Is the Future of Search Already Here?

I’m not going to introduce this post too much as each section speaks for itself, but the topics the post covers include:

  1. QR Codes,
  2. OCR (Optical character recognition), and
  3. Reputation Management and Transparency.

1. QR Codes

The first time I heard about QR codes was when I read an SEOmoz post in September of last year.

QR codes are matrix, or 2D codes. They originated in Japan in 1994 and the acronym itself stands for ‘Quick Response’. Initially created to track parts in vehicle manufacturing, the codes are now more commercially (and applicably as far as this post is concerned) used to track convenience oriented applications aimed at mobile phone users. ‘Quick Response’ in this case refers to instant download of a mobile website on a mobile device after reading the QR code.

To explain:

QR codes can store URLs and addresses, and can be placed on billboards, magazine pages, signs, business cards – pretty much anything print based.

Example: Marketing Campaign

  • Let’s assume a company is running a brand enhancement campaign via a microsite targeted at business people ages 25-48 in London, and is looking to for maximum exposure, both on and offline via a beta test competition.
  • Let us also assume that our target market is a few steps ahead of us, and that their camera phone is equipped with the correct reader software to scan QR codes.
  • Let’s also assume that people aren’t looking at the code and thinking WT???

Example: Scenario and Use of QR Codes:

  • Our target market person (TMP) sees a London bus on Tottenham Court Rd with a huge, motivational, full color vinyl.
  • Not only does the ad attract and encourage interest, it offers an immediate opportunity to access and participate in the competition via a prominently displayed QR code.
  • Our TMP takes a photo of the QR code using his mobile phone, thus triggering his phone browser to launch and redirect him immediately to the microsite URL stored in the QR code.

A few years off as far as North America and Europe are concerned for sure, but the technology is there, and it seems a no-brainer for me.

2. OCR (Optical Character Recognition)

Optical character recognition is a lot more advanced than many people realize. For folks interested in patents, discoveries, filings and future search related information and likely practices, I strongly recommend reading Bill Slawski’s SEObytheSea blog.

For the purpose of this post I’m just going to touch on a few things:

“One of the standard rules of search engine optimization that’s been around for a long time is that search engines cannot read text that is placed within images.’ What if that changed?

How easy or difficult is it for a search engine to recognize text within digital images and video, and index that text?

Three new Google patent applications explore that topic, and describe some ways in which Google might try to capture information from text within images.”

His post goes on to cover capturing images from street view images. The possible ramifications of this regarding the validation of local businesses is fantastic regarding Google Maps and Street Views.

The patents covered also look at enhancing and reading text in images, and using extracted image text.
Not only ‘official images’ are impacted by and included in these patents:

“Images used might include those captured from conventional digital cameras or video recording devices. Those pictures might include panoramic images, still images, or frames of digital video. A system for capturing some of the images might also incorporate the use of three-dimensional ranging data as well as location information.”

The patents also specifically cover the association of images with locations using GPS coordinates.

The actual process of OCR is beyond the remit of this post, but I strongly suggest you read Bill’s post, and delve deeper into his blog to find out how far along the search engines really are when it comes to reading and deciphering image based text.

Always a proponent of W3C compliant design and ethical representation of imagery, I am personally thrilled with the progress. It furthers the search engines’ goal to maximize web site usabilty and relevance, and impinges on the potential efficacy of keyword stuffing or erroneously describing imagery in the form of ALT attributes.

We already know that:

  • image search is the second fastest growing search based activity
  • connotative, descriptive imagery – especially those bearing a call to action – are relevant to users and productive for web site owners, and
  • we know that imagery in universal search has changed the way users view results pages.

If you haven’t already started, now is the time to start reviewing, updating and correctly describing your imagery.

3. Transparency and Reputation Management

While this should have been at the forefront of online marketing from the beginning, it has taken a long time gaining its rightful place.

Businesses who expect to succeed online need their search optimization efforts to be targeted primarily at maximizing usability for the human users and the spiders; and not at manipulating the spiders and deceiving the users.

If your ultimate aim is online sales, consumer relations, brand awareness and brand enhancement, then transparency is key.

The increasing reliance of web savvy searchers on online reviews and the feedback of other consumers is not something that should be overlooked. Combining SMM (social media marketing) with transparency and online brand management is key.

Whether it is via facilitating reviews and interaction on an official blog or review site, or by monitoring of your reputation via advanced reputation management tools, or preferably both; effective reputation management allows a brand to evangelize proponents, placate detractors, and provide real time responses in the online social arena.

The faceless brand is no longer an option. The involved, interested brand is the way of the future, and many brands are already embracing it.


  • Be aware of the new frontiers
  • Optimize for the users and clean up your online presence
  • Monitor what is being said about you online. If you have no budget for advanced Reputation Management tools, the least you should be doing is monitoring online mentions of your brand, product or service via Google Alerts
  • Be transparent in your business dealings and how you represent yourself online. While the online community can be extremely supportive, if they perceive deceptive or underhanded practices they are likely to attack first, and question later. This attitude is not un unforgiving one, it is a trained attitude based on the exploitation of the web by shady marketers and black hat SEOs for over ten years. It’s a case of be clean or be shredded. My advice is to be transparent. Its hard to be dirty when you’re clear as cling film.

Bill Slawski will be speaking at SEMCanada. JoinUs!


Laura can be contacted at laura at semcanada dot org,

you can follow her on Twitter, or you can meet here at

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