Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Search Trends To Watch 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 (362 million). Queries on eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon combined (980 million) nearly rival (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.

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.

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