"Technologies can take us further than ever before, and we can do more with them than ever before, but it is always humanity that generates meaning." -Damon Horowitz
"Technologies can be more and more interesting, but it is always human behavior that drives their uptake." -Kaila Colbin
There is a reason ads perform significantly better on Google Search than on the display network. There is a reason CPMs at Google are 100 times what they are at Facebook -- just as there's a reason Facebook logs more minutes than Google does.
If you spend any time at all observing the way people behave, you'll already understand those reasons. When we're searching on Google, we're focused on finding an answer we're likely not already familiar with, and if an ad supplies said answer, we are at the exact moment of greatest receptivity to the message. When we're on an AdSense-supported website, we are already at a destination, and much less likely to be looking for an answer that will take us to a different destination. And the ultimate destination, of course, is Facebook: nothing fuels our schadenfreude like a couple of hours spent on good old-fashioned peer-to-peer voyeurism.
Every significant phenomenon of society -- from online behavior to trends to religion to war -- is an opportunity to better understand the human condition. I don't know what your job is, but I'll bet you a dollar that the more you understand the way people behave, the better you'll be at it. It doesn't matter if you're the outgoing marketing chick or the hardwired programmer -- because the trick here is not that you have to be good at relating to people, or engaging with them, or being their friends. You just have to understand their behavior, or, at a minimum, the specific segment of their behavior that interacts with whatever it is you do.
And yet we're notoriously bad at this. In the superb usability reference "Don't Make Me Think,", Steve Krug manages, in the space of just two sentences, to expose both our unwarranted optimism about the thoughtfulness and attention span of our fellow human beings and our complete failure to make optimal choices:
When we're designing [Web] pages, we tend to assume that users will scan the page, consider all of the available options, and choose the best one. In reality, though, most of the time we don't choose the best option -- we choose the first reasonable option, a strategy known as satisficing.
Not only do we not research every decision; we barely research any of them -- and, once we feel an issue is in any way resolved, we don't start analyzing options again from scratch unless we absolutely have to.
This aspect of human behavior is behind my prediction that exactly nobody will change their search engine usage following revelations by Harvard professor Ben Edelman that Google favors its own sites in search results. TechEye may be accurate that "this calls into question Google's credibility as an impartial medium," but Google's credibility isn't currently up for review by the webgoing population.
The thing is, the sites they're putting at the top do the trick, even if they are Google's own sites. If you go to Google for stock results, and you get accurate answers from Google Finance at the top of the SERP, do you really care that Yahoo's Finance site gets more traffic than Google's? Of course you don't. What you care about is whether the stock has gone up or down. Admit it: you didn't even notice it was Google Finance and not Yahoo, did you?
Human behavior also tells me you're more likely to leave a comment or send me a tweet on @kcolbin if I ask you a question. Do you think that's true? And, if not, what would make it more likely?