Search Trends to Watch in 2011

2010 was an eventful year in global search. We saw a landmark search deal between industry heavyweights Yahoo and Microsoft; Facebook integration on Bing; the introduction of Google Instant; as well as location-based mobile ads, to name a few.

For 2011, I envision search trends revolving around cost per click (CPC), social media, and mobile. I address each trend below.

Rising Cost Per Click Creates a Need for Optimisation and Automation

With advertising budgets continuing to migrate online, cost per click will rise in 2011. In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, this means that clients should focus on campaign optimisation, including account structuring (there is no such thing as possible keyword management), creative testing, match type, negative keyword management, and landing page optimisation (to lower costs and increase conversion rates).

It’s also worth exploring bid management tools that are currently available. These tools offer increased automation and assist advertisers in scaling optimisation. Still, advertisers will need to assess the right level of automation for their business. Several determining factors include the ‘campaign objective’, ‘number of keywords handled’, and ‘daily conversion number’, among others.

Search and Social

Social media has for some time influenced search results. Both Google and Bing confirmed that they are now using social signals from Facebook and Twitter in their search algorithms.

Google began the rollout of its social search product last year, a service that allows you to easily find material written by people you know and trust. Google says it uses its normal ranking algorithm to pick content, so factors such as the number of people linking to a page, the quality of links to that page, the content of the page itself, and so on all play a role in the rank.

The recent Facebook and Bing partnership takes things a few steps further to bring ‘like’ data and profile searches to Bing. Search results will now feature a Facebook module that shows you what your friends have liked as it relates to your search queries. For marketers, this enhances and extends the value of ‘like’ as a search metric, and hence, increases the importance of driving ‘likes’.

Social signals are mostly used in the Google real-time search index, but the company is studying how it may expand this into other areas of search, including Web search. Down the line, Google could presumably do more, such as look at the links between pages authored by people in your social network or by trying to assign an authority score to those you know, based on how closely you seem to be associated with them.

Today, clever marketers are deploying listening technologies and utilising online monitoring tools to track online conversations. They are taking the time to apply the knowledge they gain to future marketing campaigns. We have long known that search provides delicate insights into human behaviour, but we can now connect the dots between real-time behaviour and useful thought from listening tools.

Mobile Will Finally Take Off

I know that for the past several years, every year is hailed as the year of mobile. Nevertheless, I really think mobile will take off this year. According to market research company Gfk, one out of five handsets sold in Q3 in APAC was a smartphone.

Initiative also conducted research on mobile usage trends globally in 2010. In the study, those surveyed indicated that mobile applications are a catalyst for change in the way people interact with mobile handsets; the handset is less and less viewed as simply a device for voice, text, and email. Instead, users view the smartphone as a platform for launching a never-ending array of new functionality.

Interestingly, over 80 percent of smartphone users surveyed have downloaded at least one app. This figure is nearly 100 percent in China! I believe that in two years time, smartphone sales will surpass PC sales, especially as more and more consumers use their phones for both business and personal use, and even to make purchases.

In 2010, we saw the Google-AdMob deal approved, Apple’s Quattro buy, and iAds launch. Several start-ups are working on enabling mobile e-commerce and major search engines will continue to ramp up their efforts in mobile search offerings.

Against this backdrop, I think 2011 is the year that mobile e-commerce will finally become a reality.

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