Drilling For Information: The Evolution Of Search

Predicting the future is a dangerous business. There are usually two schools of approach. There's the flying car Jetsons version and there's the Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke 2001 version. One focuses on the grand and flashy, while the other is centered in a far more intellectual evolution.

We have an unfortunate third version at work in today's search marketing space. It is one that centers around tired cliches and big statements that don't equal bold developments. Cliches such as "we are in the early innings" mixed with chest-puffing comments about the future of all media being search-driven are tainting our industry's credibility to be more than a one-trick pony. Frankly, this view of the future is most dangerous because it fails to evoke or capture the imagination. It is a convenient form of settling and the antithesis of what is needed.

The problem with search is that the object of the game is not to search. Hide and Seek is a game about being found. Where search today fails us is that it is still very much about the hunt -- and not the kill.



Success in search comes with the intersection of consumer intent and content, be it advertiser-driven via paid listings and SEO efforts, or via algo-produced results containing independent information. This relevancy point has enabled a jumping-off spot for the user that presents a promise, but not a guarantee, of a positive outcome for their efforts. And it is this inability to deliver certainty on every search -- or even half of all searches -- that threatens to stagnate the space without changes to the interface of search.

Last year, prior to the launch of Bing, I sat with Yusuf Mehdi and others at Microsoft as they presented why search user satisfaction scores were not nearly as strong as one might think. In short, the single biggest problem was that search had become a back and forth of clicking, returning to SERP and then clicking again. Given that so much of the value of search focuses on information-gathering, it's not surprising that even when people are finding exactly what they want, it's still a tedious process to collate the data into something useful.

There's very little wrong fundamentally with the intent piece of the search equation. The introduction of more visual components into a results page will help -- as will establishing specific practices for behavioral targeting options. From an advertiser standpoint, the cost equation could always be more transparent, and over time will need evaluation if there are further diminishing returns as more advertisers of all sizes come into the marketplace. But, that's not the place of largest short-term evolution.

The evolution to come with the futuristic opportunity in search is best imagined in the scene from "Minority Report" when Tom Cruise uses touch technology to parse through information from numerous sources to get the answer he seeks. In fact, recently a new app for the iPad launched called Flipboard.This app may portend the future of consumer control in not only seeking information but organizing and being able to drill down through the innumerable data sources to reach the core of their expressed intent.

It is yet another example of how organized content is no longer the domain of Dewey and his decimal system, but a part of a new infrastructure of how we are wiring our lives to suit personal preference. And it is in that personal preference and interface that search is reimagined into drilling. Drilling is about using the intent starting point of search to go through the proverbial looking glass and into deeper elements of data. The destination is the objective, not the process. U2 may have made a hit out of proclaiming they still hadn't found what they were looking for, but when people drill they have an outcome in mind.

In my next column I'll explore how drilling could manifest itself, and hopefully incorporate user thoughts on how companies could use drilling to provide depth and insights into their business while gaining resonance with their audience.

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