David Amerland
How Search Reveals What People look For

How Search Reveals The World

Search is a ubiquitous technology. That means that its use, while intentional, is mostly subconscious. We search for things using Google on our devices. And our search queries, in their entirety, fall into one of three categories:

  • Navigational search queries
  • Informational search queries
  • Transactional search queries

Navigational searches help us find a particular web address (or business), informational ones allow us to expand our own knowledge base and transactional searches help us compare prices and features on products and services we purchase.

As search has fragmented it has also been baked into products not normally associated with it (YouTube Videos, Google Maps, Local business listings, driving apps, review apps etc), the result is that search now covers almost the entire spectrum of human activity. From entertainment to work and everything in between, we use some form of search technology to help us navigate the world.

What is remarkable as well as inevitable in all this is that when you take the sum total of human online activity, aggregate it via search and analyze it, you begin to see the emergent patterns of human behavior.

In a seminal paper titled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data Google researchers argued that instead of trying to choose perfect data sets and classify them using elegant theories they should, instead, embrace the complexity of data allowing the noise that is inherently part of it to normalize itself through massive volumes of data.

You understand just how people behave before they make a particular purchase, you realize what is universally important to us, as individuals and how major events affect us. Because search is a private expression our will which we think happens beyond prying eyes it has the ability to surface our innermost worries, fears and beliefs.

Before we go any further on how you can use this in your online business and marketing take a look at this in-depth article that has used data mining techniques to analyze exactly how search reveals our behavior.

Data Mining, Semantic Search and Human Behavior

Having read The Guardian article I linked to above you must realize the possibilities it raises. From a marketing, advertising and online business point of view, search is like a crystal ball that asked the right questions will reveal exactly what your target audience is looking for. It will show what’s truly important to the people you’re hoping to target and it will do so in a way that’s unfiltered by any conscious bias.

This is pure gold and there are two sides to it. First, the execution side by the service providers. It’s no good having access to all this amount of data if it is not used to improve the search experience for the end-user. Better, faster, more accurate results is good news for businesses and marketers working hard to target specific audiences. Google has been looking at machine learning and data mining for some time now. In a seminal paper titled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data Google researchers argued that instead of trying to choose perfect data sets and classify them using elegant theories they should, instead, embrace the complexity of data allowing the noise that is inherently part of it to normalize itself through massive volumes of data.

Google Trends search screen capture
A Google Trends search on "Executive Decision Making" reveals the increasing interest in the concepts associated with it.

This strategy appears to have worked with further breakthroughs on the amount of data that can be processed in this manner leading to improvements in machine vision and the better understanding of human emotion evidenced in both physical space (non-verbal communication signals) and the digital one (verbal communication and typed search queries).

The ability of search to represent human behavior once it is allowed to escape the confines of ‘elegance’ in data sets and the algorithms that mine them was further explained by the Google researchers who argued for the unfettering of data sets from human parameters and showed the effectiveness of unsupervised machine learning on unlabeled data.

The second side to this is the data implementation (or creation) side. By knowing what search queries are implemented in what context businesses and marketers have a better chance of creating content that is going to resonate with those exact same search queries. The debacle here is to be able to mine data in a way that allows for the creation of content that reflects searcher behavior.

Google Trends is one way to go, following web trend reports such as The Meeker Report is another. Pew Research on search is a good place to start and for particular web trends and web searches that perhaps reveal a less publicly acknowledged side of your audience you may even want to check out Pornhub’s Data Insights.

All of these are ways that allow you to visualize data in a digestible way and begin to integrate it in your overall content creation strategy.

None of this should be new to you and each of these has an entire universe of associated, required actions.

Marketers, Advertisers and Business Owners

When human behavior stands revealed to that extent the question becomes how do you create an online presence that truly resonates?

It’s a sad reflection upon marketers and, to some extent, online business owners that despite the evolution of search and the broadly established fact that it is counterproductive to try to game it in the age of the semantic web we still have to drum the basic concept: Be human.

  • Work out what it is that you do that is of direct value to your audience
  • Communicate in a way that is consistent, engaging and projects as much of who you are as it is possible
  • Work hard to understand what is really important to your audience don’t just create content based on what is important to you
  • Establish an online dialogue, do not just connect with your audience when it’s time to engage in a transaction
  • Establish your unique selling proposition (USP) unambiguously (in other words showcase your domain authority and expertise)

None of this should be new to you and each of these has an entire universe of associated, required actions. Still the fact remains. Do these five things, always, and watch your brand rise, the audience you connect with become more aligned with your values and your entire digital presence acquire real value.

Books that help your SEO knowledge and marketing: 

Google Semantic Search: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Techniques That Get Your Company More Traffic, Increase Brand Impact, and Amplify Your Online Presence

SEO Help: 20 Semantic Search Steps that Will Help Your Business Grow

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© 2017 David Amerland. All rights reserved