that they want it from IBM, we don't know if they want it from another vendor. We don't really know what they want.

Now, if we took that phrase, these search keyword research tools will give us all the variations, and maybe in there, 25 percent of all of them point back to something related to literally buying the server. So it's discounts, reviews, commentary. And I think if we understood that, we can then find out that oh, they want reviews. So then we can drop in a tool like [Bizarre Boys] to make sure that we come up for it.

I mean, an easy way to see people doing it right is like Best Buy. You do a search for [a] Sony 42-inch HD TV review, the number one listing is actually Best Buy. And it's a review, it's the TV, it's the price. And so now I've got everything I need. It's got good reviews, I like it, I can buy within that context. And that's powered by [Bizarre Boys].

I think developers can use this, too. And I know IBM has done this and a couple other companies. They look to see what people are looking for and have actually produced products as a result of understanding what people are interested in.

So, intent is just saying when they did the query, what did they really want? What were they interested in? Were they looking to buy; were they looking for reviews? Where were they in that continuum?

And I think that's going to give us tremendous opportunity. Now, developers can now build content around that. Developers can build applications. And more importantly, I think I think it's going to help us foster some product innovation finding potentially new products.

developerWorks: A wonderful discussion, and a lot of great stuff here for developers and beyond to consider. So thanks so much for doing this.

Bill: Oh, thanks, it was great. I always appreciate the opportunity to talk about this stuff.

developerWorks: Our guest, again, has been Bill Hunt, author of Search Engine Marketing, Incorporated, CEO of Global Strategies, Inc., and member of the Google Technology Council. Also joining in the discussion, developerWorks blogger and resident technology news analyst, Todd Turbo Watson.

This has been a developerWorks podcast. developerWorks is IBM's premier technical resource for software developers with tools, code and education on IBM products and open standards technology. I'm Scott Laningham. Talk to you next time.



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