Why marketers should spread their online budget

Mark Kuhillow asks whether user generated environments could become the affiliates and media owners of tomorrow.

As the web currently stands, search is hugely dominant within online marketing and, as we know, Google has a vast lead.

Like many others, I can’t see Google’s European and UK dominance shrinking remarkably in the foreseeable future. It offers a high level of service for the user, and it is safe to say its share of traffic will remain relatively well-insulated for the short to medium term.

However, no-one is unreceptive to market changes that could radically change the fortunes of a dominant force like Google.

An industry colleague recently raised an interesting concept, saying any serious decrease in Google’s share of voice would require a ‘paradigm shift’ in users' behaviour. What he was referring to was the migration of users to alternative search engines.

However, taking the concept further, a true paradigm shift would see a bigger change in the way users interact with the web. And no, I’m not going down the usual MySpace, YouTube and Facebook path. We can all admit this is becoming a bore.

Behavioural changes are already being noted and have so far been very subtle. The basic idea behind consumer generated content is exactly that: content generated by the user. However, as users are generating (or writing) their own content, they are also searching for their own content.

‘The long tail’ refers to how the general public uses the internet for extremely niche and discreet topics.

But are the niche and discreet blogs, forums and groups now enabling users to interact with each other to answer each other’s questions and searches? In effect, is the long tail thickening? And what contingency steps, if any, need to be taken by marketers to plan around an over reliance in search?

Let’s say someone has a problem with their 3 Series BMW. Traditionally, a savvy web user would search for a BMW specialist or relevant site. They would then extract the information they need about their vehicle to come up with a diagnosis.

However, user generated content now allows these same users the ability to find a specific 3 Series BMW online forum. They then find the relevant channel within the forum and then ask other members for help. Forum responses are tailored to individual requests, from people who really want to help solely through a desire for social interaction … and possibly a feeling of satisfaction that they were able to solve the problem.

This move away from relying on Google could offer marketers a new approach to search, affiliates and potentially brand interaction. These growing niche non-profit sites and forums could very easily become the affiliates and media owners of tomorrow. When they realise the value of placing relevant and useful links on their sites, they could in turn generate huge returns.

My advice to marketers is: rather than put all your eggs in Google’s basket, spread your search marketing budget across different platforms and cover all bases.

Every craze dies down to make way for the next, yet they always leave behind a legacy. Is the Web 2.0 legacy our ability to find information through its creation … and content creators?

I agree that it is a leap of faith to say behaviour will change so drastically. However, every leap starts with a few steps - steps which are already being taken.

Mark Kuhillow is the MD of R.O.EYE .

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