Beyond search: a lesson in lean

Search works for established ideas. Until you've seeded the question behind the queries, you need to focus on awareness and education.

A great proposition means nothing if no-one ever sees it. It doesn’t mean much more if only a few people see it. Without sufficient numbers, you can’t draw valid conclusions about whether your proposition sucks or whether you’re just showing it to the wrong people.

It has taken me a long time to learn this lesson, despite a few good people trying to steer me in the right direction. This is a lesson of the latter end of the current internet age. The age when the global competition for eyeballs means that however beautifully you build it, there is very little chance that they will come. If you want your enterprise to rise above the spires of the downtown internet elite, you need to work really hard to make yourself visible.

Who wants a futurist?

This is both a general issue that I hear from start-ups, and a specific issue that I have faced in my own business. Growth is the hardest part of any new business, much more so than good ideas or even, I would argue, good products. In the past, my attempts to solve the problem of limited traffic have been focused on overhauling site structure and content, making technical SEO tweaks, or re-trying now-traditional forms of outreach: typically various forms of search-driven ads.

The results? Negligible. Sometimes, particularly when you’re doing something new, people just aren’t searching for the keywords that describe your business or services. Or even for the topics you write about, in the way that you write about them.

In my case, I could change the way I write to be more search-friendly, even targeting my posts at attractive phrases. But I don’t want to. I’m pursuing a course that is interesting to me, and I am confident will be valuable to others. Is that arrogant? Maybe. But maybe a little arrogance is useful in these situations.

Social reach

The good news for those afflicted with arrogance and no audience, is that there is an alternative now to search. As Wakelet proclaimed across taxi-cabs, billboards and t-shirts, ‘the humans are coming’. In reality, the humans have always been there. They lost a little prominence in the rise of the robots, the search and social algorithms powering Google and Facebook. But human powers of discovery,

We’ve proven this to ourselves recently when moving The Loadout, our reviews blog on ‘tech for tomorrow’s professional’ to Medium. Yes, Medium is probably more attractive from a search point of view than our own site. But the 7x increase in traffic that our posts are seeing – admittedly from a low base – is coming primarily from the human recommendations built into Medium, rather than search.

Now the time has come to move our main blog, this one, over to Medium, a process we’ll be starting shortly. Medium has looked a little shaky in the light of recent announcements, but it looks to be the best place to continue the process of building awareness of applied futurism.

Medium is a place for writing, not for promotional websites, so we’ll be dividing the pages of the Book of the Future website between two new sites. Futurism-Tools.com is where we will continue to host and promote the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit, as well as some new professional development services we’ll be announcing shortly. Consulting, speaking, media and content work has always really been about me, not the wider brand, so that moves to TomCheesewright.com.

Rethink your funnel

If like me, you’re trying to sell a product based on a new idea, I think there’s a strong argument to refocus effort and investment away from the conversion process and onto any platform that at least starts a conversation. This is not a new idea, but it’s one that hasn’t penetrated far past start-up land. And even for people like me, so exposed to the start-up mindset, it’s one that is hard to truly get to grips with.

Part of this means putting your effort into building awareness and understanding amongst a human audience, before you begin to focus on the algorithms that might bring greater scale.

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