Search Works Harder, So Must Search Marketers

Search Engine Strategies (SES) Toronto this week was a great opportunity to touch base with friends in the industry, as well as to catch up on the trends, trials, and tribulations in SEM (define).

No one put it better than Beyond Ink’s Anne Kennedy when she bluntly stated, “The people in this industry are just going to have to get used to the fact that they’re going to have to work harder.”

Kennedy was referring to universal search, rolled out by Google just last month. Quick summation: Google now presents results from news, maps, blogs, local, book, shopping, and video with Web search results for search queries.

“Agencies can’t get their arms around it,” agreed the table full of veteran SEO (define) professionals I was dining with.

One of them was Mike Grehan, who has begun to address this issue in his ClickZ column. “It means we’ve finally reached the point where better marketing counts — and not H1 tags,” he wrote. “I want my company’s site pages to be found with links to audio/visual presentations and images and blogs and…well, everything that can provide the best user experience, ever.”

The End of SEO?

Grehan’s column on the topic is entitled “SEO Is Dead. Long Live, er, the Other SEO.” While this drew ire from several quarters, the sentiment was echoed by Seth Godin during his SES Toronto keynote.

The dominant thinking in SEO, Godin explained, has been “if we move up, we’ll win.” We’ve now entered into an era he calls the end of SEO. “For the first time in the last six months, the search engines are really winning. They find what they’re supposed to find more and more, getting tricked less and less. There might be a different way to go about solving the problem than getting on the front page of Google.

“If everyone knows about your site, you win,” said Godin, who pointed out there are now more Web pages than there are people on the face of the earth. “Your Web site is a teeny needle in a wicked big haystack.”

New Beginnings for Contextual Advertising

Another new Google development was enthusiastically embraced by the contextual ad buyers who made it to the Toronto conference. Advertisers on Google’s AdWords network just started getting customized reports telling them exactly where their network ads were displayed, with site performance metrics by domain, URL, impression, click, conversion, and cost.

On a contextual advertising panel I moderated, Clix Marketing’s David Szetela displayed one of the first reports generated for a client who sells bonds. Among other things, the report indicated the client’s ads were appearing (and being clicked) on a German-language site dedicated to Bond. James Bond, that is.

Sure, negative match is always an option, but in this case it’s fairly obvious that ruling out pages bearing the word “james” might not be the best approach. The value of such transparency is patently obvious and caused Yahoo Canada’s Iain Wilson to be peppered with questions about when such reporting might be forthcoming from his company.

Though Wilson didn’t have a firm answer, I’m betting on the not-too-distant future.

A Single Search Result?

Another concept that was batted around this week was what some might consider to be search’s Holy Grail: a single search result. The thinking is if an engine understood you — really, really understood you and your search query — you’d ideally get one result to your query. It would be that one result that solved your problem.

It’s a tantalizing concept. Often, people use search to research and therefore want (as well as need) multiple results. The flip side of that might be mobile search. Given in a time-, resource-, and space-constrained environment, a single result could be just the ticket.

The much larger issue is that for a single search result to be the search result for any given user, the search engine would have to know more than a little bit about that individual. This would include enough user data to create a pretty comprehensive profile, as well as behavioral data. Certainly Google, Yahoo, and MSN are the players poised to leverage this hypothetical scenario. Yet given the privacy issues surrounding this data (which bubbled to the surface as recently as this week), I’m not holding my breath.

Strange, isn’t it, that the two themes obsessing search insiders these days are so diametrically opposed? On the one hand, universal, multimedia, multi-vertical search results. On the other, a solitary, perfect result.

Which would you rather have? Let me know which camp you fall in — and why.

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