Looking Forward to Looking Back

One of my favorite t-shirts is a giveaway I received in high school from Jostens, a yearbook and memorabilia company, with its motto emblazoned across the chest: "Looking forward to looking back."

With all of this forecasting and punditry of what will be the next big thing and which developments of today will mean something tomorrow, it's helpful to reflect on occasion. As this column marks over a year of Search Insider contributions, today we'll look back on some articles to see how they help us look forward.

On a personal note, which I think I can extend on behalf of MediaPost as well, thanks for your readership, and I look forward to continuing the conversations these articles helped create, regardless of where the road ahead takes us.

Now, on to the Search Insider yearbook:

Absent on Picture Day: The first column written, "The Thick-Shelled Win the Search Race," never ran, since another columnist ended up penning a similarly themed search engine marketing guide. A running "tortoise and the hare" metaphor stressed careful planning for search, rather than diving in too fast.

"[The tortoise] divvied up his budget over 18 months, running a balanced natural search optimization and paid search effort that, six months into it, brought him first-page rankings and a 3.0 return on investment, justifying him increasing the budget throughout the campaign... Bring on the hares."

Most Jolly: "Let the Chrismukkah Planning Begin" is a timely rerun, as last August, it urged marketers to think about holiday season search engine marketing plans comfortably before quarter four. As a bonus, pop culture references included "The O.C." and "Batman."

"If you're planning to spend big this holiday season, whether you're in retail, travel, health, or another relevant vertical (health offers fun possibilities during the holidays, as searches for 'weight loss' and 'acid reflux' should spike after the third helping of yams), think about strategy and budget now."

Most Likely to Succeed: There's a tie among predictions that should ultimately come true.

One, "Viewing Customers in Context," described the quality of searches being different depending on how people are searching. For instance, a user going to a search engine will likely be more receptive to advertising than someone using desktop search and looking for a file on his own computer. The sentiment was echoed more recently in "Jeeves and BitTorrent Damming the Deluge," which urged search engines to give marketers more control over where their ads appear. From "Context":

"In the meantime, marketers should be prepared for Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and others to rewrite the rules of search (again). Even though people may be able to soon search for any kind of content (Web sites, e-mail, files, multimedia, etc.) anywhere and any way they choose, it doesn't mean all searches are equal."

The other was a personal favorite, "The Many Faces of Local." It postulated why Barry Diller and InterActiveCorp would spend nearly $2 billion on Ask Jeeves. Based on a gut reaction and feedback to the column, I'm convinced this will play out as envisioned.

"Jeeves, the beloved Ask.com butler, could become the face of local search if Diller invests in it with the same type of fervor in which he bid for Ask Jeeves in the first place. Some readers will be skeptical; this columnist is too. Yet Diller has two assets to exploit: vision and opportunity."

Most Popular: Fittingly, the most mail any column generated was the one that had the least to do with search engine marketing, "Braving the New World of Lower Merion." Lower Merion High School alumni are well represented among MediaPost's readership, and they got a kick out of the quotes from students.

"Born in the late 80s and early 90s, most [LMHS students] have grown up in an environment where the first place to look for information is not in a newspaper, phone book, or encyclopedia but online, starting with a search engine. Think of how pervasive search engines are for you; now think of what that means for a growing body of people who have used search engines their entire lives."

Class Clown: Most readers recognized "The Search Interface of the Future" as satire. It offers a warning of what could happen if search engines pay too much attention to making the ads prominent and neglecting consumer search preferences.

"After years of the search engines testing consumer preferences and patience, a battery of new research showed consumers voted overwhelmingly for the natural results with their clicks, spending, and preferences. The ever-savvy consumers trained themselves to scan the natural results first regardless of where they appeared on the page."

Throughout the columns, we've unearthed a number of questions that still don't have easy answers. Many deal with the naming conventions of search engine sub-markets. What's the definition of vertical search, and does eBay count as a vertical search site? Is all mobile search inherently local? What is social search?

Let's look forward to more questions to come.

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