What Next?

It’s that time of the year again. As we look back on the year that was and prepare to charge forward into a fresh new year, let’s take a few moments to assess where we’ve been and try to determine where search is going in 2009.

Payback on Performance

Earlier this year, SEMPO forecast that online marketing would account for $15.7 billion of the total search marketing spend in 2008. The preliminary study, of course, didn’t account for the global economic downturn. Consequently, I guesstimate that 2008 actual search spend will likely finish between $9 billion and $10 billion. This wasn’t exactly a banner year for banner ads, among other venues.

The U.S. economy won’t make an automagic (define) turnabout in 2009, so it’s pretty safe to say search marketing budgets will further constrict next year. Don’t expect more than a 3 percent upturn in search marketing spending in 2009, and it won’t arrive until very late in the year. As budgets for PPC (define), e-mail marketing, banner ads, and online classifieds tighten up, the key to survival is ROI (define).

Advertisers will scrutinize their budgets like a dog will a bare bone and only go with those online venues that will generate a tangible, profitable return. Anything less than a documentable 12:1 return probably won’t make the cut, because no one is interested in paying for awareness anymore. Advertisers will, however, remain very interested in making investments that turn a profit year over year, which is good news for organic optimization initiatives, as we strive to make data-driven decisions that provide tangible results.

Mobility Matters

I’ve been saying that mobile marketing and optimization will explode next year since 2007. This coming year, I might actually be right, as 2008 will definitely go down in history as the year of the iPhone.

In August, Opus Research reported that 26 percent of mobile phone users access the Internet on their mobile devices and of those, 56 percent use search. Of these mobile search users, nearly one-third complete 11 searches per week. Compared to 18 searches per week for the average PC users, the iPhone and G3 PDAs will start to change the way we search.

An entire generation is coming of age in 2009 that will drive mobile search forward like a like a dust bunny in a nor’easter. Consequently, the demand for cross-platform search optimization will ascend to new highs in 2009.

Mobile devices put search at your fingertips, but how we search with mobile devices remains elusive. For both big and small businesses, mobile search is simply a matter of being seen and getting found.

If the search engines ubiquitously adopt hCard microformats for destination-based searches, online entities will be racing to embrace mobile marketing. But the yellow page content aggregators need to act fast if they want to play a role in the remarkable transition that looms large for mobile search next year.

Universally Blendable

Next year, search engine users will become more media agnostic. With blended and universal search results melding different forms of functions of searchable digital assets, new opportunities for universal optimization strategies will emerge for businesses small and large.

Big brands will finally understand the critical importance of ranking on page-one results for more than a pair of listings or a spattering of site links. By optimizing each facet of their digital assets in an orchestrated manner, big brands will create new opportunities to rank for news, blogs, audio, video, and image-based search. They’ll have to, because small businesses are dexterous enough to get there first.

As users become more multimedia-driven, the only way to really get a leg up on the growth of personalized search is to embrace a media-agnostic search marketing strategy that focuses on blended results. In 2009, search will definitively be the one-stop shop for all media — no matter what form, function, or device.

In Summary

So there you have it: my three big predictions for search in 2009. Yes, there will likely be some other interesting twists and turns in the near future. Google has maxed out its market share at almost 80 percent. This means Google’s lock on the market is just one next big thing away from being innovated into an also-ran position. Of course, that’s not going to happen next year.

The only major change among the engines will result from Yahoo and MSN figuring out their forces in the marketplace are better off united than divided. This will be pretty cool, because Ask will improve its market share as a result.

With 62 percent of the online universe using search engines on a daily basis, search remains the killer app that won’t diminish in a challenging economy. As it stands now, 2009 might be the best year ever for search if you focus on ROI, mobility, and ubiquity.

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