SearchTHIS: Where Do We Go from Here?

At next week’s iMedia Agency Summit in lovely Amelia Island, Florida, hundreds of key industry decision makers will descend upon the sunshine state’s jewel. We will ponder, obsess over, and even action the online marketing universe. At the end of an exhausting three days (as is often the case with iMedia events) we will be fatigued, enlightened, and dare I say, better marketers.

Among the panel discussion topics is the future of search. While it is customary to review said discussions in the post summit wrap-ups, the anarchist in me thought it would be a great idea to give iMedia readers an opportunity to sound off and be heard on the discussion points of next week’s search focused working group forum.

I have assembled an A-List group of industry moguls, gurus and thinkers to help guide our discussion.  They are (in order of appearance):  Bob Visse, Director of Marketing, MSN Search; Ron Belanger, Vice President, Search Engine Marketing, Carat Interactive; Bob Heyman, Chief Search Officer, Media Smith and Greg Sterling, Senior Analyst, The Kelsey Group. I asked each member of the panel to suggest ideas for the discussion and ultimate resolution of five key areas of search.

Without further delay, I bring you the consensus for your review and comment. 

The very notion: measurement

The future of the small portion of online advertising (that was sarcasm: search represents forty percent of spending) that we call search has been the subject of much conjecture this year. A large part of the foundational growth of search can be attributed to the immediate accountability search provides. That is to say, a click often leads to a purchase, but what about other metrics?

Brand is a buzzword, but getting marketers to buy into brand advertising metrics for search is another matter. In search, branding is often an excuse for failed direct campaigns: i.e., nobody bought anything, but there was plenty of branding to be had in that campaign.

There have been studies that point to branding as a key element of search. Most notable was the IAB’s research of last July. Has the needle moved since then? Are marketers happy with brand impact as metric for search, or is branding still an excuse for failure?

Alternative search

The business of search is often a directive concern. Keywords are optimized for big search sites, and the market leading search destinations, like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN, represent the bulk of traffic for most search marketers.

What about the other entry points of search? Vertical directories like Business.com and provider Industry Brains offer sound advertising options for search marketers. Shopping engines are all the rage, but will this category grow out of the affiliate marketing mess they have created? How about second tier directive search options like FindWhat and LookSmart? How will social networks impact search?

Today, the search buy is limited and one could argue that a few providers control pricing. One could also argue that it is still early in the game and anyone can win the battle for search mindshare. Do we have room for more players, and what will the winners look like?

True relevance

I was actually thinking of doing a Quentin Tarantino "True Romance" spoof here. Relevance is a battle ground in search today. Special interest groups are hard at work brainwashing consumers into thinking sponsored listings are evil. Meanwhile, back at the marketing budget, targeting searchers is the hot topic of the day.

Marketers want a more contextually relevant value positioning statement for search. The cold harsh reality of search is that we know very little about how users interact with the search page, short of direct observation. Yahoo recently released a study that indicated search had a direct relationship with display advertising on the web. Is this research a sign of things to come?

Wouldn’t it be great if we truly understood how search interacts, not only with the online experience, but with offline initiatives and with purchase behavior as well? Search programs would no longer be restricted to keywords and immediate desired action requirements. How long will it take to truly integrate search into a next generation targeting plan?

Getting personal

Will the evolution of desktop, archiving technologies and personalization all change how we view search forever? Just imagine what marketing models will look like when search results include everything from  geographically relevant results to friends suggested links and things you might wish to buy. Directive search results as we know them today will be a thing of the past. I’ll use search as a utility to keep track of everything on my computer, my gadgets, my favorite television shows and perhaps even my relationships.

Despite the advances in making search a more personal experience, privacy concerns abound. Google’s AutoLink feature could have been received better, and the “are they or aren’t they” reading my email to serve me ads question has sparked a question or two in the space.

Is the privacy issue hyped-up paranoia or justified concern? Where will concerns over anonymity converge with a better, more efficient search experience?

Life after text

Search today is boring. Search is the most creatively benign form of marketing ever conceived. In an effort to spice up the search experience, will we lose the very thing that made search popular?

It seems that every week a new and exciting development in the world of search takes place. Google recently launched a new and better way to for advertisers to reach contextually relevant buyers with graphic ads. Video and audio searching are the immediate next technology steps for a new and better search, while still better technologies are farther off in the horizon.

How much is too much? Can everything be piled on to a search result like a New York deli mile-high pastrami sandwich? When will consumers say enough is enough and want their good old simple search experience back?

Sound off

There are lots of issues that will shape the growth and ultimate expansion of search as a marketing discipline, and a few other top runners-up in the discussion format are worth mentioning. Fraudulent click traffic, for example, is still top of mind for advertisers, but we have yet to see any real estimates of just how much traffic is less than on the level. Another close runner-up was the local conundrum. The biggest problem with local directories can be summed up this way: technology is great, but what about accurate data?

Here’s you chance to sound off. Which factor do you think have the biggest impact on the future of search? How will new technologies change the way we think about connecting with audiences with keywords? Let me know via email.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Mr. Ryan is the principal of Kinetic Results, Inc. a New York based online presence management firm.

Meet Kevin Ryan at the iMedia Summit, May 22- 25.

 

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