Digerati50: The man who wants to out-Google, Google

  • Has built an Optimization Delivery Network based on AI, to help clients stay ahead
  • First version failed, scrapped after 6 months.. ‘never be afraid to cut’ he advises

 Digerati50: The man who wants to out-Google, Google

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following article is an expanded version of the print edition.

If there's one thing you can say about Francis Lui, it's focus. The founder and CEO of digital marketing agency Nexus Mediaworks has had a long and storied career, but he always is very clear about what he wants at the end of the day.

Take for example his decision to expand into New Zealand in 2012. Since he was already in Australia, why the need to move into a smaller neighbouring market? "It was a natural progression, of where I wanted to settle down," said Lui. "Family is the priority, it is not so much about money."

So when he decided to use artificial intelligence (AI) to take on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), he was similarly focused as to the reasons why: "We have 200 over clients; How on earth can you be manual-intensive?"

In essence, AI is the path that will help Nexus Mediaworks grow gracefully. He admits he could just hire more people, but there is a drawback. "You're managing people problems, not project problems," he protested adamantly, "(and) people are the worst!"

As a company, Nexus Media's presence spans Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, but Francis has headquartered development of the engine and other key components in Malaysia. A coder himself, Francis worked with Payless Shoes for many years ago in unglamorous Topeka, Kansas, programming on mainframes with COBOL and assembly language.

After 18 years in the US he returned to Malaysia, got involved with several other ventures such as Cyber Village, and i-System Consulting, eventually setting up Nexus Mediaworks in 2005.

Fifteen years on, it's fair to say that Francis and the company have had plenty of time to get good at their job and especially with the AI powered platform he has built. Companies that use the services do see results. "Search rankings improved after 2 months or so," said Ethan Yee, LEDtronics Creative Solutions Manager, whose company specialises in electronic billboards.

This sentiment was echoed by Ahmad Naim, real estate corporate liaison and digital media executive at property company LBS, who said Nexus Mediaworks was able to achieve its 6-month targets within four months, while getting their company's results on the first search page within two months.

So what is it about SEO that is so complex that it needs machine learning to help figure things out? In effect, what Francis is trying to do is predict how Google's search algorithm will change in the future, so they can fine-tune pages to go along with it.

What they have developed is an Optimization Delivery Network (ODN), which is a layer that sits in front of a client's website, and can be used to tweak and test content on the website so it is most "appealing" to search engines.

Francis explains that Google now changes algorithms frequently, sometime daily, in an effort to get more "natural" search results. Since August 2019, Google has been using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to better understand what the words really mean.

"What Google is no longer talking about is keywords. Google is (instead) addressing 'searcher intent'," he explains. Francis points out that Google's changes are rolled out the US and UK first, and then only propagated to the rest of the world. The advantage here being that, "We know when something is happening.”

That's the reason why towards the end of 2018, he began to develop the ODN even though they had to scrap their entire first attempt after almost 6-months of work. The key lesson here being that entrepreneurs must not be afraid of cutting a part of the business or a new product that is not working and start again but moving quicker having learnt lessons from the failure.

Now Francis boasts that he can use the system to give clients an indication what context their keywords should be in to appeal to searchers (for example, a flooring company might do well to consider "moisture" as well), and the system can also predict straight away where their pages might be ranked when they are uploaded. "With human beings, you can't offer this insight."

Of course, Francis has a grand vision how AI should help companies to create enticing web pages.

For example, he envisages his system automatically generating content based on analyses of titles and subject matter. The plan is to have some automation happening by mid to Q3 2020. The progression of this automation will be bad news for those working in SEO. Francis believes that eventually, up to 60% of SEO specialist work will be taken up by the system. "It will not involve humans any more."

 Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.

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