In our Search History series, we speak to the leading figures in Search Marketing to celebrate 20 years of Search. Delving into key decision makers’ personal and professional relationships with Search, we explore how things have changed over the past two decades, and what the future has in store.
In the latest instalment of Search History, we meet Rob Pierre and Paul Mead of digital marketing agency Jellyfish. CEO Rob co-founded the company – which now has over 400 employees – in 2005, while Paul joined Jellyfish in March this year as executive board director, after a distinguished career that has seen him voted as one of the top 100 people in the UK digital marketing industry.
Can you remember your first experiences of Search?
Rob: I can’t, really. I remember avoiding sponsored links. I remember thinking, “These are ads.” I wanted Google’s algorithm to trawl the entire internet, index every single site and server, and bring me back results. Now we know, with the birth of Quality Score and similar changes, that in order to sustain a position at the top with a sponsored link, you’ve got to be hyper-relevant. Now I actually believe more in sponsored links.
Paul: It was such a different world then, because search engines in the late 90s and early 00s weren’t a lot different to directories. Essentially, the response to a keyword search was almost to just give you a page of listings, like the Yellow Pages.
“I think there’s a possibility that Search will reverse. The search engines will ask you, you won’t be asking search engines. With all that information, it’ll say, “In this scenario, I know what’s coming, I know what you’re doing.”
─ Rob Pierre, CEO, Jellyfish Group
What are the biggest changes in Search since the early days?
Paul: I think it was the smartphone that really just ripped it all up. What’s interesting is that Rob and I spent some time in Southeast Asia recently, and that market just skipped steps. It hasn’t had desktops and laptops. People have gone straight to this being the device that they first connect to the internet on.
Rob: Voice, voice, voice. Because that changes the behaviour, changes the construct of the Search terms. It’s more conversational. What’s also changed is the fact that we subconsciously know that the search engines know so much about us. When you start saying things like “restaurants near me”, that’s obviously a very big difference. You used to have to be quite explicit.
How has the way that you use Search – both personally and professionally – changed since the early days?
Paul: I’m doing a Search in ways that probably wouldn’t have been called a Search a few years ago; if I’m interacting with a smart speaker or Google Home. That’s still a Search. I’m saying, “What's the weather going to be like tomorrow?
Have you ever used Google to cheat at a pub quiz?
Rob: I haven’t. Simply because I’m conscious that the art of trying to figure things out and remembering, it’s going. If I made the effort to go and be in a pub quiz, that’s the one occasion I think I would avoid jumping on the phone and searching. My integrity is intact.
Paul: I’m a purist, but I‘ve definitely been on teams where somebody has come back from the toilet and had inspiration from God.
What do you think is the biggest development we’ll see in the next three years?
Paul: What we call Search is just going to be conversations with a machine. It could be anywhere. A driverless car or it could be I’m talking to my fridge. What's interesting about it is that’s the interface of the future. We're moving towards that.
Rob: I think there’s a possibility that Search will reverse. The search engines will ask you, you won’t be asking search engines. With all that information, it’ll say, “In this scenario, I know what’s coming, I know what you’re doing.”
What do you think is your most searched subject now?
Paul: The thing is, you tend to search for the things that you know less about. I’ve got three boys, so a lot of my searches tend to relate to what homework they’ve got, just so that I sound smarter as a dad. I think my 10-year-old is starting to figure that out. He’s starting to figure out he can just do that himself and not bother asking his dad.
Rob: Mine’s similar. When it comes to Fortnite, using Snapchat or a new thing that my daughter or my sons are asking for, straight to Google. Trying to speak their language, trying to get to understand what’s safe and what’s not safe. That tends to be what I spend a lot of time searching.
“What we call Search is just going to be conversations with a machine. It could be anywhere. A driverless car, or it could be I’m talking to my fridge.”
─ Paul Mead, executive board director, Jellyfish Group
Why do you love your job?
Rob: I love my job because it’s a big puzzle. What’s happening with digital, it’s like playing with a puzzle every day. I don’t work a single day of my life. That's the bottom line – it’s just one big stimulating, intellectual challenge that you’re trying to overcome every day.
Paul: I think there’s a lot of hyperbole about this Fourth Industrial Revolution and stuff like that, and what all of this tech means and how it’s going to change human beings. There’s a lot of truth in there as well. What I love the most is actually feeling I’m involved in that space, where our relationship with tech is heading, how it’s going to change our lives, thinking about how it’s going to change my children’s lives.