Information Is a Competitive Advantage

Information about the present or future can provide search marketers with a competitive advantage. This is true not just for immediate competitive intelligence and the incremental power that a real-time campaign or bidding system can provide by analyzing data as it happens, but also for the understanding of trends that indicate where the search engines are going, which can help you plan at a macro level.

I’ll start with a macro trend that’s gaining importance at the search engines: personalization of results and custom SERPs (define). Then I’ll discuss how the “2007 SEMPO State of the Market Survey” is worth taking. Not only will you get an early look at the results, but taking the survey forces you to think about some key issues that the experts at SEMPO and Radar Research thought were worth asking.

How Will SERPs Evolve?

It won’t be long before a bookmarkable SERP will disappear or require additional steps to replicate. Almost all the engineers, product people, and strategists at the search engines will tell you the search game is still in its early innings. As results become more tuned to your history, profile, geography, and potentially even your bookmarks and social networks, you’ll see results that differ from everyone else’s. In many cases, we’ve already lost the ability to simply copy a search URL and e-mail it to a friend to comment on organic listing positions. With all the targeting options provided to paid-placement search marketers and the engine-targeting algorithms, the likelihood of an identical paid SERP is nearly zero.

I recently talked to some fairly highly placed folks at the big four search engines, and one common theme is the drive toward increasing relevance for users within both paid and organic search. Clearly, search engines are looking at how personalized search results can improve relevance for every user. Not every user or consumer has the same preference in results, because they belong to different audience segments. This means the SERP will start to look different, depending on who you are, where you are located, whether you have opted in to personal results, and what profile information the search engine has for you.

For example, anyone searching Google already sees organic results that differ according to whether one is signed in or not. As both paid and organic search targeting algorithms improve, the trend toward personalized and differing results will extend more heavily into all portions of the universal SERP. We already see paid results personalized by geography, whereas organic results still struggle with queries that likely have local intent. Because a location meta tag hasn’t been standardized, everyone suffers with poor, non-localized organic results.

If personalization takes off and increasing numbers of consumers opt in to take advantage of the better user experience it provides, there will be a greater impact on organic SEO (define) than there will be on PPC (define) search because the more sophisticated PPC searchers already focus on cherry-picking the clicks and customers for whom they are most relevant. Organic search marketers may need to start thinking the same way. Top sites for non-opted searchers won’t see a dramatic impact for quite a few years, but eventually even “free” organic traffic will come from a diversity of SERPs for the same query. This makes some SEO practitioners a bit uncomfortable, because they are used to promising positions in generic SERPs.

How Will the Search Industry Evolve?

To get an idea of what’s going on among the search agencies and marketers who compete for the listings in the SERPs, take the “2007 SEMPO State of the Market” survey. Participating in the survey has dual benefits. It will get you thinking about some issues, tactics, and decisions you’re making that you may not have thought about recently, but more important, by contributing to the survey you’ll get early access to the results.

Some of the study’s goals:

  • Identify key industry trends.
  • Understand the size of the industry to help promote its growth.
  • Understand where marketing spending is directed.
  • Understand longitudinal trends (SEMPO has done the study since 2004).

This year, SEMPO added new questions based on the search marketplace’s evolution. There are new questions on contextual and behavioral keyword targeting, as well as standard questions on click pricing, spending, and click quality, including click fraud.

Take the survey and suggest it to anyone you know who would be interested. It takes just 20 minutes of your time. Keep in mind: the results will help define the industry we work in and increase awareness of search engine marketing in the general marketing industry.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.