One of the more theoretical panels on the SES schedule, "Search: Where to Next" provides a glimpse into the minds of a few experienced search marketers, and their ideas about what lies (or lurks) in the future. At SES Chicago, undoubtedly many presentations will touch on the recent "Google Instant" update, as well as the rising value of social media to marketers. Additionally, personalization continues to be an important topic, as more and more results pages are custom-tailored to searchers based on their previous history or geographic location, among other things.
When asking "where to next," panelists have the opportunity to present from a number of points-of-view. Search engines continue to make dramatic changes to their user interface and the technology determining the placement of paid, organic, and product or universal-style results. In a reactive and ongoing manner, agencies and in-house search marketers are tasked with updating their strategies to obtain the return on investment that search marketing has grown so famous for.
Search Engine Innovations Will Continue With One Goal in Mind
Search engines live to provide a better, more charismatic user experience - with the goal of increased user satisfaction and subsequent evangelism. Google states this in its corporate philosophy, as its first of "Ten Thing We Know to be True," which is to "focus on the user and all else will follow." For an agency, this is a continued call for user-centric consideration in all design and development efforts. To meet Quality Score requirements, paid search cannot be stagnant. Using popular keyword phrases within taxonomies and navigation elements, and building more efficiently loading pages will lead to search engines delivering relevant content nearly instantly, and the page will load fast and be easily navigated once chosen.
Google's toolbar and domain registrar status certainly help the company determine the value of pages, videos, maps, and paid search ads that exist on search result pages. All content is valuable, but with the increase in broadband penetration, having a greater variety of content seems to lead to better performance holistically. The current search results for "how does XXX work" and "how to replace XXX" are proof that video is here to stay. The increased presence of images within commercially-focused paid, organic, and product listings results are testament that eye-tracking studies and conversion reports don't lie: we (humans) like pictures! Optimization of digital content assets, from maps to infographics to Webinars, will lead to an increasingly greater share of voice for a broader sample of search results.
Marketers Must Focus on Consistency and Cross-Campaign Synergies
Analytics platforms in 2010, when properly implemented, provide deeper insight into site performance and user behavior than ever before. Marketing firms will encounter a slow death if they fail to analyze trends and do not force disparate teams to work together. Marketers must be aware of behavior signals from users who interact with a brand site through multiple paths and are served other reminders along the way such as a display ad or e-mail; this will lead to a more segmented customer understanding.
Google Instant has yielded a lot of initial theories on how site traffic metrics and user behavior will change, but perhaps the biggest revelation so far has been the true power of "Search Suggest." For some marketers, the goal for now and the near future should be to dominate exposure for all terms that appear within drop downs at Google, Yahoo, and Bing. This means understanding what the suggestions are (and very importantly how many letters it takes for Google to "prefill" the search box), and then using SEO, local, or product tactics, and paid search together to dominate the increasingly limited real estate for lucrative search terms.
Search will continue to grow in complexity. Organizations will benefit by staying ahead of innovation and discovering and leveraging new tactics that improve user experience. Having all marketing and PR teams working together, including across multiple agency partners - let alone within the political internal bureaucracies most Fortune 500s have - will lead to increased ROI and customer satisfaction.
Meet Chris at SES Chicago, which takes place Oct. 18-22, 2010.
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Chris Boggs serves as president of SEMPO Inc, a search marketing association. He is also the director of SEO for Rosetta, a privately held interactive agency. Chris has been working in interactive marketing since 2000, mostly with paid and organic search marketing. He is a regular speaker at SES and a writer for a number of online and offline publications. Follow him on Twitter at @boggles.