Search Trends To Watch In 2009

Here’s my last column of the year for MediaPost. Thanks for your readership, and I look forward to your feedback on my posts to come in 2009.

Between the economy affecting stock prices
and the potential mergers and acquisitions discussed among several of
the major search engines, there is a lot of uncertainty as we head into
2009. Yet we can anticipate several shifts in search based on what
we’ve seen over the past decade and other signs in the media ecosystem.
Here are some major changes to anticipate:

Holistic — In Every Sense

The word “holistic” should play out in a number of ways:

First, any significant media campaign or offline event drives search
volume, so marketers must capture that demand by integrating search
with other media planning.

Next, paid search and SEO should be
planned in tandem for the best results. Several studies show that by
integrating search engine marketing with search engine optimization,
results are greater than the sum of its parts.

Lastly, expect
the major search engines and others to push forward with new ways to
infuse paid search listings with display and video media. This will
make search also about engagement and not just clicks and conversions.
To some degree, these new search engine offerings will be motivated by
more concentrated efforts to attract large brand marketers .
Additionally, given how effective search engine marketing is, the
engines and portals will want to have a steady stream of upsell
options. In the coming year, consumers may experience the most dramatic
shift in the format of search engine results pages since the basic
template was established roughly a decade ago.

Search Fragmentation

While the search engine landscape continues to be dominated by one
player, new complexities keep emerging as search migrates far beyond
the traditional engines.

This fall, comScore and Ad Age
reported that YouTube surpassed Yahoo as the second-largest search
engine; within days, YouTube announced its new search advertising
platform. What’s more, MySpace (563 million U.S. queries in October
2008, according to comScore) is a bigger search engine than both AOL
(424 million) and Ask.com (362 million). Queries on eBay, Craigslist,
and Amazon combined (980 million) nearly rival MSN.com (1.04 billion).

What does all of this mean for marketers?

It’s true that not all queries are created equally. A searcher on a
social network or video sharing site often wants something different
than what they’re looking for on a standard search engine. But given
the volume of consumer search activity (among other interactions) on
these nontraditional search sources, it’s important for marketers to be
positioned the best way possible where those searches are happening.

New Models for SEO

These other search sources don’t just operate in a vacuum; they impact
the major search engines, too. Search engine optimization is shifting,
from a focus of entirely maximizing a site’s rank in the engines, to
maximizing a site’s reach across all the top-ranked listings on a
search engine’s results page. While many consumers go directly to a
marketers’ site, which should be positioned as prominently as possible
in search engine results pages, many more consumers reach marketers
through intermediary properties. These include blogs, social networks,
photo sharing sites, Twitter, Wikipedia, and countless other social
sites that tend to rank increasingly well in search engines. That means
marketers have to shift their mindset from optimizing their Web site to
optimizing their Web presence.

Your Car Engine’s Your Search Engine

The biggest change in 2009 and beyond is that the device consumers
search from will start to matter even more than which engine they use. Artist's conception of GPS satellite in orbitImage via Wikipedia

The most obvious manifestation of this is mobile consumption. New
mobile devices and platforms such as the iPhone and Google Android are
focused on improving the search and Web experience. This will fuel
searches from mobile devices; iPhone users enter a disproportionate
number of mobile search queries, though other devices are catching up.

Marketers need to adapt their strategies to reach their target
audiences on these devices, such as by optimizing messaging and landing
pages, and providing more consumer value by leveraging the unique
features of these devices. For instance, mobile devices support
integration with SMS (text messaging), click-to-call, mobile couponing,
and location-based services, all of which take advantage of the mobile
platform in ways that aren’t as natural for PC-based Web advertising.

Over time, this trend of searches shifting beyond the PC will encompass
far more than mobile phones. Consider the new set-top boxes and
television models that make it easier to search from the TV, while
delivering a hybrid TV-Web experience. Then there’s vehicle telematics
— anyone who’s searched for a restaurant, attraction, or drug store
via a GPS device on the road will appreciate how valuable that can be.
With all of these examples, and others to come, the device plays a
significant role in how and why consumers search.

 

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