What is the “Third Wave” of this generation?

The_Singularity_is_Near

When I was 14, my dad gave me a copy of Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave

It blew my fucking mind.

I then read the prequel – Future Shock – which was good – but since my mind was already blown, it was anticlimactic.

If you don’t know the arc of Toffler’s waves, they go as follows:

  • The First Wave: agricultural society
  • The Second Wave: industrial society
  • The Third Wave: post-industrial society

Future Shock was written in 1970 and The Third Wave was written in 1980. While the idea of post-industrial society seems obvious in hindsight, in 1980 it was a completely new idea.

Ever since then I’ve been wondering what the next wave would be. While Kurweil’s The Singularity Is Near is probably the closest book I’ve read that stimulated me the way The Third Wave did when I was 14, at some point I just felt hollow and disappointed when I read the latest futurist manifesto. Instead, I ventured further into the future with the science fiction that I have always read on a regular basis and used it as my stimuli.

Recently, a bunch of smart and famous tech entrepreneurs have been talking about AI and the impact of AI on civilization. I’ve read a few of the books that get tossed around, like Bostrom’s Superintelligence, and a bunch of the articles that people have written. But none have spoken to me, or blown my mind the way Toffler did 35 years ago.

I’m on a search for the Third Wave of this generation. Any ideas for me?

This story originally appeared on Brad Feld.










The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) Turns 30

2817906964_0a6c40d805_b OK, I’m old. You’re probably feeling old. Let’s get that out of the way. Done. The NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) turns 30 today, as it was officially launched in North American on October 18th, 1985 to a limited portion of the US. I mean, where do we start on how amazing the NES was, and still is? I’ve got one in my closet complete with the Duck Hunt gun. The… Read More

Square’s success story, in two words: small businesses

stand.04-70ceba7864cbea182911d92a0c73a513

Tod Wilson knows what it means to be a small business owner. He’s been traveling down the entrepreneurial path since he graduated high school. Working with his grandfather in the bakery business got him hooked and eventually led him to open Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory in Somerset, New Jersey. But even after appearing on Shark Tank and seeing business pick up, he felt something was missing: a way to really differentiate himself from the rest of the pack.

Tod Wilson, the owner of Mr. Tod's Pie Factory

Above: Tod Wilson, the owner of Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory

Image Credit: Square

“I want to make Mr. Tod’s a national brand,” Wilson told VentureBeat, voicing an aspiration shared by many small business owners. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are nearly 28 million small businesses in the country –accounting for 54 percent of all sales and 55 percent of all jobs — and the sector has been rapidly growing at a rate of 49 percent since 1982.

Still, with so many stores and big box retailers angling for your money, how can a small business remain competitive? Certainly, improved customer experience is one of they key ingredients, and increasingly, small business owners have turned to technology for help in this department. Among the many merchant services and payments providers on the market, Square, with its aim of being a full stack commerce provider for the growing small business community, has emerged as a formidable player.

Taking note of small business

Square’s recent filing for its Initial Public Offering (IPO) paints an interesting picture of its relationship with the small to medium-sized business community. Since 2011, Square’s main customers have been businesses with annualized gross payment volume of less than $125,000. “Most of the sellers that use our services are small businesses, many of which are in the early stages of their development…,” the company wrote in its S-1 filing.

In fact, much of what Square has produced so far has been targeted at the small business owner. From payments offerings like the initial card reader and the Square Stand to business financing through Square Capital, the company has been on a mission to help entrepreneurs grow and thrive. Chief executive Jack Dorsey staunchly supports this mission and has pledged to give more than half of his equity to his newly created Start Small Foundation, which is aimed at helping small business owners and others in underserved communities, starting with those in Ferguson, Missouri.

Square, which is considered by some to be “an operating system for small business,” has made available a myriad of tools and devices to help a fledgling one-person business expand without compromising on personalized customer experience.

While the company that put Square on the map was Starbucks, it was a flower cart named Lilybelle that really launched Square’s journey and first drew its interest to the small business space. Today, Square’s customer base represents a host of industries, although most come from the retail, services, and food sectors.

