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March 22, 2011

Search: Where to Next? — SES New York 2011

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First real session of the conference and we’re here with moderator Anne F. Kennedy, SES Advisory Board, International Search Strategist, Beyond Ink USA.

Our speakers will be Josh McCoy, Lead Strategist, Vizion Interactive; Rob Garner, Vice President Strategy, iCrossing; Eli Goodman, Search Evangelist, comScore, Inc.; Duane Forrester, Senior Program Manager, Bing. They’ll be telling us all about the future of search. My crystal ball says mobile, local and social media will be discussed.

L to R: Goodman, Garner, McCoy, Forrester

Search: where to next? Panel

There is no way to be witty for me right now. I’m craving a bagel like nobody’s business. Also a power outlet. Why is there no power? I don’t mind typing on my lap but my batteries are unhappy.

Anne introduces the session and the panel. Five years ago, there was no Twitter. Ten years ago, there was no Google. So what will we see in the next five or ten years?

The guys all introduce themselves to establish their bona fides but they have speaker bios so I’ll let you read them at your leisure.

We’re having one of those free for all panels without presentations. Yippee.

We have Facebook, Google, Youtube — are likes replacing links?
Eli: Last month, Google 10B searches. YouTube 3B. Facebook 6 million. He doesn’t think likes are replacing links just yet. He thinks maybe in 5 or 10 years but he’s concerned about things becoming too personalized and unique. You lose that education discovery factor.

Rob: He’s done a lot of research into social signals. He thinks we’re moving into an area of increased social influence. Facebook likes are not going to wholly replace links but the social graph is indeed taking away from the link graph and it does influence and will continue to influence. But it’s still apples and oranges. Is Facebook going to eat into Google? No. Social signals and likes to contribute in some aspects. Right now, they’re useful. When they stop being useful, the engines will stop using them. In five years, we may not see them.

Josh: Agrees with the previous two. He thinks social signals are easier to game than links. Google’s been cleaning house recently for poor content and he thinks that social signals are a good way to find good content for the engines.

Duane: Social is a great signal because they get to the root of intent. We have to understand the basis of the query in order to give the right result and social contributes to that. If you  have 1000 friends, it might influence you but it might not be enough. They need to be able to judge however whether or not your friends are an authority on a subject. If they ride horses to work, they won’t know the best place to get your oil changed. They need to parse what’s personally relevant versus what’s globally relevant.  Likes will not replace links and he doesn’t think people should try to game it (Shocking!)

Can we discuss personalization?

Eli: It’s all about local. They know who you are and what you want. It’s not messing up your experience like pop-ups.  However, too much personalization could be a bad thing. The person you are today might not be the person you are in five or ten years. Are the systems able to see the growth? Search is not all that you are for that matter. It won’t end up being too personal because there are things that you don’t know you need.

Duane: That’s what I think of when I think of personalization. Certainly we incorporate it into Bing, how many have you seen that? [Crickets] How many of you are using Bing? [A few souls brave the giggles and raise their hands.] Personalization will grow out of apps. You need to have smart apps that can figure out if you’re driving or walking when you’re looking for a restaurant and give you meaningful results. That’s where personalization really comes into play. It’s about giving the right content ot people when they’re looking at it.

Josh: People want search to be an extension of their experience. When people log in to something, they want to see what’s new, what’s changed. On-site personalization helps with returning visitors.

Rob: Localization is one of the most sensible uses of personalization. There’s so much room for tangents and error in personalization. Right now in Google, about 20 percent of the page might be personalized. They want it to be familiar and not shocking. It’s a subjective experience. What are your intentions, your problems? There’s an inference of credibility from being “number one”, so if we don’t necessarily want to know what our number one is, we want the objective search engine view of what’s number one. There’s also the creepy factor. If you get a complete reflection spit back to you, that’s creepy and off-putting. That much personalization is ten years out because we’re not ready for it. Matt Cutts has said that ‘we may value your data more than you do’  — we give them data and they feel the need to use it.

Eli: 10 years down the road there will be an evolution in the science of intent. In 10 years, you might be able to search for things by inflection and return results by that emotional connection. Perhaps it’ll pick up syntax and regional patter.

Is it possible or impossible to monetize personalization?

Eli: Monetization as far as personalization. For example, potentially tagging a product in a phone and getting revenue from people buying that. Not direct response but brand marketing. The money will start to move online more and more in the future.

Rob: It’s a tough nut to crack. We look at search being last click attribution. The reality is that there’s a much deeper process behind that action. There’s a real person behind that and they’re giving you a window into a very complex thinking process. There’s a profound way to engage with these users. Once that’s realized, that’s when the brand dollars will come over.  The engines have all that data, not just personas but patterns of groups and exact users. How far can you go? There’s privacy issues there. When AOL’s data was leaked, it was fairly easy to track the anonymous numbers back to the real people.  Personas are a fictitious model of a customer but the engines have the real things.

