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TNW conference 2016

By Diliana Ivanova, former at Mangrove
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A couple of weeks ago I attended The Next Web conference which takes place annually in Amsterdam. For two days technology and innovation take over the city by gathering more than 20.000 people with different backgrounds but with one thing in common: curiosity for the future of pretty much anything.

The conference is a unique mixture of flavors, smartly combined to cater to everyone’s taste – starting with finger-licking street food and summer jams, passing through the enormous opportunities for networking and meeting inspiring people, and finally getting to the heart of the conference – the carefully selected talks.

This year’s edition featured a great amount of tech leaders: from giants like Facebook and Google, to relatively younger companies like Buffer and BlaBlaCars.

There were many talks I enjoyed. Here are a couple of my takeaways.

 

AI+UI+I (Google)

One of the talks I truly enjoyed was by Aparna Chennapragada who is Director of Product Management at Google. In her role she is leading Google’s effort for mobility. It was very interesting to hear Aparna talk about the “secret sauce” for mobile success, as she jokingly said they call it at Google.

Artificial intelligence: precision and knowledge

The foundation of every app is its artificial intelligence. It is crucially important that the data which the app provides is accurate in order to satisfy people’s expectations for user experience.

Let’s say you use a navigation app. If the app gives you false information and calculations on routes and traffic; or you use a weather app which is never accurate with the weather forecast...how willing will you be to continue using these apps?

The answer is probably “unlikely”. The app market is so competitive that for the user it is no hassle to move to another app which will better serve the users' expectations.

User interface: easy and intuitive navigation

Secondly, the user interface. Simply put, an app needs an easy and intuitive user interface. Because bottom line is: if your app’s interface is complicated, confusing or overwhelming, people will stop using it and move on to something better.

I: personalization to the needs and wants

Last but not least is the I: How can an app be personalized to the individual needs regarding the use and functionality of the app. How can oneself get the most out of the app?

Let’s say you have a grocery app. You would want to personalize it with shopping lists, regularly purchased products and discount alerts tailored to your interests and purchases. 

If the app doesn’t offer personalization, it becomes a plain app which, indeed, serves its purpose of a groceries app but lacks the personalization incentive. In that case it might not meet the users' needs and therefore make them switch to another app which will be tailored to their needs and interests.

 

Flexibility and reason are the key to success (Takeaway.com/Thuisbezorgd.nl)

The two key factors for a mega success according to Jitse Groen, the co-founder of Takeaway.com, are flexibility and reason. While flexibility is important for an overall entrepreneurial success, reason plays a key role when building a specific business.

When starting a business we should be open-minded and extremely flexible: simply put, if a business doesn't work out we should be flexible and willing to timely change our ventures' trajectory. This of course is true not only when trying to avoid business fatalities and failures. 

Flexibility also enhances our eye for spotting new opportunities which might let us grow our business.

The second factor mentioned by Groen was reason. Always answer the “why” before you go on to create a business.

 

Why are you starting the business? Why would people use your service/buy your product? Does your product/service solve an existing problem?

 

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll get a clear idea of where you’re heading. The answers will also define your strategy. If your business indeed solves an existing problem you might have a different approach to a case where there is (still) no real need for such a product/service.

It is important that you define your path with a reason. But always be flexible to switch – either to avoid failure, or to catch an opportunity. 

 

Focus on less in order to do more (Basecamp)

We work in open offices – that’s pretty much the standard nowadays. But with all the noise around us, do we do more work? How efficient are we in our daily work life? The rise of messaging apps like Slack don’t always help. Sure, they are super helpful when it comes to communicating. However, the point which Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp, made was that we don’t always have to communicate. In fact, we shouldn’t. 

We should, according to him, communicate at a time that’s convenient for us; a time which is out of the scope of our productive cycle.

Constant interruption to answer emails/messages/questions or check notifications decrease our focus and lead to poor and inefficient work flow. That’s why, as Jason said, good colleagues don’t distract. He, of course, wasn’t giving a work ethics lesson. Instead what he meant was that we ourselves must learn to switch off and prioritize our attention to less. Only then we’ll be able to do more.


 

The future of SEO (Hubspot)

Another great talk was that by Meghan Keaney Anderson who is a VP of Marketing at Hubspot. She talked about the future of SEO.

App stores will be the new SEO playground

Statistically more than 60% of the internet use is done via mobile devices. If that’s not enough, here is another big number: 85% of the time spent on mobile devices is spent in apps.

So, mathematically speaking, if 60% of the internet use happens on mobile; and 85% is spent in apps – where does that leave the search engines?

According to Meghan, from a technical point of view search engines still haven't gotten to the point of transitioning app-content into their search results. This makes apps almost invisible to search engines. This naturally leads to app stores to be the primary place for finding apps and therefore app stores are becoming the new search engines. In a way.
App store optimization is still to come. Its current state is, according to Meghan Keaney, chaotic and messy. 

 

How do you find apps? What makes them appear in a certain order and what can be done to make them rank higher?

 

Questions like these are starting to prevail the minds of optimization specialists.

Better app search and better app ranking are the answers to come. This new venture for optimization will lead to a new field of SEO where the app stores will be the focus.

Social channels will be as important as Google. Even more.

Social channels are quickly developing into something bigger and more significant. Currently they serve the purpose of a “medium” – the platform to promote content in order to boost traffic to your website, or to polish your company’s image. But lately, social channels are becoming a thing of their own.

Social channels don't want to be the medium anymore; they want to be the player. This has led to many of the social platforms creating new features with the aim to keep visitors on their platform. You don’t have to leave Facebook anymore in order to do searches or to read articles – you can do it all without leaving Facebook. 

Additionally all major social platforms are marching towards “social shopping”. They are developing a new shopping experience where you’ll be able to purchase goods without leaving the platform. Pinterest has already launched it’s “buyable pins” – an option which allows you to browse sizes and colors,and respectively, to buy from within the app.

Maybe in the future content on social won’t be a medium to drive traffic anymore; there will be a need for social content optimized solely for social. And if indeed social channels get transformed into a place where you can browse anything, this will decrease the traffic to websites. And this, according to Meghan, will lead to social platforms becoming an SEO battlefield on their own.

Voice search and personal assistants

Remember when Siri was introduced? That was a technological breakthrough – a personal assistant who can answer your questions and do searches for you? But of course, there were a few flaws. Siri could only understand a handful of accents and was limited in its search abilities.

Not anymore.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen voice-controlled personal assistants coming of age. Now Siri and the rest of the crew are so advanced, they not only give you the information you ask for. They also get to know you, your interests and habits. 

Imagine you want to order Chinese food. The system will know that you probably want to order at the same Chinese place you always order from. It won’t give you a list of Chinese places, because it knows you, your habits and all your past search interactions.

What does that mean for search queries?

Well, they simply become irrelevant. If Siri gives me information, most relevant to me, that means that a whole search step is omitted. You no longer have to choose among all the search engine results in order to find what you are looking for. Human choice becomes irrelevant. Instead we trust a machine to choose what is most relevant for us.

What Meghan suggests is to observe, be prepared and be strategic to all shifts in SEO and tech. We have to look towards the future and embrace the changes to come.

 

Self-driving cars, building smart cities, food empires, and YouTube stars.

 

Nowhere else these things make more sense together than The Next Web conference. This year’s edition once again made me realize how fast we’re moving forward into new grounds of unimaginable inventions and head-spinning breakthroughs. It excited me about all the wonderful things hiding behind the corner of the upcoming years. And what exactly is there, let's wait and see.

 

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