Square Chief Executive Jack Dorsey and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at a breakfast meeting in New York City on August 8, 2012, the day after a partnership between the two companies was announced.

Above: Square chief executive Jack Dorsey and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at a breakfast meeting in New York City on August 8, 2012, the day after a partnership between the two companies was announced.

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

“The thing about Square is that its biggest advantage is that it could empower SMBs to become more of a digital business,” says Altimeter Group principal analyst and author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design Brian Solis. “Digital Darwinism knows no sides — It’s an equal opportunity disruptor. SMBs struggle with this and it’s devastating to the economy if they don’t adapt.”

For a business like Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory, Square’s technology has provided the tools to sell more pies. When Wilson first came across the technology, he admits he was puzzled, but said he wasn’t afraid: “I was impressed by the seamless nature of Square,” he said. “I was also fascinated to find out that they not only had the [Square reader], but also the back-office stuff. All I had to do was buy an iPad and the [Square Stand] and you were all set up…in the past, I’d be spending $3,500 to do the same thing.”

And while most of Square’s services are focused around payments and point of sales (POS), the company is determined build out a full spectrum of commerce offerings.

“We expect more from businesses in the age of smartphones and apps”

Just like having a child, running a small business requires the ability to scale and grow over time. These solutions also have to work reliably because there are too many other things an entrepreneur has to deal with in order to make money.

“PayPal, QuickBooks, and Bank of America don’t think about small businesses like Square,” Wilson explained. He feels that the seamless integration available through Square enables him to not only process credit cards, but also run his business using the slate of back-office software that’s available.

“I believe that any new business today has got to have some mobility or some option to grow,” said Leora Madden, the proprietor of Pearl Wine Company in New Orleans, Louisiana. She opened her business in 2013 doing deliveries and catering, so her first priority was processing payments. “Mobility is important for me because we were the first company in New Orleans to offer full-service liquor delivery to consumers. For us, that’s been the backbone. When you look at fundraising events or event where businesses are showcased, art shows, craft fairs, there’s a lot happening in the small business market that takes them out of their brick and mortar.”

IMG_9536_2

Now, she has a brick and mortar store to manage as well, and she feels that Square just gets it: “I did a lot of research in terms of different Point of Sale systems and what they had to offer,” Madden explained in a phone interview. “Because Square is so meticulous about releasing software only when it’s absolutely ready and has mobility, it’s the most amendable to two business models. That’s something that, to this day, is hard to find.”

“Having a bar and having experienced bartenders, they’re used to Point of Sale systems like Aloha, Micros, etc., but they’re expensive and in-depth systems for restaurants and bars,” she continued. “We’ve grown with Square to offer more features like those large systems, but at the end of the day, for me to have access to systems that work for both my retail and my bar, you can’t put a price on that. There really is nothing like it in the market that can handle it.”

In essence, Square is primarily a software company, that, on the hardware side, offers a well-designed credit card reader plus its POS device, the Square Stand. And that’s what most businesses need these days: a way for people to swipe their cards and a simple POS system. Yes, you can integrate third-party peripherals if needed, but what Square seems to have capitalized on is the commerce trends of people in the age of smartphones.

Square card reader and stand

Above: A photo of the Square EMV reader and the company’s Square Stand Point of Sale system.

Image Credit: Square

Merchants like Mr. Tod’s and the Pearl Wine Company agree that part of Square’s appeal is its innovative mentality. “These guys have their pulse on the small business of America,” Wilson exclaimed. For him, a big victory for small businesses has been the introduction of Square Capital, a merchant cash advance program that has advanced over $225 million to help small businesses grow: “Square is making it easier to access capital…that’s one of the things that concerns businesses.”

“When you’re trying to scale and open up new locations and have a lean and mighty team, not having to worry about payments or that the customers are satisfied is a huge thing.” he said. And, although he initially thought the cash advance program was a scam, Wilson’s business turned to it when his first shop in Somerset, New Jersey was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. “Square can provide capital in time of need — that’s a lifesaver and you don’t forget it. You stay loyal.” This fall, Wilson said Mr. Tod’s will be opening up new stores in Harlem, New York and Montclair, New Jersey, both of which will be using Square.

