2022: A Search Odyssey

In my last column, I shared SEM lessons learned from my ten-year Bonnaroo reunion. One of the more heady revelations I had at the festival was that “a lot can happen in 10 years.”

As I think about the 20-year reunion in 2022, many questions come to mind:

  • How soon should I put in my request for a hall pass?
  • Will my kids think I’m cool or lame for going?
  • How much will a gallon of gas cost?
  • Will Phish still be doing their thing?
  • What’s that blinking over there?
  • How will the world of search marketing look?

For the sake of this column, let’s put that last one in our pipe and smoke it.

Search Siri-ndipity

Two weeks ago, at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple announced a Siri-es (ok, I’ll stop now!) of updates to the greatest app of all including support for iPad, nine total languages, and fifteen countries. Apple also disclosed that it was dropping Google Maps in favor of a proprietary mapping application built on TomTom data with 3D views, real-time traffic info and heavy local search integration a la Yelp reviews.

When Apple first acquired Siri, I said the company was serious (see that restraint?) about search. With each passing release, Apple’s ambitions for search are becoming clearer. Apple is not out to create a better search engine. It’s out to create a better search experience. Say goodbye (pun intended) to typing keywords. Say goodbye to clicking links. Say hello to speaking instructions. And say hello to accomplishing actions. Behold the future (and end) of search as we know it!

Search Mark-eting

In a world bereft of keywords and links, what becomes of search marketing? Will Jobs’ legacy cost us our jobs? Hardly.

“Mark” my words, friends, like Radiohead at this year’s Bonnaroo, search marketers will not only still be relevant in 10kls years, we’ll be peaking. Here’s what an SEM job description might look like:

  • Create innovative campaigns across all screens (in-home, at-work, in-transit, in-store, etc.) to reach target audience at point of decision
  • Manage paid inclusion programs across Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, and Baidu platforms
  • Develop and manage feeds for bidirectional sync of brand assets with mobile applications 
  • Build promotional and merchandising strategies to effectively position assets in the considered set for relevant consumer actions and drive conversion

Search SIM-plification

So what can search marketers do today to prepare for a 2022 search odyssey? The answer surfaced at an event I was a part of a few weeks ago -- the SIM Partners SIMposium. The focus was local marketing, and the event featured presentations on all the hot topics like SoLoMo, along with the requisite freestyle rap.

In the final session of the day, we talked about how marketers can get ready for a future that’s as unpredictable as a Questlove-led Superjam. I singled out digitization as the single most important thing companies can do today. 

It may seem obvious that, to compete in a digital world, organizations must get, well, digital -- but it’s not always clear just what that means. In chapter 17 of my book, I recounted a meeting in 2006 with Google’s Jim Lecinski (of ZMOT fame) “preaching about the importance of brands unlocking all their assets -- video, images, PDFs, etc. -- and making them available for consumption online.” Today, this is a must for any company hoping to compete in the organic search rankings. Tomorrow, however it will be a must for any company hoping to compete for placement in the “actions” delivered by digital assistants like Siri.

Looking even further out, we must consider what happens when our digital assistants begin communicating with each other… without us. Here’s an excerpt from a 2007 Search Insider column I wrote about Peter Morville’s concept of Ambient Findability.

“…as Morville surmises, it won’t be long before RFID allows ‘products, possessions, pets, and people [to be] all rendered into findable objects.’

Consider what happens when objects are not only findable but can communicate with each other. Morville paints a picture of a world in which ‘PCs are replaced with tiny, invisible computers embedded in everyday objects.’ In this environment ‘objects consume their own metadata.’

As an example, he cites a scenario in which the phone ringing alerts the stereo to lower the volume so that a man can take a call from his sister about their mom’s recent health issues. The man’s Web ‘agent’ then looks up a treatment, identifies a local specialist, cross-references the doctor’s ratings and acceptable insurance plans, and books an appointment.”

Well, we’ve got our Web agent, haven’t we, Siri? Now we just need all the objects to get in line. And align they will.

This is where the second imperative for marketers comes in. Simply digitizing is not enough. As Gib Olander of Localeze chimed in on the SIMposium panel, companies must begin organizing all their digital assets and assigning metadata. The search engines -- check that, decision engines, nay, action engines -- of tomorrow will seek out structured data sets to meet the objectives of their users.

But forget 2022. Digitization and organization can help you today. If you want to appear on Apple’s new map or any other local, social, and/or mobile platform, you’ll need to have your online business identity established. And, if you’re in a business category featuring dynamic product inventory and merchandising, you can/should be leveraging organized data feeds to connect back-end systems with paid search campaigns for automatic creation and optimization of keywords, ads, and landing pages based on actual availability, pricing, and promotions.

Who knows what 2022 will bring by way of Bonnaroo, search -- or anything else, for that matter? The only thing that’s certain is what a long, strange trip it’ll be!

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