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August 17, 2010

Search: Where to Next — SES San Francisco

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Moderator:

Graham Mudd, Vice President, Search & Media, comScore, Inc.

Speakers:

Quite a full session with standing-room only in this session today. It looks like everyone is eager to get the conference started. With it being so close to lunch … hopefully they will be able to retain the info covered and hopefully their minds won’t wander to what the conference will be serving up for lunch.

Marc Poirier is up first. He’s from Acquisio and he’ll be looking at search engine marketing as a discipline. How is search changing and how is it going to change in the future?

ses san francisco logo

Marc’s first slide talks about percentages and budgets for online. Forrester predicts that advertising spend will double and reach $54 billion in the next few years. Money will transition from traditional marketing to online. [Meaning that there will be a lot of money waiting to be spent.]

Another prediction is that attribution, the ability to track, will change and allow you to see how money is spent, plus it will make sense of the interaction of all the sources, including those that result in conversion. He predicts that in the future we’ll stop looking at the “last click” and start looking at the bigger picture and how various events cause a result.

Also on the horizon, Marc thinks that access to purchase display, similar to an ad exchange or hub, will be readily available. Real-time display bidding will become a bigger influence. He also warns that if you aren’t familiar with what’s available for display, then you’d better get familiar. For example, you can now purchase display similar to keyword bidding with control over display times, impressions, etc.

Performance marketing is what Marc believes the marketers’ job will become. In the future, you aren’t going to be only search marketers, but performance marketers to include social, video and more, plus marketing across all channels including online, mobile, etc.

This means that marketers will need to have different skills. Today we are a mix of traditional skills that may or may not have anything to do with the Internet marketing industry. Soon, companies will start looking to hire professionals like mathematicians and analysts — people who understand data and can make sense of it. [Better dust off those degrees and brush up on those skills that will soon be more important, right?]

Another belief is that agencies will have a bigger opportunity over specialized and/or smaller companies because of their ability to manage accounts cross-channels and see the bigger picture. That’s not always possible for smaller companies or specialized companies that are only looking at one aspect of the entire picture.

Brian Kaminski from iProspect is up next.

His first slide asks us to think back a few years to the Sony Walkman. When it came out, it dominated market share. If you think about today, technology has completely changed, to include iPods, etc. How did Sony lose its edge? Sony didn’t continue to evolve. [Shame on them. Look how Apple took advantage of that opportunity. I say that, as I look around and see iPads, iPhones, iPods and not one Sony Walkman – but hey, there’s a Sony Vaio laptop!]

Brian predicts that in the next five years, people will not use search engines. Search will morph, similar to how computers have over the years. Right now, the typical user does a search, visits a website and then usually goes back to the search engine to enter another search [repeat cycle]. Brian believes that people won’t search like that in the future because there will be technology to help people move from Point A to Point B without multiple visits to the search engines.

He’s going to give us five clues about the future of search:

  • No. 1 [Comes with a cute single yellow ducky in a sea of white duckies slide] – People will leverage information and how everything is connected. The ones who do so correctly will be the ones to stand out [hence the yellow ducky]. Today data is an advantage. In the future it will be a requirement.
    • Understand the collective impact campaigns, content, video, etc. will have on users.
    • Attribution weighting.
    • Testing and improvement – embrace change, invest in technology that can handle data, invest in people with heavy data skills. Don’t be afraid to try new things and then watch how they had an impact.
  • No. 2 [No cute slide here, only blurry dominos] – Currently, search results are one too many. Meaning one standard [term used loosely] results page pushed to the masses. Brian believes that in the future, search will become even more based on real-time results.
    • Twitter and blogging will work their way into results more.
    • Results are going to be influenced by those in your social networks. [Interesting concept. Maybe I should revisit that connection list to see who’ll soon be influencing my results.] By becoming more real time and using data like your social network connections, this will allow search results to become much more customized for the user. He advises that we need to embrace real-time content even more than we do now, and going forward, this type of content will only become more and more important.
  • No. 3 – New technologies and user behavior – search will be dominated by non-PC searches.
    • Mobile searches will outnumber and outpace PC searches. He advises to embrace technology because it’ll be profitable for them in the future.
    • Local-based targeting will be even more important.
    • Special local deals.
  • No. 4 [A picture of a net. Cast a net, see what you catch] – Media will be planned to drive search.
    • Campaigns will be created to drive users to search.
    • Search will be at the center of marketing the agenda.
    • Brian advises to thoroughly test e-mail campaigns and test the influence of display campaigns in order to capitalize.
  • No. 5 – Keywords dominate search today, but in the future, search will be less about keywords [What will we do without keywords? Aren’t those an SEO’s crutch?]
    • Camera searches will become common. Taking pictures of objects you want to know more about.
    • Voice search.
    • Social led searches that use your social networks.

