The Meaning of Search, the Universe, and Everything

I’m sitting on a beach in the Algarve, Portugal, as I write this column. My late vacation just happens to collide with a ClickZ deadline. So I wanted to think of a topic I could cover pretty quickly. If you’re familiar with the late Douglas Adams, you’ll know I could just answer my title with “42.” And that’s it, column finished and back to lazing in the sun. (I should be so lucky!)

It would be nice if answers to questions always came so easily. One question I’m asked a lot is, what’s the future of search? The answer, of course, involves Google’s universal search and other recent developments pointing to the future. In fact, Ralph Wilson, pioneering Internet marketer and my long-time friend, asked me just that at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose.

In a spontaneous interview such as that one, I can only gloss over some of the more obvious possibilities about the immediate future. But there are really two questions:

  • What’s the future of search?
  • What’s the future of search marketing?
  • Each question must be addressed separately. What science may achieve in terms of information retrieval may not always have a commercial impact on the search marketing industry. And innovation and application may not (probably will not) always run in parallel.

    I can take a shot at both questions. I write an opinion column, so that’s what you get. But the person who really knows the future of search marketing, specifically, is you: the marketing professional reading this column.

    It all starts with you getting the buy-in at board level. I work with a number of large organizations, and the truth is only one has a CEO who’s actually aware of search marketing and the true impact it will have not only on his business but on his entire industry sector as well.

    On the other side, I know far too many enthusiastic marketing executives (and true search evangelists) who feel they’re still banging their heads against a brick wall. Search is not a marketing panacea. It doesn’t work very well on its own.

    However in 2007, it’s not something you should just be “thinking about doing” or “looking into more seriously.” I still hear those comments fairly often when I get approached about consultancy work.

    To be fair, it’s not just search that seems to require an enormous effort to get the full- company buy-in. Our colleagues on the analytics side of the business often have the same hill to climb. Recently, I read this line by fellow ClickZ columnists and authors, Jason Burby and Shane Atchison in their book, “Actionable Web Analytics,” and it just seemed to sum everything up: “Getting ROI from the web is everyone’s job.”

    In the book, Burby and Atchison do a very good job of explaining how to get the buy-in from analyzing current site performance through to site optimization. I found their step-by-step process, from pulling together the steering committee and prioritizing to how to choose an agency, completely mirrored getting the search buy-in.

    Yet that’s only step one, though it is a big one. Search marketing’s future leapt forward this year with Google’s universal and Ask’s 3D approaches. Now not only do we have to get the initial buy-in, we also have to analyze the content we create and where it may sit when searchers come to expect a more interactive, engaging, richer experience.

    In my interview with Wilson, you’ll see he’s getting onto the first-mover platform. His small business newsletter has long been the marketing meat and potatoes for many thousands of mom-and-pop sites. And the introduction of video can only add greater value for his subscribers.

    Once you have the buy-in for search, how do you get senior management to understand it’s not just about static pages anymore? You must address the future and the extreme value that broadband brings to online marketing efforts.

    I’m not suggesting everyone must race to the nearest studio to put his podcast or videocast together before he misses the boat. There are far too many other ramifications involved if you get it all wrong. (Check out this great reference on how to avoid pitfalls and get it right.)

    New opportunities presented by search marketing have so many industry people buzzing with excitement about the future. But we’ll get nowhere fast if we still fail to get the buy-in at the senior level.

    One other nugget I took from the Burby/Atchison book: has anyone ever thought about just e-mailing the CEO to bring him up to speed?

    Maybe there is a simple answer!

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

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