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It’s late September as I write this, an unseasonably warm and dry transition into what is shaping up to be a long and dusty autumn. September is a very contemplative time of year for me, with a summer to look back on, and a winter to prepare for. I was feeling wistful, but my reverie was disturbed by a chain of emails from Google which trickled in over the course of an hour or so to remind me to retake my AdWords and Analytics exams, for my annual recertification. On this day last year, apparently, I was sitting out on my deck, writing those exams on my laptop, and enjoying a warm tea on a day that I remember being much chillier than our current season.

In preparing to retake those exams, I was struck by how much has changed for those digital marketing tools over the course of a year. AdWords and Analytics have had major overhauls to their user interfaces, just for a start. There are expanded features and options throughout, most following a pretty clear pattern.

Take the recently debuted PPC ad options which allow for embedded direct text buttons (just like call buttons), for example. Or consider the removal of Google Instant (that love-it-or-hate-it feature which began loading SERPS while you were still typing a query, with, optimistically, mixed results). We could talk about the integration of Google Wallet and Android Pay into direct shopping ads, or we could look at the dynamic call bid adjustments which are meant to allow a user to increase ad spend to rank on mobile devices, in particular, or to include a direct call button or other augmentation to help the ad stand out.

In all of these cases, the intention is pretty clear. Google is pushing for Mobile First (that is, considering the user needs and experiences of mobile users with primacy over desktop users.) The focus is on encouraging direct engagement during what Google has termed “micro moments,” those instances when we take out our phones to suddenly define a word, find a nearby restaurant, or buy a leather Australian hat because the guy on the subway sitting opposite looked really cool in his.

Anyway, we’ve written about these changes to the mobile SERPs before, so I won’t get into too much detail, but I do bring them up for a reason. A couple of years ago, the whole digital marketing landscape looked different. For a San Francisco digital marketing agency like ours, the tools, tactics, training, and talent were built on totally different presumptions.

For instance, if your company wanted to sell leather hats, you’d pack your site with keywords, publish a few blog posts about sizing and the general principles of haberdashery, and you’d wait for customers to find you. The whole concepts of website optimization and digital marketing in general were built on the implicit notion that a prospective customer would have sought you out with some kind of premeditation or deliberation. If my site is findable enough, then all the people in the market for a new hat are sure to find me, right?

But that’s totally different from what we’ve seen even in just the last year. Now, it’s so much less about deliberation and so much more about quick reactions in the heat of the moment. Your ad focuses on the proximity of the store, or the free international priority shipping. Most of your customers will have suddenly decided on the spur of the moment that they need more leather hats in their lives, and odds are that most of them will take the shorter path to achieve that goal. That’s not to diminish the impact of buyer preference (this hat is made from sustainably farmed Kangaroo leather, while that one doesn’t so much as acknowledge their supply chain…) but broadly speaking, the shift in digital marketing philosophy has come to recognize and cater to the different types of needs of mobile consumers.

The thing with digital marketing is that it’s supported by a web of independent tools and systems that all typically evolve together. The digital marketing agency learns to ask new types of questions and do marketing in new ways, while the tools and systems that digital marketers rely on have to evolve to keep up with changes in the industry. It’s all very symbiotic, and no single force is at the helm.

Yes, not even the mighty Google is in charge of this system because Google, like every other node in the web, is inherently reactionary. It needs to calibrate itself to user demands just as any other site. It’s only by cleverly observing user behavior and understanding the implications and feedback that the systems can evolve and improve.

So, as the shadows get longer on this waning September’s eve, I’m reflecting on the fact that, as part of the web, my San Francisco digital marketing agency is participating in the ebb and flow of the industry, doing our part to innovate where we can, and reshaping our systems and practices as we learn about the changes to our tools and to our industry as a whole.

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