Friday, March 19, 2010

Reaching consumers on the web circa 2010

I thought I'd share a graphic I'm in the process of producing to give students in my search marketing program an idea of how complex the "web channel" really is. That said, I think the graphic is applicable to the whole issue of Internet accessibility currently under debate in several venues. After all, everyone on the Internet, and certainly the web, is in some sense a consumer because we are all consuming information.

A little explanation is in order for each of the categories I define down the left hand side of the graph and how they interact in a competitive landscape.

Mega Sites

Sites like Google and Facebook each account for roughly 7% of web visits in the United States, and Google is estimated to account for 10% of Internet traffic. Those numbers represent a startling level of concentration when you consider that there are over 1 trillion web pages.

The following two things seem clear about Mega Sites like Google and Facebook:

"Normal" Websites

Normal websites are like needles in a hay stack. Unless you know their exact address, there's no way there from here without some sort of directory service like a search engine or possibly a referral from a social media site. Bolstering this observation, the experience of students in our program is that they can sometimes increase a small website's visitors (1000 per month) by a factor of 10 or more with a well-targeted search marketing campaign.

Normal websites face the following business dynamics:

  • When normal sites start to exceed the infrastructure allotment allowed by their providers, costs can quickly skyrocket leading to an emerging market for infrastructure support often referred to as cloud computing.
  • Because certain activities are strongly governed by economies of scale, normal sites often depend on mega sites to manage services such as logins, interaction, transactions, media delivery, document management, etc. also often labeled as cloud computing.
  • The relationships inherent in what I have labeled as cloud computing are at the root of much current controversy regarding privacy, switching costs (or even the ability to switch at all), and open standards for information exchange.

The Internet

The Internet is owned by no single entity, but the networks comprising it are owned by private and governmental entities. Traffic on these networks conforms to open protocols allowing it to potentially flow freely from network to network.Some governments attempt to constrict traffic at this level to control what their citizens are exposed to.

Mega sites such as Google find it economic to invest in their own Internet infrastructure vs. paying third parties to transport their traffic. Their infrastructure investment allows them to engage in peering relationships with other providers, vastly decreasing their costs to send traffic to areas not covered by their infrastructure.

ISPs

Internet Service Providers control most consumers' access to the Internet and therefore the web. ISPs engage in traffic shaping that effectively limits and channels what most consumers can do on the Internet. Some of these restrictions have the possibility of restricting access to certain web sites at the consumer level.

ISPs also often (particularly in the case of cell companies) stipulate the kinds of devices that they will connect to the Internet. The debate concerning net neutrality is essentially a debate about the extent to which ISPs can impose restrictions on consumer access.

Devices

Devices provide another means of shaping consumers' access to the web. This ranges from default browsers on PCs to apps on smart phones which are often just front ends for web sites or web services. Device manufacturers often advertise how their devices provide enhanced access to services available over the web such as Google Maps.

There is currently much evolution in this space with Apple's iPhone and devices running Google's Android operating system showing the most growth in smart phone market share. Microsoft's browser continues to lose share to Firefox and Google Chrome.

Trends of Note

  • Players such as Google who started in one area of the web, as a search engine, have evolved to provide either products or support for products in all areas of the web channel.
  • Players such as Apple and Microsoft who started largely in the area of devices have evolved to building their own Internet infrastructure and mega sites.