There's little doubt that web users' search preferences are evolving. A growing desire for more personalization, the widening need for more levels of information and the failure of general search engines to deliver on business-related searches are causing users to change their search habits. And as a result, second-generation search engines are gaining importance in the market.
Make it personal
A recent Personalization Survey (Choice Stream 2006) shows that consumers are willing to sacrifice privacy for personalized content.
This annual survey provides insight into current consumer preferences, showing an increasingly favorable trend toward personalization since 2005. Key findings in 2006 indicate that interest in personalization is strong, as 79 percent of consumers surveyed showed a preference for receiving personalized content.
The number of consumers willing to trade off privacy for personalization has also increased from 2005 to 2006, with 57 percent of consumers willing to provide personal demographic information in exchange for personalized content in 2006. This is a significant increase (24 percent) compared to the 2005 result of 46 percent willing to trade privacy for personalization.
Searching my way
People have diverse search needs that can range from very specific purchase behavior to informational searching on topics such as health or leisure. The internet audience is varied, as well, ranging from GenYers flocking to MySpace, to Baby Boomers seeking simple pleasures and the fountain of youth.
Stratification web audiences results in many different ways of searching, spawning a new generation of search engines. This has implications for marketers, as targeting becomes the latest buzz word in search and every other online marketing channel.
Many people find that general search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft Live are not the be-all and end-all for their web searches. That's because general search engines are so cluttered with all the information that's fit to index that many queries bring irrelevant results.
Research has revealed a search failure rate of 31.9 percent on general search engines among business users (Outsell 2006). Another study by Convera (2006) reveals that professionals in every industry can't find vital, work-related information on major search engines.
Part of the problem is that general search engines were not designed as business tools. Beyond that, most business executives are not trained to search the web. As a result, only four out of 10 professionals are satisfied with general search engines. Convera's survey of business executives reports the following-- not very good news for Google and Yahoo:
- 11 percent always found what they were looking for on the first attempt.
- 43 percent always found what they were looking for after several attempts.
- 21 percent felt their queries were always understood.
Results like those of Outsell and Convera encourage the continued localization and verticalization of search. In fact, we are seeing a whole new generation of search engines, each with a mission to personalize search based on idiosyncratic user needs.
While general search engines basically rank by the largest number of inbound links from other highly ranked pages within their index, a second generation of search engines has started to rank by various factors, including the human element.
Perhaps Yahoo was among the first innovators with Yahoo Mindset, where you can choose commercial vs. noncommercial results. Yahoo describes this as intent-driven search where users specify their intent, selecting the most relevant results. Clusty also came out with something new by grouping similar items together and organizing search results in folders. Since then, there have been many different types of search engines launched to better meet user needs. Perhaps the latest entries are Eons and Cranky for Boomers and seniors. Here you can find fun and games for the over-50 crowd in addition to health, travel and obits.
Some of the most interesting newbies include Rollyo and Collarity. Rollyo is a social search engine that allows users to create and publish their own search engine rolls by selecting websites for inclusion. Collarity is a community search engine that personalizes search through human input. It automatically serves results specific to user interests using information gained from previous queries.
Local search land grab
Local online advertising is on the upswing. eMarketer's current estimate shows the U.S. local online ad spend at $1.3 billion in 2006, representing 7.9 percent of a total U.S. online ad spend of $16.7 billion. If the local online ad spend were to double this year to $2.6 billion, it would still represent roughly 10 percent of the estimated $20.3 billion total ad spend for 2007.
Local online advertising growth is there for the asking, and it remains to be seen who will grab the ring. There is a huge opportunity to dominate local search that is currently not claimed by any one sector. Local newspapers could go for it, as well as the yellow pages. Actually, the general search engines could own it as well.
Offline newspapers get 18 percent of local ad dollars ($90 billion per year). However, online newspapers only get four percent, leaving an opportunity for growth. While local advertising used to be a cash cow for newspapers, they are being preempted by the web, where sellers can get free classifieds, and buyers have multiple choices at their fingertips.
The yellow pages are a different story. While offline yellow pages get 10 percent of local ad dollars, online yellow pages get 42 percent of the pie. It looks like online yellow pages are ahead, but no one owns the space yet.
Vertical search targeting
We mentioned the difficulty of finding work-related information through general search engines. The Convera study identified a trend showing that trade publications are developing niche search engines to serve their professional communities. These verticals will likely provide more relevant search opportunities for B2B users. When Convera asked respondents about expectations for these new vertical search engines (VSEs), almost 90 percent of the executives said they thought vertical search tools would offer more relevant content:
- 86 percent thought VSEs would locate content more quickly.
- 85 percent thought VSEs would offer access to content not indexed by general search engines.
While the rationale for indexing and including all of the world's content is based on a search engine's need to provide unbiased, unfiltered information, there are certainly advantages to filtering and limiting content based on user needs. That is why most major search engines segment their databases into various content areas such as image, video, news, local and blog search, et cetera. However, the verticals seem to do a better job of providing relevant results, and that is the reason for their increasing popularity.
It may take some time before local and vertical search dominate in cyberspace, but these specialty search engines could one day become more important than Google.
Jason Prescott is CEO of JP Communications. .