SEO & The Internet of Things
Imagine 10 years ago, leaving the airport at 2 AM in a new city with no contacts and no plans. The idea that you could use your phone to find and book a nearby hotel (based on ratings and reviews), request and pay for a ride (and get an arrival estimate), and make breakfast plans - all while messaging friends across the country - was thought to be incredible. “Blue sky” thinking, they called it.
And yet, now it’s all here. It’s amazing, but also completely normal. Marketing is different. SEO is certainly different. But in many ways it’s still the same. Like we outlined in our new definition of SEO, it’s still about Solving Problems, Engaging Audiences, and Optimizing Everything.
The new “blue sky” thinking in 2014 is about the Internet of Things—the shift to assigning every single thing an IP address and connecting it to the Internet.
That means ovens, cars, lamps, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners - everything. And it’s a shift that in many ways is already here. You may already have a Nest thermostat (note: Nest is owned by Google) or shoes with Nike+.
But it’s going to get even crazier in the next 10 years. And just like the shift from desktop to mobile, the Internet of Things is going to mean huge challenges and opportunities for marketers - and specifically for SEOs.
“But wait,” you may be asking, “what on earth does having this stuff online have to do with marketing or search engine optimization? Are there going to be ads coming from my vacuum cleaner or something?”
Not at all. I have no idea what exactly the world will look like. But this shift will share patterns with others in the past. And we can prepare for those patterns.
Just like the mobile shift, there’s going to be awkwardness, apprehension and awesomeness.
Imagine your refrigerator connected to your phone’s recipe app, your browser history, and to various grocery stores nearby. That setup could save you tedious hours each month checking, planning, guessing, and sorting. Having a refrigerator and a phone searching and sorting ingredients for you would not only be convenient, it would also represent a huge opportunity for grocery stores, food brands, and food websites. Your refrigerator could do all the grocery shopping based on inventory, your favorite recipes, and grocery store prices - you’d just have to review and click “buy.” And it would...if it all actually worked.
As any SEO who has worked on a local campaign or seen Googlebot struggle to crawl a large site knows, there’s often a lot of problem solving that goes into making marketing work. There is XML to be parsed, Schema to be read, AJAX to be rendered, and addresses to be corrected.
The Internet of Things will have a lot of potential - and whether that means getting spare part designs indexed by a 3D Printer search engine or figuring out why cars can’t automatically find your business, SEO will still be the same, but different. It will mean identifying the technical marketing problem and solving it.
The fact that your phone tracks you everywhere you go created a lot of worry and apprehension in the early days of smartphones. But that worry more or less went away once people could see all the benefits from location data - like hyper-local search results. The key benefit was relevance.
And if people were apprehensive about cell phone GPS tracking, they’ll be ridiculously apprehensive about their refrigerator accidentally sharing their secret casserole recipe online. But if there are solid benefits, whatever those may be, an online refrigerator might not be so bad.
SEOs work everyday to make everything from small business websites to Amazon listings to apps more relevant and engaging for whatever target audience might be interested.
The definition of relevant content shifted with mobile, and it will shift again with the Internet of Things. Whether that means looking for an opportunity in a new grocery ingredient database, or a digital town tour guide that syncs with your car, someone will be trying to track down ways to make the Internet of Things more relevant and less apprehensive.
Whatever the hiccups in the shift to mobile were, being able to use my phone and Google Maps to find the Textiles section of my local labyrinthine IKEA is incredible (for me, Google, and IKEA).
And whatever blue sky jokes are made about the Internet of Things, the day that I can tell a 3D printer that my bike’s derailleur is broken and have a replacement design searched for, customized, and ready to go in minutes will be absolutely amazing.
Making that experience happen will not only require problem solving and engaged thinking - it will require a lot of optimization and detective work.
Right now, SEOs pride themselves on being the detectives of the Internet - trying to decipher a rankings decrease, a clickthrough rate spike, or what keywords might be buried in (not provided).
As long as people care about end-to-end search experience, whether it’s clicking through Google to a deep subpage or finding a local business, SEOs will have to optimize everything. And that will become even more important in a world where people’s things are involved and there are an infinite number of experiences to create.
What You Can Do to Prepare
SEO and marketing will be alive and necessary even with an Internet of Things. Even if it’s 10 years out, there are things you can actually do now. Here, I think the same principles apply from the big shift to laptops and then to mobile computing.
Get constant feedback on where your audience is
Before 2014, it always seemed like mobile was coming... until everyone realized that the shift had already happened back in 2008. The Internet of Things will be the same. It will always be coming until it’s already passed and firmly rooted in our everyday lives.
Getting constant feedback on how your customers use your products and services is cliché, but essential. If you sell physical goods, you might not need a 3D Printer marketing strategy or a security protocol yet. But it would be good to know if that would, in theory, solve any customer problems today.
Be an avid 2nd generation technology adopter
Before responsive became the standard, best practices for mobile went through several very fast changes as early adopters rushed to be the first with a mobile site. Now, anyone who has a smooth responsive experience is well ahead of non mobile-friendly sites.
While being the first one to take advantage of the Internet of Things can have huge payoffs (i.e., Nest Thermostats), it can also lead to a lot of pain and costs (i.e., Nest Smoke Detectors).
But rapidly adopting best practices once they are settled can be the best balance of costs and benefits.
Default to being open & digital
The Internet of Things will generate more data and will operate on incredible amounts of it. Having more data available in structured forms will provide more choices and options than not having the data in the first place, allowing for better problem solving and better optimization.
Websites used to be the digital reflection of offline, physical operations. In many ways, your physical, offline operation will eventually just be a reflection of your digital business - and that means running a business that is digital by default will have a distinct advantage.
A world where everything is online will be a very, very different world than today. It’s tempting to focus on the machines, the technology, and the risks. But really, that very different world will still be made up of people trying to make their lives a little bit better.
As long as that is the case, and as long as your SEO and marketing are focused on people and using technology as a tool, you have nothing to fear.