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What's Next in Search?

  |  June 5, 2009   |  Comments

Predictions on the future of search marketing campaigns.

Where's search going? What do marketers, especially those in SEO (define), have to take in to account when planning for the future of search marketing campaigns?

On a panel at SMX Advanced this week, I weighed in. So herewith, some of the predictions I shared regarding the future of search, both in the short and longer term.

Expect More Universality

ComScore research shows that universal (or blended) search results are increasingly dominating SERPs (define). In early 2008, 17 percent of searches returned some type of blended result. By the end of last year, that figure had climbed to 31 percent of all search results, and it continues to rise. This is true across all the engines, and Microsoft's launch of Bing confirms there's no end in sight.

More blended results -- the appearance on the page of video, book, news, local, and you-name-it results -- means stiffer competition for valuable SERP real estate. All those headers, thumbnails, and images take up space on the page, allowing for fewer results to appear in the top results returned by the engines.

SEO Gets More Complicated

You'll have to optimize more stuff: video, images, books, news, and more. Carefully selected keywords in Web page copy just won't cut it as an SEO strategy for long. Metadata around images, audio and video transcripts, and carefully crafted headlines in news releases and stories are already important but will soon become vital tools in the SEO arsenal. You'll be competing not only for that valuable real estate but also for the right users. As search algorithms become more sophisticated, blended results will take the searcher into account. They'll be based, at least in part, by geolocation, time of day, search history, and social affinities. It won't be just about appearing in search results but also about appearing to the right searcher, at the right place, at the right time, and with the right media.

Search Will Go Social

Increasingly, it will become harder to optimize based on keywords alone. Context and searcher intent will shape the results individual searchers are returned on their queries.

Search engines already take behavioral data and individual search history into account when returning results. Watch for them to rely on social and network affinities as well. The groups, tribes, and organizations individuals gravitate to speak volumes about the direction of their intentions.

While introducing social elements into search adds another not-to-be-sneezed-at layer of complexity on things, it will also make search even more valuable as a feedback mechanism than it already is. Reputation management and listening will become inextricably linked to search, as consumers grow their online networks and publicly share their affinities; predilections; and brand-, product-, and service-related stories. (For a deeper dive on this issue, take a look at some recent columns by Mike Grehan.)

Platform = Intent

Searchers aren't just searching on the Big Three search engines. YouTube is now the second-largest search engine in the world, query-wise, following only Google. MySpace gets more queries than AOL or Ask.com, while eBay, craigslist, and Amazon combined (980 million) approach MSN.com (1.04 billion) in search queries, according to comScore.

Web site visitors are more sophisticated. They're adapting their search behavior to the appropriate search platforms. It's a development that may make SEO a little bit less complicated, assuming marketers develop the right mindset. It's time to start thinking about all types of sites as search engines, not just as video sites or classifieds or shopping sites. If you can search it, you can optimize it. In fact, Rank-Mobile's Cindy Krum is all about optimizing apps for sale on the iPhone app store. Heck, that's a search engine too, if you think about it. And if you don't think about it that way, you should start.

Smart Phones = Smarter Searching

Mobile will help blow out the search space. Google's Sergey Brin recently noted that one third of Google queries coming from Japan are made on mobile devices. While mobile phone sales are flat, smartphone sales are through the roof these days, contributing to the trend in this part of the world. Think geolocation and apps as the drivers in mobile search, particularly service-based apps such as restaurant finders and highly specialized apps, such as MizPee (clean bathrooms), TapIt (free local water bottle refills), and the AAA discount app for members of the auto club. These are ad free but not sponsor free and have the potential to drive plenty of local, walk-in business.

The Long Term

What's waiting on the search horizon? Educated guesses will have to take the place of crystal balls. Here are some prognostications:

  • Real-time results. What about something that happened 10 minutes ago? With the possible exception of Twitter, immediate events aren't searchable or readily crawlable. They will be. Google has as much as admitted it's on the case.

  • Multimedia as searchable and optimizable. Who's this a picture of? What song is this clip from? A few highly technical and specialized search engines are tackling these issues now, but eventually such queries will become much easier to search for, as well as become integrated into "old-fashioned" search engines.

  • Location, location, location. Geotargeted results will grow in importance, particularly with the rise of smartphones. Expect hyper-local geotargeting in the future, not dissimilar to the direction such companies as NearbyNow are going in. Imagine walking into a mall or supermarket and using your phone to find the right jeans at the lowest price or instantly learning what brand of corn flakes is on special and where they are in the store.

  • All search, all the time. Finally, search will be an always-on utility, integrated into the devices you routinely use to perform everyday tasks. When you think about it, your TV or DVR program guides are search. So is your car's GPS system and your iPod's playlist menu. Searchability, and attendant marketing possibilities, will show up in in-store kiosks, perhaps even on your refrigerator. Even more than now, search will become the de facto way we navigate our lives.

Now if only the search engines would come up with a way for me to remember where I left the keys...

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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