"You don't control your homepage... Google does."
Avinash Kaushik (Analytics Evangelist at Google, author of Web Analytics - An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0, and Blogger over at Occam's Razor) said this to me a few years back. His comment is still an integral part of my presentations, and it's an important point for brands to remember when it comes to usability, functionality and how consumers find out about your brand and work their way through your online experiences.
Most people don't go through websites the way we want or expect them to.
Some people don't even bother with websites all that much anymore. They do a simple search, see the results and make a decision, or they do a similar search on their mobile device and are able to pull enough information from that channel to make a choice. As if that isn't confusing enough for brands trying to create some semblance of an online experience, the way in which consumers first find out about brands is shifting and moving away from the search engines.
In fact, that verbiage is a slightly refined quote (remove "screw" and replace it with the f-word) taken from Gary Vaynerchuk (the Internet celebrity, guy behind Wine Library TV and the author of the best-selling business book, Crush It), after hearing me use that quote during a live presentation at Gulltaggen (The Golden Tag) in Oslo, Norway where we both spoke a couple of weeks ago (and shared the stage with Richard Branson and Guy Kawasaki). Vaynerchuk (who was a guest on episode #200 of Six Pixels of Separation - The Twist Image Podcast) went on a rant about how the search engines are losing their traction online and that the real search engine optimization of the future is not about how well you can configure your website for keywords or optimize your pages to rank higher on Google, Yahoo and/or Bing, but rather how many people you are connected to in online social networks and how the search engines in places like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare are the new (and more powerful) way of finding out everything you need to know.
What is the world like when real human beings can replace the best in search engine optimization?
I've Blogged about this notion more than a few times. If you were looking for the best Thai restaurant in New York City, would you ask Google or your friends and followers in places like Twitter and Facebook? Whose response would you trust more? Where is there more value in terms of both relationship and community building? Search engines are still hugely important in today's world, but will their primary function shift because of Social Media and how well connected we are all becoming. We are moving ever closer to what James Surowiecki described as "The Wisdom of Crowds" (also the name of his best-selling business book).
At what point will your search engine habits shift from Google, Yahoo and Bing to Twitter, Facebook and your other Social Media platforms?