Duane: He thinks it’s an exciting opportunity and there are avenues that no one has even looked at yet. At the rate things move, five to ten years might really be three years.

Do I ever have to get off the sofa in the future or can I do all my searching and buying from right there?

Josh: We live in a world of convenience. We have voice search, we don’t even have to type anymore. There’s visual search. 10 years from now, he does indeed think that we won’t even have to move our arms.

Duane: Kinect means that you don’t even need a laser pointer. However, you will need to get up to go to the door still.  He doesn’t think it will lead to being more sedentary. Instead he thinks it’ll be about making our time more efficient, and freeing you up to live your life. If you can order your groceries with a gesture, you’ll have more time for your family.

[He’s wrong. We’re totally going to become blobs.]

Rob: Search is never going to go away, websites are not going away. But there’s another aspect of search growing with the touch interface and the new developments of search input. Reordering your groceries off the fridge or new vacuum bags from the vacuum itself. This is just beginning to be developed.

Eli: Have any of you ever played GTA or World of Warcraft? Everything’s interactive? The world is going to be like that. [….it already is? You can interact with stuff in the real world already. It’s real.]  You’ll be able to scan everything, identify anything.

Anne: How many of you still use the Yellow Pages? [No one, obviously.] I couldn’t figure out how to use it! It’s not by keyword. You have to know their terminology. I couldn’t do it, so I went to Google.

Is the fate of Borders the fate of everything? Will we see what’s in America becoming global?

Eli: He thinks that people will be gaming the system. There will always be people looking to exploit (Anne says “not exploit, opportunities”).

Rob: [missed this, check Lisa’s coverage]

Josh: The web made the world small and social media made the world even smaller. International SEO is still about TLDs and hosting. Social media is the way to go truly global.

Duane: We have to work within the limits of the laws of the country we’re in.

Q: I have a question for the Bing guy? [Hee.] When did you implement the search box within the travel search for expedia?

Duane: There’s only so much I can say about it. But basically we’re looking to shorten the task completion for visitors. It’s a test we’re running.

Q: What is more important, location based search or social search?

Duane: You can’t choose. If you have to focus on something, be careful where you put your time. We really want good deep authoritative content. Whether that’s local or social, doesn’t matter. What we need is the best answer and to do that you need to give it to us. It’s never as simple as “local is more important”. If you’re a coffee shop? Yeah. But social is still important too.  Have a plan that incorporates all of the above.

Josh: You can go local-social. You’ll integrate social information into your local optimization. You don’t have to choose and you shouldn’t. He loves local search, that’s his passion.

Rob: The answer is “both” and “it depends”. [Person who asked is in recruiting] Obviously both are important for recruiting.

Eli: Looking ahead, he thinks local maturation is going to happen faster than social.

Q: What’s the challenge in transferring content between companies?

Rob: The issue is that there’s basically a privacy issue. They’re irked at Google because Google was picking up any information it could find on an open network. So now there are laws being implemented to mask information, and protect it. They’re looking at what privacy looks like on that digital rights level. There’s no legal precedent for any of this.

Q: Automated links vs link-bait

Duane: We like relevant links that are good quality with links to other good quality relevant content. Don’t try to game the system. [Other search engine basic 101 information.] It’s always about quality content.

Rob: There’s one word that should be the new word for SEO: Engagement. It’s all about engagement. Create engaging content, get it to propogate and engage your target audience through good quality content. Low quality pages are not going to cut it anymore. If you engage people, the rest will follow.

Duane: Think less in terms of SEO and more in terms of CO (content optimization). However that content is out there, video, text, images, whatever. We want the content. Think of search in terms of Find; Complete.

Anne: That’s how searchers think of things. They want the content.

Q: Paid side: when will I get the ability to do remarketing from the search engine themselves?

Duane: …come see me after the session. It’s not something I can answer immediately but I’ll get you in touch with someone.

Takeaways:

Duane: Quality Content, Rich Snippets, Getting people from “doing” to “done”.

Josh: Content. Stop doing SEO with your blinders on. It’s about engaging. There’s a viral component. You need to have unique data that’s purposeful. Pay more attention to Video and images.

Rob: Content is exploding. There’s a gap between the search demand and the content that’s available. You need to have the content to match the query. Build long-term content. Sustainable SEO is abut quality content.  Understand how that content is disseminated through social networks.  Advanced SEO is about taking the “basics” of SEO and doing them over and over again until you understand them long-term.

Eli: Look at what your competition is doing. That’s how you see the future. Someone else is already there. Learn from the people who are ahead of you. Figure out how they’re beating you.

Anne: Sound like three things are Content, Customers and Competition

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