What does this mean for marketers? Brian says things are going to change, possibly dramatically over the next few years. Anticipate change, don’t wait for it to pass you by. In other words, don’t be the Sony. Also, for companies, budget for testing and innovation. This means investing in data systems and people with the skills to understand that data. Also, think outside the PC. Keep your eyes and mind open to new trends, and don’t be afraid to jump on board when something new does come along.

Shashi is the last speaker from the panel. He’s going to tell us where is search as an industry is going, in particular where Yahoo! is going.

He starts with a series of questions:

  • How many of you find yourself overwhelmed by search results? Show of hands: Not many
  • How many use social networks as proxy for information? Show of hands: Many
  • How many spend time on mobile devices? Show of hands: Many

He goes onto say that users have changed significantly over the years. Their needs are more complex [Isn’t that the truth?] and queries are quite different. Plus, the amount of time people have is much less.

People are spending more time on different content (videos, pictures, mobile devices) already, yet search engines aren’t heavily invested n it. Shashi says that the last 12 years have been about the back end of search (crawling, indexing, etc.), but the industry has not yet focused on the front end. He says there are new sources, new ways to get info and faster answers. He believes it needs to be more about “getting info pushed to you, not pulled for you.”

What is Yahoo! doing?

Even with the merger, remember that the algorithm results and sponsored ads are only part of the equation, not the entire equation. They will be taking focus from the back end (by letting the folks at Bing do that) and then taking their own people to move them to concentrating on the front end of search.

Some recent innovations at Yahoo!:

  • Deep Web – Many people look for example, a certain type of restaurant, but not really a particular dish. Yahoo! is allowing people to ask complex questions and receive an answer. In his example, “paella san francisco”, it gives some good results for restaurants in the area just as a search for “mexican food san francisco” would.
    • Next example, celebrities and their different relationships (working relationships, love relationships and the like). Yahoo! now will give you “related people” on a search results page so if you do a search for “Brad Pitt” they may list people like Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise and Jennifer Aniston.
    • Another example is answering a question like the last 10 winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, which isn’t necessarily available today. Today you have to hunt for the info on different sources, whereas soon it’ll be gathered for you. [Love that.]
  • Real time – His example is the World Cup. The world is getting more real time when it comes to information, so Yahoo! is investing in that as well.
  • Vertical search on Yahoo! News.
    • Bringing all sources for news, time, sources, related concepts, etc.
  • Interactivity – A home page for video search may show the latest trending videos.
  • Mobile devices – In the next five years, mobile will outpace PC searches. Yahoo! is looking to offer things like Sketch-a-Search, a product where you’ll never have to enter query. Actually, you can’t enter a search. Instead, you may be looking for something in a particular area so you’ll look on the map, circle the particular area you’re interested in, and the results will be a list of businesses, restaurants, events and more in that area.
    • Integrating search across Yahoo! to create the “infinite browse” through things like “related searches.”
  • Commercial keywords and more sponsors – These will work well with user engagement while maximizing revenue. They basically allow the user to click for a full page of sponsored ads – which Yahoo! has found results in higher click-throughs (the page, not the ads shown).
  • Rich experience of the future, which will include more information available for users based on things like their social network, geographic locations, age, etc. Much is used today, but it’ll become even more influential in the future. Another item is a “trending now” area on the home page, which they’ve found generates 5 percent of searches nowadays. When a user clicks on the topic, they’ll be taken to a results page that incorporates video, Twitter feedback, real-time search, images and schedules, if appropriate (like for movies, shows, games and the like).

