When it comes to asking questions and just how important this attribute is for us as a species, there is likely one technology that has had a huge impact on the way we behave, make decisions, and interact with the world. That technology is the search engine.
It first originated in 1990 with a system known as Archie, which was used to search rudimentary directories for information. However, as time went on and webpages compounded continually, more companies were founded to help people navigate the ocean we know as the internet.
Ask Jeeves, Duck Duck Go, Bing and Google are some of the ones that made it the furthest, with the latter being one of the most visited websites on Earth, as of writing this.
According to the SEO Tribunal (2019), Google currently receives around 5.6 billion searches each day. The reason this number is astonishing however, is the fact that each search represents a question in one way or another.
While most Google searches are not phrased as a question, the simple fact remains that the person performing the search wants their questions answered and their curiosity quenched. ‘How to train a dog’, ‘Restaurants near me’, or ‘Losing fat fast’ are just some popular examples that get searched millions of times every month.
Asking the right questions is critical, to find answers in a sea of information aka the internet.
The questions people ask also have a lot more power than we may realize. If you are an avid user of the internet you may have found yourself being followed by very similar adverts, maybe even for the exact same products and services you enquired about. This is known as targeted advertisement and is only possible because companies are able to ask certain questions on a scale that has never been possible before.
Search engines such as Google and social media sites such as Facebook, track user data (this is what you often consent to when you tick the little box at the bottom of a signup page just so you know) and provide it to advertisers so that they can direct their adverts to their idea customer. You!
How do they gauge who is their ideal customer? They do this by asking a series of important questions such as:
- What is this person’s age, gender and marital status?
- What is this person’s level of education?
- Where does this person live?
- What religion or ethnicity is this person?
- Does this person have children and do the children live at home?
- Is this person the children’s primary caregiver?
- Is this person caring for aging parents?
- What is this person’s annual income?
- What type of work does this person do?
- Is this person self-employed or does he/she work for a company?
- What are his/her passions and hobbies?
- Where or what was the last vacation and did this person love it?
- What type of neighborhood does this person live in?
- Where does this person buy groceries, clothing/shoes, and why?
- What are some of her/his favorite brands?
- What kind of car does this person drive, and why?
- Is this person active with his/her church, or belong to a country club?
- What brand or product has so changed this person’s life that he/she now could not live without it, and why?
- Where does this person get information? Online or offline - ie. print?
- Does this person watch television? What are his/her favorite shows?
- Who does this person admire the most?
- What would people be surprised to find out about this person?
- What makes this person stay up at night worrying?
- What makes this person stay up at night worrying about that directly relates to what you have to offer?
- How is this person’s relationship with his/her immediate family?
- What recently happened that made this person search for information as it relates directly to what you offer?
- What did this person already try that didn’t work and is the reason he or she is coming to you; or are you introducing something never tried before?
These are some examples of the questions that companies may ask when looking to identify their perfect customer who would be willing to spend money on their product or service. This type of tracked advertising brings in billions of dollars in profits for businesses every year and it is purely grounded in their ability to ask and answer the right types of questions.
As is evident, asking questions is a most powerful tool. It is compelling enough to create the kind of profits that rival the economies of small nations.
And even the technologies of search engines and ad tracking would not have been possible unless other innovators would have first asked themselves a number of relevant questions.
Asking questions and finding answers is the motor that keeps the world turning. It is a cycle that continues to breed more questions and more answers and while it does so, it produces amazing discoveries along the way.
Curiosity and asking questions, therefore, could be seen as the force that drives humanity in a forward trajectory.
Back to Search engines - who knows what the future holds for search engines. But one thing is sure. Google in its current form will not survive for the long haul. Something more efficient, more agile, and more competent will have to replace it at some stage. But what that efficiency, agility and competency will look like is something only the next innovator of this future search engine can answer.
And when we see it, we will think ‘why wasn’t this done earlier?’ because the best innovations are usually the simplest solutions staring us in the face, but which we only recognize when we’re looking at it.