Changing the status quo for Square

Philz Coffee chief executive Jacob Jaber appearing on Bloomberg on February 25, 2015 talking about Silicon Valley's coffee addiction.

Above: Philz Coffee chief executive Jacob Jaber appearing on Bloomberg on February 25, 2015 talking about Silicon Valley’s coffee addiction.

Image Credit: Screenshot

With 30 stores set to open by the end of 2015, Philz Coffee in San Francisco knows how important customer service is. People want to come in, place their order, and be on their way, chief executive Jacob Jaber explained, describing how Square has helped him achieve this objective.

“We took a lot of time to look for a great POS partner. First and foremost, what’s important is how to deliver the best customer experience,” he said. “We wanted a partner that was customer focused and simple. We wanted a partner that was innovative and forward-thinking, but what we found with our analysis was that there wasn’t a perfect solution. However, with Square it was really special and unique because it was on an iPad and the interface was magical. The way [Square] is thinking is much different than any other POS player. They want to make commerce great.

For Jaber, it was about using technology to get technology out of the way and finding a solution that would help his company stay relevant as it grows.

The inside of the Red Chair Salon in San Francisco, Calif.

Above: The inside of the Red Chair Salon in San Francisco, California.

Image Credit: Red Chair Salon

As each company approaches commerce differently, what new technologies solutions like Square are proving is the importance of convenience and flexibility.

Take Kristin Maddox, for example. The owner of Red Chair Salon in San Francisco once shared with me how she switched to Square after getting fed up with her traditional credit card terminal provider charging exorbitant fees. She also talked about time wasted on the phone with her pre-Square provider, a complaint seconded by Jaber. Philz told us that he once used a manual payment system which required his team to physically scroll through the receipts to reconcile transactions — tedious work to say the least. What’s more, he said, “There was a system that we used before Square and at least twice a day, we were on the phone with support (e.g. the screen was frozen, items kept disappearing, etc.). Every day, every location. In our home office, there were collectively 10 hours regularly spent on POS issues. Today, it’s maybe an hour a week. Square is focused on the team, making it easy for them to spend more time with customers.”

With many small businesses apparently favoring Square, what do incumbents and big payment providers like American Express feel about the changing commerce landscape? An American Express spokesperson wrote in an email that the more choices small businesses have, the better it is for their company: “We are very focused on remaining competitive in a highly dynamic industry, including aggressive competition provided by traditional and emerging payments industry participants…while [Square and PayPal] compete with American Express, at the same time they also have expanded American Express Card acceptance among small merchants whom we might not otherwise have reached.”

The closed system of commerce

With so much heavy-hitting competition in a still-growing space, there is debate whether Square will be able to stay competitive. Much of the concern has to do with Square’s closed/proprietary system (like Apple is versus Android). As Forrester’s principal analyst on payments, Brendan Miller has taken a close look at the market space. He told me that he thinks that what Square is doing is interesting: right now the company has a marketplace, software, card reader, POS system, and Capital, none of which are designed to play nicely with the likes of PayPal, Revel Systems, and First Data. But it’s the comprehensive nature of this system that appeals to small businesses, Miller believes.

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If you’re an entrepreneur, Square will capture your interest with its card reader. As you build up your business, you’ll remember that experience to tap into other Square products, like its Register offering, Square Analytics, Square Invoices, Square Appointments, Square Payroll, and even its customer relationship management tool. Because you’re so pleased with the service you’ve received thanks to these value-add products, you’ll remain a loyal customer of Square, not just accepting, but embracing the closed system.

What’s interesting is that consumers don’t feel as drawn to Square as businesses do. Both Square Wallet and Square Order , which were aimed at the average patron, were ultimately shuttered.

Miller said there are two things taking place in the marketplace today that work in Square’s favor. The first is that merchants want to have a better relationship with their customers and, to accomplish that, need tools that’ll help not only speed up checkout lines, but also manage backend integrations to make operations more efficient. The second thing is something that has recently came up: the introduction of chip credit cards. Square has been on the forefront of this technology, having debuted a chip reader in 2014 ahead of the switch to EMV cards in the U.S.