Panel Q&A

Graham notes that the most common theme of all the presentations was “data.” He has some questions for the panelists.

The first question is about structured data and how the panelist feel its importance will grow in the future.

Shashi: Structured data is going to be very important in the future.

  • Web of Things is something they are working on that helps connect data in different ways than currently seen.
  • People want certain information and when they [Yahoo!] can serve that, people are happy.
  • Collate info, and make sense of it with interaction model.

Kaminski: Says it’s all about speed. Structured data allows you to provide data in customized way. Ability to differentiate yourself against competitors is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. He also says that without structured data, it’ll be hard to keep up with speed.

Personalization means the results are tailored for the user. This poses a challenge for the marketer because each SERP is different. Will it continue to be important?

Shashi: Personalization is important because when they used it on their [yahoo] users, many engaged with search. While Yahoo has 85% penetration, they’ve found that only 40% of users are using yahoo search. Many users spending time on yahoo properties, but not using search. When Yahoo plays with personalization on its users, usage patterns go up significantly, and engagement increases. Knowing info about the user, is complex and there is a hazard with legal issues, but when done correctly, it can bring lots of rewards to users.

Kaminski: As a marketer, it’s important to have as many one-on-one conversations as possible. When the SERPs have so many results, it means that there isn’t an opportunity for the relationship to form with the user. Personalization allows for more “relationships” to be made. Understand how to get many one-on-one conversations, but don’t go too far.

As search engines push more real time, there is an opportunity to spam results of course, like hundreds of Twitter accounts, etc. Where is the line with marketers, and with Yahoo!, what is a search engine’s feelings on that?

Kaminski: It’s a tricky line that varies. No magic formula. Balance between just enough or too much. It varies from one client to the next. You can’t be afraid to make assumptions based on data, no matter how much data you have. No one says you can’t correct down the road.

Shashi: Social is very important in the future. Example, buying a camera. Yahoo! wants to provide you with reviews from your friends who maybe have the same camera. This could be very useful. The opposite side is that there are sometimes few opportunities to get such data, or knowing who to get the data from out of your circle, so it makes sense to you.
Graham’s comment: When thinking about social, do things that are truly useful for the user [Duh! Spam is spam is spam and isn’t looked upon favorably. No hundreds of Twitter accounts isn’t ever a good idea.]

Audience Q&A

Where is SEO going next?

Kaminski: Interesting question. View SEO as aiding user-beneficial content in the search engines. Looked at that way, it’s not going anywhere. When looked at as how to saturate the results, the search engines are moving against that and it won’t be beneficial.

Privacy issues like Twitter, Facebook updates being used in the SERPs – that’s my page, so where’s the privacy? Yahoo! Answers: you would have to give us the access permission. Yahoo! is very conscience about privacy, and takes extra steps to not violate laws. In the new world, they expect people to give them rights to social information like their Facebook updates, etc. Search engines have to define what users will gain from allowing access to such accounts.

Last 10 years have been about the backend, and now moving to front end. Great job to Yahoo!. However, I’m disappointed it’s going to be taken away with migration with MSN. Any comment on how things are going to change?

Shashi: Rich ads in search – images, videos, etc. on search results page, the numbers have been tremendous and they plan to continue with that product. Along with MSN, they are going to foster and continue to grow. The end goal is to quickly get to stage where Yahoo! and MSN both support technology and rich ads.

Combining social networks with search; sounds great, but at same time, we have so many connections to people we sat with once at a conference. How do you sort through the important people versus the casual meetings?

Yahoo: there is a need for the 1:many to be useful. Example, looking for pediatrician. Would you rather do a search but not be happy with results, yet have a button that allows you to ask friends in Yahoo! Mail? With some amount of detail, they will be able to allow that, and there is an appropriate place for such opportunities. Understand that search engines will have to do a great deal in the area of relevance, just as they do today.

Niche marketing, have mobile skin for a website. Would there be benefit for redoing websites for mobile? Yahoo!: build site in HTML5 and you’ll get many benefits.

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