Sullivan: No One Will Win Search War

No one will win the battle for search dominance. That’s a good thing for consumers and marketers, said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch, in his keynote address at the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York.

Sullivan demonstrated the volatile state of affairs in the search world by illustrating how dramatically search market share changed after Yahoo flipped the switch on its own algorithmic search technology last week. Yahoo increased it share of search to a very substantial 43 percent, while Google slipped to a 51 percent share.

But rather than declare Yahoo a winner and Google the loser, Sullivan noted both are still strong players.

“I hope everybody wins,” he said. “I like them fighting with each other. I like what I call a diversity of search voices.”

Sullivan predicted search would shake out and begin to resenble the cable TV industry. Some big network players: Yahoo, Google, and MSN, will dominate, but smaller players with niche offerings will also thrive. He cited DayPop, which specializes in news search, and Gigablast as examples of niche services that provide value.

“They probably will never be Googles or Yahoos or MSNs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t helpful to people,” said Sullivan.

The search guru also addressed other consequence of Yahoo’s overhaul of its search program: a rise in the importance of paid inclusion. Yahoo Tuesday unveiled what it’s calling its Content Acquisition Program (CAP), which brings together the three paid inclusion programs it previously operated. In paid inclusion, site owners pay for their pages to be crawled by the search engine, but receive no guarantee of how they will be ranked.

Sullivan called for greater disclosure in paid inclusion, suggesting Yahoo put small icons or dots by search results included in the index because site owners paid. In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission asked search engines to disclose more clearly where search results come from. Execs from Yahoo’s Overture say the way search results are displayed on Yahoo Search meets the FTC guidelines. The full explanation of Yahoo search results are generated appears on a separate FAQ page.

That isn’t enough, maintained Sullivan. He argued disclosure should occur on the search results page.

“Some people want to know,” Sullivan insisted. “Give them a few dots.”

Still, he acknowledged involving marketers with search engines has benefits, especially in the increased communication that allows both sides to better understand one another’s goals.

Looking to the future, Sullivan predicted search engine marketers would someday bid not on keywords, but on concepts and audiences. “They won’t buy a term like ‘sofa,’ but a package of terms that cover the concept of ‘sofa,'” he suggested as an example. Search engines will assemble packages, as online publishers do now, to help marketers better reach their target audiences

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