Risky business

But trying to monopolize the small business market is anything but easy. There’s a lot of competition in the POS space, including from rivals PayPal and First Data, two companies that are now public. And when it comes to transactional volume, Square falls far short of both: PayPal did $235 billion in 2014 while First Data did $1.7 trillion in the same time frame, but just in the U.S. — Square did $23.8 billion.

And if that’s not enough, Miller believes that a significant challenge to Square will be its ability to take on all merchant verticals, as it may not be possible to create something that’ll appeal to everyone. Right now its biggest industries are retail, service, and food. Other important industries in the space include repair and leisure contractors, health and beauty services, charities and education, and transportation. As Square goes public, will it continue to innovate in order to reach newer audiences? Would a more open ecosystem fare better than a closed one?

Although interested in Square’s potential, Miller did offer some cautionary advice to merchants eager to jump on board. He said that by signing up with Square, they’re essentially eliminating the ability to negotiate for better payment processing rates. He also advised potential customers to look at whether the Square software meets their particular vertical needs, to examine the customer support and service, and think about the hardware they’ll need as they grow, because, once they buy into Square, they’re stuck with it unless they drastically overhaul their POS system.

square japan

Square certainly faces some strong competition, especially from the non-traditional payment companies— it seems everyone wants to go after the small business space these days. The race is on to see whether Square can stay ahead of the curve before big retailers like Target, Westfield, Walmart, and Sephora — all of whom have opened innovation centers — figure out how to out-innovate Square and master the customer experience. And, with 95 percent of its revenue coming from payments and POS services, Square has to innovate or it’ll find itself facing some bumpy roads after its public debut.

As much as merchants mentioned in this article have touted Square’s capabilities to help their businesses, it’s not always going to be the same experience for everyone for various reasons, whether it’s support or just overall guidance. This is likely to be expected with customers — you’re not going to have a 100 percent satisfaction rate and definitely not have something that’s 100 percent what you’re looking for.

What does seem to be clear, though, is that Square is currently giving small businesses enough forward-thinking technology to let them worry less about how their business is managed and instead focus on the people they really depend on: their customers.

“People want that human interaction, people crave it,” said Jaber. “It’s a luxury today.”

More information:

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The Pure Storage IPO In Context

New York Stock Exchange Pure Storage has been one of the hottest Silicon Valley enterprise startups for the past several years, sporting a world-class team and having raised capital from some of the top enterprise investors on the planet. The company seems to be doing great, so why wasn’t there a big pop from the last private round and from the IPO? Does it matter? What lessons can we draw from this? Read More

Hit the brakes? I thought I was blitzscaling?!

brakes

The financing environment for growth technology companies (both public and private) has clearly stumbled recently.  For whatever reason (precipitous fall in Chinese market, fear of rate increases, etc.), the market has turned from a “maximize growth at any cost” market to a “optimize capital efficient growth” market. Your investors and board members who last year were asking “Why can’t you grow faster?” are now yelling, “Hit the brakes!” (Note: remember Sequoia Capital publishing “R.I.P. Good Times”! in 2008). What to do?

The answer in this case is — wait for it — it depends. Depends on what?, is the real question. Let’s try to create a simple framework as scaffolding, on which we can layer a bunch of critical questions:

  • The starting point is understanding the economics of the business. For many businesses, the critical number is the LTV:CAC ratio. A lot has been written on it, but the basic concept is that the lifetime value of a customer (sum of gross margin it generates over its lifetime before it stops paying you) should be significantly greater than the Customer Acquisition Cost. For details on the calculation, see SaaS Metrics 2.0 detailed definitions. Fundamentally, if this ratio is 3x or better, you’d ideally like to invest further in customer acquisition and can create value by raising and spending more capital.

  • If you’re not generating cash (and most venture-backed start ups aren’t), the question is whether you have enough money to break even. The one tangible thing I learned in business school is, “Cash is more important than your mother.” You can’t keep the doors open without it. Can you increase revenue fast enough to break even before you run out of money? It may come at the expense of some investments in product development or even pulling in your growth (marketing/sales), but it does allow you to “control your own destiny.”

