Search. It's as hot as Chicago is cold (and the city of my birth is very cold indeed). Search Engine Strategies Chicago (SES), which ended yesterday, boasted a staggering all-search, all-the-time lineup of no less than 63 packed sessions over four days. You leave both overwhelmed with new knowledge and wondering what you missed. No way can one person cover four tracks, over four days, of search marketing expertise.
So herewith, top-line gleanings of the trends, news, and, of course, a little of the latest gossip from Internet marketing's most hypergrowth-oriented sector.
The Changing Results Page
Danny Sullivan shared what may have been SES's most interesting insight in his keynote: search results pages are going to change, and marketers are going to have to deal with those changes.
"Personal search is here," Sullivan observed. Last year's dream is this year's reality, with the launch of more personalized engines such as A9 and MSN Search and moves like the Eurekster alliance. "Personal changed this year to memory/history, or discovery versus recovery," said Sullivan. "There are shortcuts and direct display, like Yahoo shortcuts, AOL Snapshots, and AskJeeves' Smart Search." All these, in some, way funnel Web results into vertical or local results. "Marketers need to get it. Marketers need to plan for it," is Sullivan's message. Are you optimizing solely for organic Web search results? One day soon, your listing could vanish from the results screen.
It's been around a while, but only now is click fraud a topic of serious attention. There are lawsuits, case studies, and a handful of vendors offering services to victims of search engine pay-per-click (PPC) scams. Sessions on the subject were packed with search advertisers, many of whom fear they've been paying for malicious clicks on their PPC search engine ads. You're going to hear a lot about click fraud in coming months.
Personally, I'm hoping to hear a definition of the term. Like "spam," "click fraud" can be a matter of perception (outside the egregious cases, of course). I hope a definition falls within parameters of cost threshold and malicious intent. It's not unreasonable to accept some traffic via your ads from competitors (hey, you're probably clicking on theirs once in a while, too). And click fraud certainly is not all unwanted traffic or traffic from an undesirable geographic location. Expect screaming, finger-pointing, a few penny-pinching marketers out to lower their bills a few bucks, and solutions. Doubtless, we'll all witness a measure of click fraud-fraud before this one simmers down.
Tools, Tools, Tools
Someone oughta build a search engine just for all the tools and solutions out to manage, operate, and optimize search campaigns. All this simplification is getting mighty complicated. Every major site analytics program has search campaign functionalities baked in by now (including click fraud detection, of course). There are tools to manage search ads, tools that bid, tools to select and manage keywords, tools to track conversions (online and off-), and even tools that measure searcher attitudes based on search behavior. There are new consumer search tools (especially desktop search apps, blooming like flowers in May) that may, or may not, ever have advertising or marketing implications.
New Products, Renewed Companies
The tools and new search products just keep coming, and search-related companies are in a phase of hypergrowth, expansion, and hiring.
The most recent product launches from engines and directories are aimed at marketers, particularly in vertical and local search. Just a few recent examples: Find.com teamed with ThomasB2B.com to create business listings of more than 550,000 industrial suppliers from 29 countries. KnowledgeStorm came out with "Click-to-Lead," a search solution IT managers can use -- without bothering to learn search engine marketing (SEM) principles. Both Yahoo and Overture enhanced their local search products with new, richer offerings. And did you hear? MSN is in the house -- with search. Justin Osmer, MSN marketing product manager, told me "a yellow pages-type directory is the next logical step" for MSN search. He also says "there's a lot to be done with personalization and vertical search tools," citing the "dials" on MSN Search can customize results to a searcher's preferences (see that bit above about the changing results page...). And Dariusz Paczuski, AOL's VP of local products, promised to reveal more about AOL's new local search products right after the holidays. The launch is promised for January.
And then there's all the sworn-to-secrecy skinny I can't share... yet. I'm hearing about alliances and acquisitions, particularly between European and U.S. search firms and, in some cases, ad agencies.
Finally, dear readers, thanks for sticking through another year with us at ClickZ. Thanks for reading and for writing. We're as grateful for your accolades as we are for your criticism, which hopefully helps us grow.
All of us at ClickZ extend our warmest holiday wishes to you and yours, and wish you all the very, very best in 2005.
See you next year!
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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.