When Father Christmas wants to know what a child wants as a present, who does he ask? That’s right – he asks the child. He goes straight to the source of the information. Santa doesn’t fish around by asking other kids, nor does he search on Google. Instead, as that hopeful youngster looks to see if his beard is false, Santa Claus asks the youngster direct. And in real life, you behave just like Father Christmas. When you want to know something that matters you ask people you know, trust and who have the knowledge you seek. Even though we might think we live in the Google age – we actually reject it for stuff that matters.

Does Santa use Google?This is the conclusion of some fascinating and complex research from communication scientists at the University of Southern California. The study looked at the varying information needs of people and where they went to find answers. What the study discovered was that when the information is important, we rely on what is termed a “relationship source” – in other words, a human being. We only use Google – or other search engines – when the information is “low level”. When the answers we seek don’t really matter much, when we just want a rough idea, that’s when we use search engines. But when the information is important to us, then we reject search engines in favour of people.

In other words, Google simply is not good enough to satisfy our real information needs. The researchers, interestingly, say that Google is just “good enough” – in other words it can provide information that is OK, but nothing more than that. When people want to know something important, they ask people, not search engines, And, significantly, this research also found that this is our search strategy even if our relationship with the person who has the information is weak. For instance, if we have a personality clash with an individual we will still seek out their answers to our questions over and above search engines if the material we seek is important to us.

What this study shows is that human to human information exchange is significant. It means that if you think mostly about Google rankings and focusing on SEO you are concentrating your efforts on people who only seek “low level” stuff. In other words what they receive from you they VALUE LESS when compared with getting the same information from a human being.

In the year ahead, if you want to win the search wars, concentrate on word of mouth – focus your strategies on human search, rather than online search. Google simply is not good enough if you want high level information to reach the people who value it most. Google is great for that low level stuff, so it should not be ignored. But for valuable information that reaches people who really want it, you have to concentrate on human beings, not technology. Take a lesson from Santa Claus.

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