  • The last critical question is whether you can raise more capital and, if so, at what price? This is the factor that has changed in the last several months. An economist would say that “the cost of capital has increased” but what you’ll feel is that it is harder to raise money and if you can, the value of your start up might not be what you thought it was earlier in the year. As a result, some of the investments in growth you wanted to make, now might not make the cut. If you need more capital, this is a time for a direct conversation with your investors about what they think it will take to raise another round (inside or outside), what milestones you’ll need to hit (revenue rate, growth rate, LTV:CAC ratio, etc.) in order to raise a round and what role they expect to play in helping you do so.

Investors are sometimes like (I can’t believe I’m about to paraphrase Sarah Palin) “members of your management team but without real responsibilities.” When the message changes quickly and the conversation gets a little shrill, the answer is to get your team in a room and pull up a spreadsheet.  Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale (whom I’m much fonder of quoting) used to say, “Does anyone here have any data? Because if we’re just sharing opinions, then mine wins.” Your job as an entrepreneur is to lead the decision about whether to hit the brakes or accelerate — and to lead it with data.

Greg Sands is founder and managing partner of Costanoa Venture Capital.










Bank Loans Are A Better Financing Option Than You Might Think

bank Today’s startup scene is all about raising VC money — as much as possible, as fast as possible. The market celebrates VC fund-raising, cheers unicorns and makes it seem like VC-backed startups are the holy grail of innovation. And so my fellow entrepreneurs were somewhat surprised to learn that when my VC-backed startup needed another cash injection, I resorted to the oldest trick… Read More

Machine learning enters the SEO world

robot keyboard

For years, the search engine optimization industry has been dominated by Google’s algorithm update. Each time marketers would hear a term like Panda, Pigeon or “Mobilegeddon“, they knew exactly what it meant: a thorough audit of their current website along with a number of improvements necessary to prevent a precarious drop in ranking.

But increasingly, a sentiment is starting to grow that we’re entering a brave new world in SEO, one that may lead to search engine optimization in which the modus operandi looks nothing like it has before. Machine learning has entered the field, and it comes with the potential to overhaul everything we know about the importance of algorithm updates to SEO.

Machine Learning? As in, Robots Who Are Taking Over?

Well, yes and no. Machine learning, as you might be able to infer from the term, refers to the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed.

No, Google’s SEO algorithm will not soon rule our world and become a machine overlord (although considering how much we as a society rely on search engines, you could argue that’s already happening). But for Google, machine learning would mean an algorithm that does not need to be updated manually in order to adjust and keep showing the most relevant results possible.

We’re not there yet. As of today, Google still relies on manual updates (the latest being an update to its Panda algorithm) to ensure relevance and avoid fraudulence in its search results. And while Google likes to infer that its algorithm is already unbeatable, there are numerous examples of old, seemingly defunct methods of SEO still working.

In fact, the company still requires an army of human quality assurance workers to make sure it’s working the way it should be working.

But we now know that the search engine giant is officially researching machine learning possibilities. And taking the human element out of the equation could have wide-reaching consequences for digital marketers everywhere.

How Machine Learning Will Impact SEO

Above all, a search algorithm that learns and updates itself automatically would mean fewer updates that throw the digital marketing world into turmoil.

Just imagine what would have happened if Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update earlier this year, which had marketers everywhere panicking and making sure their websites were compliant with Google’s mobile-friendliness standards, had happened without a prior or point-in-time announcement of intent by the search engine.

On April 21, 2015, marketers would still have seen websites that weren’t responsive or mobile friendly ranked lower on mobile searches. And over time, we’re confident that they would have adjusted to the same degree as they did with the announcement. But the panic we witnessed before, during, and shortly after that date would simply have been non-existent.

At the same time, in a machine learning environment, Google engineers themselves would not be the authority figures they are today. While noted insiders like John Mueller would clearly remain authority figures, they might not be able to gain traction as easily with specific warnings about practices like link building.

Preparing for Machine Learning Possibilities

Keeping all of that in mind, just what would a Google move toward machine learning mean for your SEO efforts? Ideally, it would mean a continuation of a strategy you have already begun.

