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by Michael Rolfe on 12th January 2012
How is the Internet changing in the near future? What does it mean for you, and how can you make the real money out of these emerging opportunities? I think it’s very important that you read this if you seriously want to run a successful, decent sized business online in the next ten years. After reading this post I hope that you will have an additional perspective on the changing Internet landscape and also have some ideas that you can take away today that will help you succeed online. This is an opinionated post and may not represent the views of everyone here at Koozai – just take with you the bits that strike a chord.
Search engines are the largest source of traffic for most websites so let us start our analysis of what the future of the Internet may hold by thinking about where the West’s leading search engine is heading in the near future. Most people know that Google’s objective is to organise all of the world’s information. It follows that the most useful content for users will be displayed at the top of the results. Updates such as Panda are steps along the journey of sorting out the bad from the good content. The next step is to sort the good from the great. One of the many signals that Google considers when ranking sites is the domain name extensions (gTLD’s).
ICANN is the not-for-profit company that administers domain names. Their monopoly means they can charge whatever they like, and they can invent as many domain extensions as there are combinations of letters. The new .xxx domains are now for sale, at around $80 per year. There is no need for this extension as far as I can see. Seedy sites can still use .com addresses. What it really means is a lot of defensive domain acquisitions from companies that need to protect their brand. (If ICANN can’t book a profit, then what can it do with all that money? Well, the boss of ICANN is on $750k/yr, plus bonuses…. http://www.thedomains.com/2010/02/11/nonprofit-icann-releases-salaries-beckstrom-over-2-2-million-guaranteed-cfo-270k-lawyer-230k-plus-plus/).
Back to the bigger picture, ICANN are now preparing to allow consumers to register their own domain extensions, which is massive news. It is reasonable to expect that large organisations will again move to protect their brands by registering their name as a domain extension ( .apple for example), as well as anything potentialy lucrative- think .healthcare or .finance for example. The cost is $185,000 just for the application – http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/announcements-and-media/video/overview-en. This could be a gold rush for domain extensions for those with the money and connections to make it happen, but lets consider what it means for the average business:
If a website has the .apple extension for example, search engines will be likely to (understandably) deem the site as trustworthy – if only because only the most serious of companies can afford such an extension. By the same token, you can buy a .info domain for around $1 per year – and this low price has made it attractive with spammers and so the search engines (understandably) rank .info domains lower; all other signals being equal.
Google is already giving brands more exposure in their results pages than ever before, so it is very simple to imagine results pages filled up with .apple, .insurance and .money domains. At first it will be only the biggest players, so you still have time, but the move is toward ranking professional sites that are making serious commitments to their online presence. The online space is getting very deep, very fast, as evidenced by job roles being created that never existed a few years ago but are now crucial to online success at the highest levels (social media manager, web analytics consultant, etc).
HTML5 is now live and will soon mean that every website built will look super cool – like an interactive picture. HTML5 works on all modern browsers/new smart phones which means that developers will no longer need to write separate apps for iPhone, Blackberry and Android – they can just make a HTML5 app with cross-platform functionality. Morgan Stanley predicts smart phone sales will top PC sales in 2012, and Gartner predict more people will access the web by smart phone than by PC in 2013. These shifts will help cement HTML5′s success and users will come to expect great design. If you want to seriously compete in the future, you may well need to invest in design as well. Right now this is only for the biggest brands in the biggest markets, but whichever way you cut it, the message is that long term, if you are not a big player, you will not be playing.
There is always paid advertising, which is good because you may have noticed the search results being increasingly dominated by paid ads. Searchenginenews.com recently wrote about there being ‘Nothing Above the Fold but What You Pay For’ – I would share the link but you need a subscription to read it, and you can get the jist of the post from the title I’m sure.
Personally, I can envisage that users won’t care if the results are paid ads or not just as long as the results given accurately fulfil their need. Google is a business, and its Directors are legally obligated to make money for their shareholders so I think this is to be expected. Furthermore, Google has the ability to quantify user interaction on millions of websites by giving Google Analytics away for free, and summarise this in an AdWords Quality Score. This data helps them to know which sites satisfy users and therefore return more quality results, and it is notable that it is beginning to stop sharing this data with webmasters: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8263-the-horror-google-now-encrypts-up-to-33-of-search-referral-data.
There is money to be made online and so it is logical that people will jump on whatever medium that can deliver visitors at the time. From Alta Vista to Google and Facebook, the web is always shifting and marketing efforts adapt accordingly. In the next ten years we will see practical applications of Web3.0. Web3.0 is all about assigning meaning to data (such as with micro-formats) and the open sharing of related data stores to pull together and return detailed, accurate results. Here’s a great, quick explanation on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/freekbijl/web-30-explained-with-a-stamp.
Now, Google already pulls data from websites and displays it on its results pages. It could be the case that when you make a query, small bits of data are taken from multiple sources and rendered in the results page without any need for a user to click through to a website at all.
Web3.0 will be a more intelligent web – capable of logical assumptions. Here’s Google’s current Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt on the subject: “We still think of search as something you type. Perhaps a decade from now, you will think, well, that was interesting, I used to type but now it just knows.”
Remembering that smart phones by and large already know where you are, are connected to the Internet, and store data in the cloud, it is not hard to envision Schmidt’s following words: “There will be a ubiquitous computational capability that is just so free and so amazing that people will assume that it is an assistant. It knows who you are, it knows what you do, it makes suggestions, it intuits things for you.”
So, with reducing organic places in search engine results, $200k brand domain extensions, a focus on returning high quality reference grade content and new creative/presentational expectations the internet in 10 yrs will only be for the most capitalised and well managed sites. Small providers will not even show up in search results or get linked to with their old designs and poor feature sets. This will be for the big boys only – and in a way, rightly so – the Internet is going to become the primary media distribution and communication platform for the entire world. We will look back with nostalgia at how a mom and pop, hand coded site could compete with large multinational corporations.
The Internet has been (rightly) seen as a great equalizer in terms of media distribution and communication, and it has given many the chance to compete. I would love to see that trend continue, but it seems that while this trend is in progress, the trend towards an unequal distribution of power and income distribution online is also consolidating . The income distribution curve in western economies is generally known as the Lorenz curve, or just ‘L curve’, because it is now not so much a curve but a straight flat line followed by a near vertical increase in wealth for the top 1% of successful capitalists. See http://www.lcurve.org and be sure to zoom out for an astonishing picture.
In the same way, I see the spoils of a successful online presence will grow exponentially for those who can be at the top of their game. I’m here to tell you that this is your opportunity! You may not be the number one right now and just making a comfortable income. That is fine but I think if you fight to become the no.1 in your industry online, your real victory could be just ahead.
So, what are the next steps for you?
Regarding your website, begin by writing reference grade content. If there was only one web page on ‘blue widgets’ that comprehensively tackled the topic of blue widgets you would want that page to be on your site. Communicate with your users to further refine the service/content that you offer. Make your content, apps, widgets and media sharable and machine readable to facilitate distribution. Ensure there are no technical elements hindering the spidering of your content and then begin a link building/online marketing campaign to get the word out about your quality content.
Analyse the competition and do 5% more than them to stay ahead. As this pays dividends, reinvest - fight, win and keep that top position because as the online ecosystem evolves, there will be massive gains for the leaders in each market. Make the commitment to be no.1 today and enjoy the benefits it confers. The world is always turning so if you’re standing still, relatively you are moving backwards. So the choice in my eyes is, be no.1 or die.