As you may already be aware, Mozilla switched back to Google as the default search engine for Firefox in in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The news implies that Google paid quite a considerable amount of money for this move, but it does not mention the exact value, since the “Google spokeswoman… declined to comment further”.
This is an example of how the things we take for granted when using digital tools are in fact mere results of deals, negotiations and big investments. So, what else is new, right? Not new, but rather the result of dwelling on the same idea: our satisfaction or annoyance related to all things tech-related is in fact attributable to such large scale moves. Of course, customers have their own options to make, but we only choose from the available “spread” – and what makes some variants available or not is in the hands of leading-edge tech companies, based on analytics and market considerations.
Organic versus sponsored/paid
The digital data we are exposed to is organic, unless labeled otherwise. However, even this commonly considered organic data may in fact have had to go through various funnels and the selection or boosting systems before reaching the average user, which makes it only partially organic.
To come back to the above news, when we employ a certain search engine, we take on all its predetermined terms and conditions. True, we get a lot of valuable free access to information, as well as other perks, in exchange for this. But those who are trying to reach us as users have to abide by the rules and conditions of the search engine – and sometimes their information fails to reach us. We don’t choose from a pool of infinite data, we only select from a bunch of preselected one. With all the AI algorithms, the selection itself got modified, to an extend that in fact it is not us who makes the choice, but an average individual located roughly in the same area as us, having approximately the same age, gender, preoccupations and so on.
Organic search results therefore are a myth. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the data labeled as promoted, paid for, sponsored etc. It’s the upfront marketing data, placed in an area where the smaller players in various fields compete for the attention of the oh-so-powerful-yet-many-times-unaware-of-its-importance-and-value, the (potential) customer.
Getting more comfortable in our role
As a formerly living in a rural area person who moved to the city becomes used to the point of being dependent to the modern urban commodities, the mighty world wide web users become more and more attached to great visuals, efficient services, fast query results and brand relevance. We have stopped questioning the “results” long ago – are they organic or are they paid for? The degree of gullibility just showed its amplitude in the fake news issue.
Is this a good or bad thing? Perhaps it isn’t even a duality question. However, it is a common sense principle that one shouldn’t completely rely on something barely understood. Right, but we do need everything digital every day, more and more – it’s a mass thing.
Even though we keep on using all the wonderful digital tools, both software and hardware included, being inquisitive and aware is a must. Let’s not get so comfortable, lest it will act against our own good.
Consider this: you go out and have a great meal with your friends, somewhere locally. You come back home and you search for the place online, eager to recommend it to someone. You forgot the name. It’s not the type of place that’s word of the mouth. You type, let’s say “pub great ribs wide variety beer”. And the results don’t point to the exact place you’re having in mind. Yet they do have a web page, and they have presented their offer properly on that page. What is going on? The entire labyrinth of moderated search is put in motion, but this specific business cannot reach you – it got lost somewhere in its entrails.
The bottom line
As a business, learn how to master the mechanisms that allow you to be visible to your audience and reach out to them.
As a customer/user never forget that often the digital environment serves you the most optimized results, not the organic results per se, nor necessarily what you really had in mind when you hit enter, or what is best suited for you, as a unique individual. Keep searching – combine offline with online and whenever needed, make your voice heard. Customer feedback matters even in cold, mathematical algorithms, and will count in decision making. We are still shaping the world as humans, we just have to be more on the ball as before.