The predominant engines of the past era are largely afterthoughts today. When is the last time you did a search on WebCrawler, Northern Light or Snap / NBCi?
Paid search wasn't any sort of a factor in the early years. Then, GOTO came along and bidding for positions was born. GOTO became Overture, which is now Yahoo. Many of today's advertisers probably weren't around when the top couple of paid spots on Google were called Premium Listings and were sold on a flat rate per-keyword basis, with an annual contract.
Who can forget the travails of LookSmart? In its heyday, it supplied paid results that appeared on the front page of MSN. As early adopters of a CPC model, it was an extremely cost-efficient channel. When LookSmart lost its distribution through MSN, the expectation was that its traffic volumes would drop dramatically. The opposite occurred, as pure MSN eyeballs were substituted for... we never figured out what.
For the past few years, the industry has ridden the shoulders of the big three (Google, Yahoo & MSN). Ask Jeeves has rebranded as ASK, yet it is not core to most programs. Given the resources of IAC Corp. and the breadth of its properties (Ticketmaster, Match.com, CitySearch, etc.) along with the commitment of Barry Diller, one expects some additional brand presence and a higher percentage of searches through its channels.
A noticeable hiccup to the paid search movement is the click fraud issue. We are not really sure how much of an issue it is, though. It seems like a bigger deal to individuals on the sidelines than to those who are participating in the marketplace and who are capitalizing on the opportunity that paid search presents. The buzz today is social marketing. Sites like MySpace, YouTube, flickr and Facebook are capturing huge amounts of attention as both sites that people frequent, along with their impact on boosting natural presence within the major engines. In addition to showing up in the natural results of Google, etc., look for contextual ads to begin appearing there in the near future. Another powerful dynamic of these sites is that they generally appeal to a younger demographic. This is significant in that as search matures and new visitors emerge, sites that cater to the interests of a younger generation are becoming popular.
Pick any metric, and it's clear we are in a growth industry. This benefits marketers on all sides of the fence. Lastly, to make sure we stay a bit grounded through all of the craziness, here's a telling quote that appeared last week on DMOZ, The Open Directory Project and the oldest directory on the Internet: "We are currently experiencing technical problems with our servers. Currently the public pages are static pages that have been generated from a backup. We do not currently have an ETA for the resolution of the technical difficulties. We will update this announcement when the system is fully functioning again."
Change is the constant within search. That's a function of the relative newness of the industry and the amount of attention and dollars it has received. If you are new to the space, dive in, as the opportunities abound. If you have been around for a while, take a step back to see how far we've come.