Trend 1: Marketers will shift their focus from SEO to digital asset optimization to take advantage of universal search. We got this partially right. Search marketers certainly shifted their efforts to take advantage of video, social, and other non-page-based opportunities. And advertisers have begun to recognize the need for asset optimization, as evidenced by the increased frequency of "universal search" callouts in RFPs we've seen. Search engines, however, did not necessarily follow through in their embrace of universal search. The search results page is certainly more diverse today than it was 18 months ago, but not that much more diverse. Blue links still occupy the majority of SERP real estate, and a wholesale shift to multimedia search results has not occurred.
Trend 2: A new discipline will emerge creating value by exploiting search as a consumer research channel. This didn't happen, at least not at the scale we expected. While we see pockets of ad hoc "search as research" projects across the industry, we have not seen any business founded on this premise. Nor have we seen the major (or even minor) search engines release products tailored to tapping into search as a diagnostic tool for consumer demand.
Trend 3: Search-focused content strategies will emerge as a standard input into the Web development process. Diehard search marketers may be surprised to see this listed as a prediction and a trend. But until recently, big marketers have remained largely ignorant of the benefits of designing content to align with searcher intent. Our prediction was accurate, in that we have seen a shift in mindset in the user experience and content strategy community toward considering search query data in the site development process. If not a driving force behind site content, search data is at least utilized as an input into content development. Likely this will continue in 2009 and beyond, as this trend is evolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature.
Trend 4: Advertisers will shift their focus away from last-click attribution toward multi-click and custom attribution models. This happened, even more than we anticipated. Over the last year we saw dramatic shifts in the way multichannel advertisers evaluated their return on investment. Among the advertisers with whom we speak, at least, it's fair to say that last-click attribution methodology is a minority approach in theory if not in practice. In some cases search benefits from this, and in some cases it does not. Either way, advertisers are making smarter decisions about their marketing investments. This, too, is an evolutionary development, and will no doubt accelerate in 2009.
Keeping ourselves honest, we batted .625 in our predictions for 2008. In hindsight, our prognostications in last year's report do seem that bold. But this, perhaps, is simply a testament to the rapid pace at which our industry evolves. This year's report will be out in a few weeks. Check it out to see what trends (more likely than not) will unfold in 2009 and beyond.