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BACK TO BASICS: The Expanding Role of Search in Internet Marketing

BACK TO BASICS: The Expanding Role of Search in Internet Marketing

by Claudia Bruemmer, January 15, 2007

For long-time search marketers it will come as no surprise that search has become a media darling. Pay-per-click advertising is the most popular online marketing strategy, and organic search engine optimization provides top click-through and conversion performance. Search is more popular than display ads and email marketing because of its excellent performance and ROI. Internet marketers should take note of the development in the search marketplace in order to better focus their advertising budgets.

Search is Evolving

As the Web grows exponentially, search engine databases suffer from information overload. As a result, technology and consumer search behavior adapts and changes. One of the early attempts to make search easier was the use of metadata in search. The search engine, Clusty came out in 2004 to "deliver groups or clusters of similar results rather that millions of search results in one long list." The clusters were supposed to help users see search results by topic so they could more easily find what they were looking for.

Another of the early changes to search was the development of multiple databases within general search. Whether you go to Google or Yahoo, you'll see category choices such as Web, video, images, local, news, etc. These are all different databases that can help you target specific queries. Google aptly named this concept its OneBox solution; you could access many different databases from one box.

Along with the development of multiple databases on niche products or subjects came the vertical search engines. These verticals are particularly useful for B2B companies. The latest trend in the evolution of the market is social search engines, which give consumers the ability to interact with search queries, putting the human touch in search results. Social search engines seek to connect people through personalization and human understanding, using community knowledge to increase relevance.

Consumers Are Key Drivers

Social search highlights an important point to remember: consumer behavior has become a key factor in driving the search economy. Consumers are performing more searches as the Web becomes legendary for finding information quickly and effortlessly. It used to be that search was second to email in Web activities, but in 2006, Marketing Sherpa reported that search surpassed email, becoming the most popular online activity. comScore reported that the number of searches in the U.S. grew by 28 percent, year-over-year in August 2006.

While search behavior is changing, the proliferation of Web 2.0 platforms and applications such as social networking, RSS and blogging are impacting search, making it even more complex. The information universe is becoming too vast and complex to catalog by keywords alone. This has resulted in the development of expanded search opportunities into local search, vertical search and social search. Many times, consumers are slow to adopt new search resources. Local and vertical search took several years to gain a foothold. Social search is still in the early stages of development.

Local Search

Local search is a key growth area. Borrell Associates estimates that local paid search spending will reach $1 billion in 2006 and $1.7 billion in 2007. It will continue to rise, reaching $4 billion by 2010, when it will account for 47 percent of local online advertising.

The U.S. Government estimates the number of small businesses at 24 million, all of whom are in a great position to leverage the power of local search. While many small businesses still don't have Web sites, the promise of local search is there for the asking. These businesses spend $90 billion annually on local advertising, mostly in traditional media. This reflects the potential for online advertising growth as businesses shift money from traditional to online advertising because of its effectiveness and ROI.

Nielsen/NetRatings shows that Google is catching up with Yahoo on local searches. Verizon SuperPages and SBC's YellowPages are also big players. As users continue to use the local search option on major engines, local search continues to gain in popularity and advertising revenue. Now is a great time for a small business to get into search engine marketing on a local level. The field is relatively open and not nearly as competitive as the general search engine results.

Vertical Search

Another good option for niche businesses is optimization focused on vertical search engines. Vertical search engines, along with the new social search engines, are beginning to lure consumer and B2B searchers away from the general search engines as the desire for more targeted answers and the ability to pose more focused queries increases. This is an indication that general search leaves many questions unanswered, resulting in lower productivity.

Vertical search engines can provide the targeting that general search engines lack. This is why they are becoming increasingly popular. The market leaders in search, Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, all are focusing efforts in the vertical space in order to respond to the needs of users. Social search is also on the rise with social search engines like Collarity and Rollyo allowing users to limit irrelevant results and benefit from the collective intelligence of previous searches.

Social Search

The interesting thing about social search engines is that they change search algorithms to include the human factor rather than depend solely on computer data. They not only include consumer-generated content, they can also include human intent. Collarity delivers search results with consumer-driven answers to queries and allows searchers to select various aspects of a search query. Rollyo allows users to create their own search engine roll, serving information from a preselected list of sites and/or from other users' rolls. The social dimension of the Web and search engines is a fast growing phenomenon, and the major search engines are also experimenting with social search. We've had Yahoo Answers and Google Base in beta for a while, and Microsoft is reportedly negotiating with Eurekster for social search technology.

As search technology moves forward, new search models will continue to be launched. As the mobile Web and mobile search continue to expand, search queries will drive commerce around the world anytime anywhere, across platforms. This can only enhance the role of search in Internet marketing.