Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Developments With Consumer Search, Part 2

Look-back and look-ahead pieces at the start of the New Year are hard in the search industry. There’s usually too much new stuff going on to make time for the review, and predictions are difficult in a space that can shift directions so quickly. Last time, we discussed 2005 as the year of consumer search, as well as paid inclusion, vertical search, and legal hotspots in 2004. Today, we’ll look at personal search developments, invisible tabs, support for search marketers, and contextual ads versus search.

Personal Search Developments

A huge chunk of my keynote at the recent Search Engine Strategies Chicago show focused on the arrival of personal search in 2004. I explained how Eurekster got us going with personal search earlier this year and the idea that what we view personally might shape our results. A9 morphed personal search into what I call “search memory” features. John Battelle’s great metaphor is the idea of “discovery” versus “recovery,” that a search helps you discover something first, personal search later lets you recover what you found.

A9 revived personal search (MSN offered it in 1999, then killed it in 2000). A9 offers a quality search service and recalls what we found before.

Not long after A9 came out, similar features were offered by Ask Jeeves and Yahoo. The Yahoo service brings personal search home to search marketers in particular. With a single click, a person can block a site she doesn’t like and never see it again.

Because of this, search marketers must deeply understand that first impressions count. Get it wrong, and you may find yourself on the outs with those using personal search services.

How to get it right? Same old song: great content, for starters. Great titles and descriptions for search listings, to the degree you can control them. Push for word of mouth. If personal search begins to allow communities to share info about great sites, as Eurekster does thanks to its new partnership with Friendster, you’ll want to participate appropriately within them.

Invisible Tabs, Specialty Search, and Being Vertical

In my keynote, I also covered developments with “invisible tabs” information, my term for the idea vertical search results will be integrated into default Web search results. The search engines give these different names: AOL Snapshots, Ask Jeeves Smart Search, Google OneBox Results, and Yahoo Shortcuts. All different names for the same thing, demonstrating vertical search is being promoted within Web search.

My advice to marketers? Watch those verticals. If Google integrates local, news, or shopping search results into general results, you’d better understand how to get listed in those vertical search engines. They’ll draw more users. A forum post I did recently looks at this more.

I touched on desktop search and how it opens up as a new battleground for search engines this year. How search marketers will be affected remains to be seen. Google Desktop’s caching feature means if you’re found once, you may be seen again and again, as Fredrick Marckini pointed out in November. As he said, if you can measure this, it may help even further demonstrate the power of search.

Support for Search Marketers

My address ended by looking at recent stats on search engine marketing (SEM) firms from both the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division). Since SEM firms handle well over a billion dollars of ad spend by multiple measures, the notion that SEM is still somehow a cottage industry should vanish entirely in 2005.

SEMPO’s stats highlight the fact SEM firms do both organic and paid listing work, not more of one or the other. This goes back to what I said in my keynote back at the SES San Jose show. Clients continue to demand both types of listings. Search engines must support SEM firms in both aspects.

SEM firms have been the foot soldiers, selling search to advertisers. They get support on the free side, but more can be done to help with paid listings. This doesn’t mean guaranteed rankings, but perhaps tools and services to better help them monitor and handle indexing issues. I referenced a forum thread I initiated earlier this year summarizing some things people said they wanted, such as:

  • Algorithm shift warning/weather report
  • More authoritative info
  • Express spam report
  • Public spam reporting and checking
  • Paid support program: annual, monthly, per incident
  • Search query stats
  • Complete crawls
  • Partnership in attitude on both ad and free sides
  • Commission
  • Protection from direct sales
  • Certification

I’ve heard informally from both Google and Yahoo on the “weather report” idea. If there’s going to be a major algorithm shift coming, it sounds as if we might get better official warning or confirmation, which I’d applaud.

Why should search engines bother? If they don’t enable and assist firms they trust, clients will go to anyone. Search engines would be better off forming relationships in a variety of ways with search marketing firms. Or as Noel McMichael says (see here and here), search marketers are part of the search ecosystem. Recognize that and fully participate with them, and it’ll be a friendlier ecosystem for all.

I also warned “search” does not equal “paid search,” and failure to understand this will lead to a misreading.

You won’t know how SEM firms will evolve if you assume they only do paid search. They don’t. You won’t understand trademark issues if you don’t contemplate the effect editorial listings may have on consumers who also view ads. You’ll fail to fully understand search revenues if you don’t understand how paid search is placed in, or replaces, editorial listings.

That brings me to contextual ads. If I had one resolution I could impose on everyone, it would be to stop calling contextual ads “search” or considering them part of search advertising. They aren’t. I’ll keep bleating about it whenever I see it happen, such as with Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) figures.

I don’t care if Google or Yahoo do position contextual ads as part of search. Users don’t search to get contextual ads. They never enter words into a search box when these ads come up. The fact they’re sold on a CPC (define) basis or that search ads are repurposed into a contextual setting doesn’t change the user’s mind. Search is on-demand. Contextual is passive and must be treated as such.

That’s not to say contextual is bad. It’s not. Plenty of marketers are successful with it. It’s just not search, any more than print ads are part of TV ads. Different media, different audiences (or audience frames of minds). There’ll be big mistakes down the line if people don’t properly break these apart.

Meet Danny at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 28-March 3.

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

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