Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably at least heard of bitcoin by now. Traditional investors and analysts have been predicting its downfall for years, repeatedly calling it a bubble and comparing it to the tulip mania of the 1600s. In spite of this, for eight years bitcoin has constantly shattered expectations and led a revolution in how many world problems are being solved. The secret isn’t in bitcoin itself, but rather the technology it ushered in: the blockchain. Whether bitcoin itself ultimately succeeds or fails as a currency, blockchain technology is here to stay.
What is a blockchain?
Put simply, a blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger that keeps track of value exchange. Through the use of peer-to-peer technology, every transaction is verified in a way that prevents manipulation and ensures integrity and availability without requiring trust in a central authority. “Value” can be exchanged in the form of economic transactions (i.e. payments), as with bitcoin, or it can represent something more abstract, such as spare hard drive space or a vote for a political candidate. Value is often passed through the exchange of a cryptocurrency, of which bitcoin is an example.
Just as value can be abstracted to represent something other than money, cryptocurrencies can be used for purposes other than financial transactions. Take Siacoin, a currency that provides access to a blockchain that serves as a decentralized cloud service. Sia claims to provide cloud storage for 10 percent of the price of traditional cloud storage providers.
People who volunteer as hosts can provide hard drive space to the Sia network, which leads to payment in Siacoin. Siacoin has monetary value and can be exchanged for US Dollars on a cryptocurrency exchange, or it can be used to purchase storage on the Sia network. In a similar manner to how US Dollars might be seen as an abstract representation of labor, Siacoin is an abstract representation of storage space.
Blockchains and the future of marketing
So what does this all have to do with marketing and SEO? Everything. Everything we do centers around the exchange of value. Whether it is the purchase of digital advertising, the flow of link equity, actual conversions that happen on a site or the coordination of a network of machines to process complex crawl data, there are myriad problems that can be solved through the application of blockchain technology.
Take keyword research as an example. Google’s search results pages are now so complex that it is difficult to accurately assess the actual position of any given search term. It will vary by the searcher’s location, device type and all sorts of other factors. Now imagine that someone invented a cryptocurrency called SERPcoin that allows you to track average keyword positions across a wide variety of devices and locations.
Users could add their devices to the network and allow the SERPcoin client software to perform searches in the background, based on requests placed by marketers using the service. Results from tens of thousands of nodes could be returned very quickly, with more participation resulting in better accuracy. Marketers would place requests using units of SERPcoin, which would then be paid out to users, incentivizing participation.
This is a relatively small-scale example. In reality, I expect that we will see blockchains representing full-scale digital marketing analytics suites that can provide better data than any of today’s services provide. We are already seeing the beginning of this with services like Kochava, which has created a blockchain for ad insertion orders, and AirFox, a startup developing a blockchain-based ad network. See also IAB Tech Lab’s Blockchain Working Group, which was created with the mission of “…[investigating] the application of blockchain technology to address challenges in the digital advertising space.”
These examples are just the beginning of a larger revolution within the arena of digital marketing. Whether or not any of the aforementioned services capture the full potential of these new technologies, it’s almost certain that blockchain technology is going to be a game changer for service providers within the digital marketing industry. The companies that learn how to best harness this technology first are likely to become the new giants that pave the way in the years to come.