Summer Search Trends

In the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year is on or near June 21, when the sun is farthest north. Conversely, June 21 is also the shortest night of the year. If SEM (define) trends could attain such a regular, predictable schedule, we might be onto something.

During this summer of search, let’s take a moment to observe online marketing trends that are ready to break through the darkness and hit mainstream status, like the first glints of sunlight that disperse the dark night.

Local Search

Some say local search is the glimmering hot spot on the horizon of PPC (define) advertising. Borrell Associates reports local businesses will more than double their paid search to $987 million this year, up from $418 million in 2005.

Yet the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently announced that Q1 2006 online advertising revenues reached a record $3.9 billion — marking a 38 percent increase from the first three months of 2005.

If the numbers and forecasts are accurate, local search accounted for about $246 million in online advertising during the first three months of the year. This equates to local search accounting for 6 percent of Q1 online ad revenues.

Does this translate into local search being a hot spot of online marketing? Perhaps local search is more like a mirage sparkling in the distance, easy to focus on but elusive all the same.

Local search behavior is evolving, but this nascent search trend is actually growing faster than general Web search. Yet if local search is going to lure more advertisers to the well, then right here, right now, technologies must improve, specifically technologies behind the devices that deliver mobile search results.

Mobile Search

The Pew Research Center recently released a survey showing Americans are becoming increasingly dependent on their mobile phones. The result is more and more people use online mobile services. For example:

  • 52 percent of adults keep their cell phones turned on all day, every day.

  • 30 percent of adults want to browse the Web from their cell phones.
  • 47 percent say that mobile maps and driving directions are must haves on the next phone they buy.

Reports like this prompted portal powerhouse AOL to add several new features to its mobile search service. AOL’s Surf the Web service allows users to type in keywords and navigate to a Web page that’s automatically rendered and reformatted to fit the device.

AOL also enhanced local search and mapping services for GIS (define)-enabled devices. Users simply select a “locate me” function that binds them to CityGuide, Moviefone, and MapQuest results.

Marry local mapping to mobile searching, and it’s a day at the beach — so long as you keep your batteries charged. For now, mobile search remains a kludge of poorly matched components and on-the-spot online marketing aspirations. But mobile search won’t always be this way. Mobile search represents one of the best ways to reach out and touch someone at the point of a buying decision.

Pay Per Call

Perhaps mobile and local search can combine to create a groundswell of online SEM activity. A real connection is being made right now between search and pay per call, particularly for online advertisers wary of click fraud.

According to a report by The Kelsey Group, the U.S. pay-per-call advertising market could swell to $4 billion by 2009. This year, the pay-per-call market is expected to account for $60 million.

Though pay per call is widely thought to be a powerful local marketing channel in the making, privacy concerns and pricing models remain points of contention, which is probably why Google continues to dabble in the space.

Meanwhile, Verizon SuperPages provides pay-per-call ad distribution in MSN Local Live, SuperPages.com, About.com, and WhitePages.com. Ingenio currently provides distribution on AOL, among others, and YellowPages.com picked up distribution into Yahoo Local.

A certain duality remains. Clicks can be generated and responded around the clock unlike calls, which are generally reserved to regular business hours. But callers, rather than clickers, are generally much further along in their decision-making process. That puts a premium on pay-per-call pricing.

With dayparting functionality in place, more and more businesses are embracing pay-per-call online marketing solutions. If every law firm, travel agency, or Realtor in America decides pay per call is the online marketing model of choice, we’ll have our first summer blockbuster in the making.

In Summary

Hello? Hello? Is any one out there?

Yes, we’re here. But the mobile phone just died, and we’ve lost our way on a locally remote, unplottable course. We’ve switched to landlines to make the most of our pay-per-call strategy, but prospects have started complaining about busy signals and hold times.

Shortcomings aside, online advertisers and search marketers are all trying to figure out how to best leverage some of the potentially hottest search trends that will burn brightly this summer. Shouldn’t local search, mobile search, and a pay-per-call strategy be part of your SEM mix?

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Latino in Miami, July 10-11, 2006. Please note that all sessions for this event will be in English with live translation in Spanish.

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

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