Search: The New Frontier

The fundamental changes in the search industry have become more evident to me than ever because I have just been reminded how much the consumer is driving these changes. I realized this because I'm missing Search Insider Summit at Captiva Island, Fla., due to a seven-day-old new daughter. Instead of being with my fellow industry pundits discussing the latest and greatest, I find myself at home juggling a two-and-a-half-year-old boy with more energy than a Cheetah on cocaine with a seven-day-old baby girl, a very tired and sore mom, and more family "help" than anyone should have to contend with.

Why am I sharing this?

Because it illustrates the shifts in our industry and what we need to do moving forward.

Steve Job recently said that search isn't where it's at. I think he is partially correct in that searching at (what we have come to view as) a traditional search engine is not the end game moving forward. Just from my experience over the last week I find myself and watch my family go to such an array of different sources to obtain information and stay connected that you can't argue the lessened dominance of the main engines.



Juggling life at this crazy time means that:

- Many of our questions get answered from consumer-driven communities where we are searching after logging in. Much of this process isn't indexed with the main engines.

- We are updating family and friends far and wide via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

- When we need food delivered or baby supplies in a hurry, we are using local apps to find the dining and retail outlets of choice.

- We are using SMS-based search to get a fast number when we know who we want and just don't have the digits handy.

- Depending on the family member, we are using Google and/or Bing -- both Web- and mobile-based on the iPhone and BlackBerry.

- We are using local search + map style apps to speed things up when we are lost finding a new store or a friend's house for a play date.

- I also recently bought tickets to the Boston Atoms for Peace show from a mobile site while sitting in the hospital.

What I am trying to show is that the game is changing in that large general search engines may no longer remain the dominant source for information, even though they may likely maintain the dominant volume of search traffic largely due to their reliance on navigational search queries. Searching as a behavior is not going anywhere, but how and where we search is changing. These changes are causing fragmentation in usage, access, and adoption. This is the foundation of what my peers are likely discussing at SIS as you read this. Some of the implications to what I have cited include:

Twitter's ad platform: this will need to be approached differently than search, as we know, because of the real-time nature. Advertisers and agencies should closely monitor this segment for good and bad momentum, then customize creative and landing pages to quickly leverage micro-opportunities. Advertisers may need to begin to increase SOV on a spot basis similar to the way traditional media folks buy TV or radio, because brands can game the system to get more exposure for key short periods of time.

Google's upgraded Twitter search feature: while only in beta, this presents some interesting opportunities to trend activity against a brand/company within a given period of time to see the potential impact on search queries.

Facebook search: social search will continue to steal a percentage of searches from the engines. Navigational and end-of-the-funnel queries will likely stay at the engines, but early funnel queries will shift to social-derived content and communities. This has massive implications for advertisers and as such Bing and Facebook need to find a better way of allowing advertisers to target or exclude Facebook, versus treating it as a syndication partner of Bing.

Delivery and data management: the fragmentation of searching across engine, device, and app creates unique logistical challenges to managing targeting, retargeting, and any sort of frequency goals due to overlap and a breakdown of the existing cookie tracking we are all used to.

With social media I have often used the analogy to "Star Trek," in that the social Web is not a new frontier, but the next generation. Mobile devices, ubiquitous broadband access, and new technology have spawned the current explosion of "social media." But with search, I am starting to think this really is a new frontier, since how we search as consumers is changing so drastically.

As a result, advertisers and agencies, as well as the technology and platform partners we select, have a new challenge: to stay efficient and effective while our industry scales and fragments. To do this we need to be able to track and target across engine, device, and app to a much better degree or we risk breaking the consumer value proposition that helped create this industry.

I hope my friends at SIS enjoy the sun and boil the ocean, leaving Captiva Island having solved the challenges with our new search frontier. OK, I don't really expect that, but I hope this article will make good fodder for someone -- Frank, Gord, Shappley, Jon, Henry, Micah?

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