For a while now, I have argued the importance of high-quality, relevant content in addition to technical SEO requirements. Don’t get me wrong; some technical specifications, like an SEO-friendly title and code along with site-loading speed and the above-mentioned mobile-friendliness, remain as important as they’ve always been. But without content that is both relevant and clearly knowledgeable, adhering to those technical specs will not be enough to increase your Google rankings.

And we’re not the only ones with that view. Studies showing the importance of quality content and user-friendliness continue to multiply, including this one featured on MarketingProfs, highlighting comprehensive content and user experience as major ranking factors in 2015.

But the study goes beyond those points. As MarketingProfs notes in its analysis of the report:

The correlation between keywords and high search rankings has decreased across the board. More and more high-ranking sites are not using the corresponding target keyword in the body, description, or links, the analysis found. Sites are also using keywords less in URLs themselves, with only 6 percent doing so in the 2015 study.

Keywords, of course, have long been a crutch for SEO marketers looking to rank for specific terms and phrases. In a way, Google algorithm updates are a similar crutch for marketers, alerting them to just what they should do in order to make sure their website is found.

If machine learning does away with major algorithm updates, marketers lose this crucial crutch. What they gain instead is what Google has always wanted: an opportunity to make their content and user experience speak for itself.

Have you ever wondered why Google keeps pumping out updates to Panda, Pigeon, and other animals? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just to spite marketers. Instead, it’s a way for the search engine to keep its dominant market share, ensuring that its users continue to find the most relevant content for their needs as easily as possible. Every algorithm update is designed to achieve this single goal. We have to remember that Google is not in the business of keeping companies happy with their search rankings. Instead, it services the end user, and everything it implements is for the user’s benefit.

Apple Throwing its Hat into the Ring

It’s been common knowledge for a while now that Apple has been developing its own search engine to directly compete with Google. And while Bing and others have faltered in their attempts to dethrone Google, or at least carve out a decent piece of the market, Apple has something that all the other competitors don’t: hundreds of millions of people using its devices.

And the general consensus on Apple’s search algorithm is that it’s focusing on the user above all else, even above monetization. After all, the algorithm will be running on a device that Apple already makes a massive profit on. And this is a massive “f*&k you” to Google, since Google’s entire business model is built on having to monetize its search results.

So, not only will the machine learning race cause a huge shakeup in the way search results are being delivered, it could also have a major impact on the search engine market and which companies are the players.

So what do you do with all of this information? You design a website with high-quality content that your users want to seek out and share among their peers. Whether a machine learning SEO world is upon us or still in the future, that strategy will never change.

Mike Templeman is the CEO of Foxtail Marketing, a digital-content marketing firm specializing in B2B lead generation and lead optimization. He is passionate about tech, marketing, and startups. When not tapping away at his keyboard, he can be found spending time with his kids.










Machine learning enters the SEO world

robot keyboard

For years, the search engine optimization industry has been dominated by Google’s algorithm update. Each time marketers would hear a term like Panda, Pigeon or “Mobilegeddon“, they knew exactly what it meant: a thorough audit of their current website along with a number of improvements necessary to prevent a precarious drop in ranking.

But increasingly, a sentiment is starting to grow that we’re entering a brave new world in SEO, one that may lead to search engine optimization in which the modus operandi looks nothing like it has before. Machine learning has entered the field, and it comes with the potential to overhaul everything we know about the importance of algorithm updates to SEO.

Machine Learning? As in, Robots Who Are Taking Over?

Well, yes and no. Machine learning, as you might be able to infer from the term, refers to the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed.

No, Google’s SEO algorithm will not soon rule our world and become a machine overlord (although considering how much we as a society rely on search engines, you could argue that’s already happening). But for Google, machine learning would mean an algorithm that does not need to be updated manually in order to adjust and keep showing the most relevant results possible.

We’re not there yet. As of today, Google still relies on manual updates (the latest being an update to its Panda algorithm) to ensure relevance and avoid fraudulence in its search results. And while Google likes to infer that its algorithm is already unbeatable, there are numerous examples of old, seemingly defunct methods of SEO still working.

