The Future of Search

  |  October 13, 2008   |  Comments

Search engine executives hint at the next evolution of the business.

Almost everyone likes to speculate about the future. And when it comes to marketers, none are more speculative than search marketers. We need, pursue, and lust over any tidbits of information we can glean about what's coming next in search. What is Google planning next? What will be the next big thing? How will that impact my strategies?

Well, my friends, it's your lucky day. Prepare for a glimpse into the mighty future.

I attended the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada's MIXX conference in Toronto two weeks ago. The conference covered a few different topics as they relate to digital marketing, including social media, video advertising, mobile marketing, and my personal favorite, search marketing.

Marc Donner, engineering director at Google, and Martin Stoddart, senior product manager at Microsoft Live Search, took the stage to talk about search's future.

As most of us know, search engines are notorious for keeping their plans and releases close to their chests for fear of competitive encroachment. For that reason, we unfortunately weren't graced with any concrete knowledge about their future rollouts, but there was some careful alluding to what we might see coming.

Google's Donner talked about the shift from modalities to media, meaning instead of only being able to make text queries about text-based content, we will potentially be able to make queries about the content inside of nontextual media. For example:

  • You tivo a movie clip, upload it to your computer, and ask, "What movie is this?"

  • From your mobile phone, you upload a photo with a mystery celebrity in the corner and ask, "Who is this person?"

Although the query will still be in the form of text, the actual content being queried may be very different.

Google gave the impression that it's getting increasingly better at reading and making sense of the content inside of media. We know it's started indexing all of this content, but it still potentially has a way to go in honing its algorithm for evaluating and ranking this type of content. Content is still king, it's just that textual content no longer reigns alone.

MSN's Stoddart spoke about search's evolution and the phases it's been through over the last decade or more. He also pointed out we're now entering a new phase:

  1. The era of directories and paid inclusion with only early adopters using search.

  2. The shift to a search by keyword queries, CPC (define) based placement mechanisms, and mainstream usage.

  3. A shift to serving up richer content based on user intention, improved advertising efficiency, revenue sharing, and savvier consumers (future).

Phase three will emerge as engines attempt to:

  • Better understand and serve up what users want based on refined queries

  • Deliver context to users' queries through user-generated and social content

  • Improve advertising efficiency and value sharing

Phase three will be characterized by the following key elements:

  • Rich semantics and user experience

  • Paid engagements and consumer reward

  • Experienced, savvier consumers

To meet the first element in phase three, rich semantics and user experience, search engines will strive to provide better content and increased relevancy, whether it be through prominently displaying authoritative answers in search results or optimizing the display of content on the page.

Search engines will also aim to simplify commercial tasks through tools to refine searches, applying a "crowd wisdom," or opinion index, and offering multidevice access (e.g., mobile, etc.).

In terms of the second element, paid engagements and consumer reward, consumers will be rewarded for engaging with ads. This may be done through a "cash back" icon, granting a monetary reward to users who make a purchase after clicking on the advertiser's sponsored link.

For the third element, experienced, savvier consumers, search engines will simply have to work harder to keep consumers and advertisers satisfied to sustain and grow their market share.

At the end of the session, the sentiment was clear: the search industry isn't even close to reaching maturity. It still has a long way to go to bring users the type of technology and functionality they require. In fact, Stoddart underlined this notion, stating that "almost 40 percent of queries don't give users what they're looking for." If that doesn't speak to the need for search to evolve, I don't know what does.

Bottom line, search will continue to evolve and work toward the ultimate goal of giving users more of what they want. If Stoddart's stat is right, search still has a way to go to be able to service both users and advertisers in a mutually beneficial way.

The future is coming. Are you ready for it?

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you'll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.

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Julie Batten

Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.

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