Brave New Search World

While at the Search Insider Summit at Amelia Island, I found it increasingly clear for both users and marketers that the search landscape is fragmenting. It doesn’t feel like long ago when we would just “Google” anything we wanted to learn or discover.  But web users today, and not just young, savvy users, are adding new search tools to their toolbox when looking for answers to the questions they face every day -- questions you want to make sure your brand answers.

A recent New York Times article attributed to Google the stat that “thirty-six percent of people’s information needs are unmet.” But that isn’t stopping Google and sites like Yelp, Kayak, Amazon, LinkedIn, and Quora from trying their hardest to fill that gap.  And when you add in differing experiences on different device types, the fragmentation only accelerates.

But what does this fragmentation do to the search landscape? As with all things, there is some bad, some good – let’s look at a (small) sample of these pros and cons:

Cons

User experience: When there are many potential sources of information with varied quality, users have to take the extra step to understand the best place for what they need. This can be frustrating and can discourage users from finding the “best” answer.

Increase in marketing channels: Additional channels and marketing options are nothing new for digital marketers. But of course, search fragmenting definitely complicates marketers’ communication efforts. Marketers need robust analytics to help determine how to share budgets and optimize across all these information sources that allow for paid advertising.

Pros

Better answers (potentially): When services focus on a specific area, it opens the door for users to get “better quality” and specific answers. This drives users to return and ask similar questions and provides opportunities to market to those with strong intent.

Innovation: Of course, Google isn’t going to give up on trying to answer every question, Yelp and Foursquare will try to one up each other and Amazon will drive more investments in product searches elsewhere. By expanding the market, these companies are pushing more innovation and competition. This is almost always a positive for both users and marketers.

More options: While the increase in channels was under “cons,” it can also be a pro. A wider range of marketing options can help marketers by creating opportunities for improving results on a full portfolio basis.

It appears to me that there are certain items for which consumers are ready for a Google alternative.  Social recommendations, for example, is an area where Facebook and Foursquare are excelling but Google Plus is lagging significantly.  Users tend to trust shopping comparison to Amazon more than Google.  This is not a bad thing for consumers or marketers.  Google is great at a lot of things – but no one company can be great at all things.  Search and device fragmentation is a good thing – and as with all shifts in the digital marketing landscape, this is an opportunity for savvy marketers.

Tags: search
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2 comments about "Brave New Search World".
  1. Henry Blaufox from DragonSearch , May 3, 2013 at 10:19 a.m.
    If I may comment on Roger's second con," the increase in marketing channels and need for robust analytics: Yes, there is more work, but that is what the in-house team or digital agency is for, adding more value by digging deeper into the data. It is worth the extra time and spend to work with an agency that will provide not just raw reports, but actionable insights on the data across channels and platforms. Marketing executives should allocate more for this if necessary; I am sure it will have considerable ROI and will boost the bottom line.
  2. Rob Schmults from Intent Media , May 3, 2013 at 10:37 a.m.
    Good post Roger. And heartily agree that search "fragmentation" is a good thing for marketers, especially if it retains scale. So Amazon becoming the Google of Retail works because according to Forrester, more people are starting their retail shopping trips on Amazon than on Google. Amazon Product Ads offer not just quality and granularity, but sufficient scale to make it worth the effort. Same thing happening in travel (bias alert -- my own company is powering most of this). You can expect Facebook is going to become an increasingly valuable SEM channel too as they continue to improve their search and accompanying search monetization. Basically, keep an eye on anyone with potential scale and expect networks to form where the pockets of expressed intent are valuable, but sub-scale.