In fact, the company still requires an army of human quality assurance workers to make sure it’s working the way it should be working.

But we now know that the search engine giant is officially researching machine learning possibilities. And taking the human element out of the equation could have wide-reaching consequences for digital marketers everywhere.

How Machine Learning Will Impact SEO

Above all, a search algorithm that learns and updates itself automatically would mean fewer updates that throw the digital marketing world into turmoil.

Just imagine what would have happened if Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update earlier this year, which had marketers everywhere panicking and making sure their websites were compliant with Google’s mobile-friendliness standards, had happened without a prior or point-in-time announcement of intent by the search engine.

On April 21, 2015, marketers would still have seen websites that weren’t responsive or mobile friendly ranked lower on mobile searches. And over time, we’re confident that they would have adjusted to the same degree as they did with the announcement. But the panic we witnessed before, during, and shortly after that date would simply have been non-existent.

At the same time, in a machine learning environment, Google engineers themselves would not be the authority figures they are today. While noted insiders like John Mueller would clearly remain authority figures, they might not be able to gain traction as easily with specific warnings about practices like link building.

Preparing for Machine Learning Possibilities

Keeping all of that in mind, just what would a Google move toward machine learning mean for your SEO efforts? Ideally, it would mean a continuation of a strategy you have already begun.

For a while now, I have argued the importance of high-quality, relevant content in addition to technical SEO requirements. Don’t get me wrong; some technical specifications, like an SEO-friendly title and code along with site-loading speed and the above-mentioned mobile-friendliness, remain as important as they’ve always been. But without content that is both relevant and clearly knowledgeable, adhering to those technical specs will not be enough to increase your Google rankings.

And we’re not the only ones with that view. Studies showing the importance of quality content and user-friendliness continue to multiply, including this one featured on MarketingProfs, highlighting comprehensive content and user experience as major ranking factors in 2015.

But the study goes beyond those points. As MarketingProfs notes in its analysis of the report:

The correlation between keywords and high search rankings has decreased across the board. More and more high-ranking sites are not using the corresponding target keyword in the body, description, or links, the analysis found. Sites are also using keywords less in URLs themselves, with only 6 percent doing so in the 2015 study.

Keywords, of course, have long been a crutch for SEO marketers looking to rank for specific terms and phrases. In a way, Google algorithm updates are a similar crutch for marketers, alerting them to just what they should do in order to make sure their website is found.

If machine learning does away with major algorithm updates, marketers lose this crucial crutch. What they gain instead is what Google has always wanted: an opportunity to make their content and user experience speak for itself.

Have you ever wondered why Google keeps pumping out updates to Panda, Pigeon, and other animals? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just to spite marketers. Instead, it’s a way for the search engine to keep its dominant market share, ensuring that its users continue to find the most relevant content for their needs as easily as possible. Every algorithm update is designed to achieve this single goal. We have to remember that Google is not in the business of keeping companies happy with their search rankings. Instead, it services the end user, and everything it implements is for the user’s benefit.

Apple Throwing its Hat into the Ring

It’s been common knowledge for a while now that Apple has been developing its own search engine to directly compete with Google. And while Bing and others have faltered in their attempts to dethrone Google, or at least carve out a decent piece of the market, Apple has something that all the other competitors don’t: hundreds of millions of people using its devices.

And the general consensus on Apple’s search algorithm is that it’s focusing on the user above all else, even above monetization. After all, the algorithm will be running on a device that Apple already makes a massive profit on. And this is a massive “f*&k you” to Google, since Google’s entire business model is built on having to monetize its search results.

So, not only will the machine learning race cause a huge shakeup in the way search results are being delivered, it could also have a major impact on the search engine market and which companies are the players.

So what do you do with all of this information? You design a website with high-quality content that your users want to seek out and share among their peers. Whether a machine learning SEO world is upon us or still in the future, that strategy will never change.

Mike Templeman is the CEO of Foxtail Marketing, a digital-content marketing firm specializing in B2B lead generation and lead optimization. He is passionate about tech, marketing, and startups. When not tapping away at his keyboard, he can be found spending time with his kids.










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