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In the Third Week of New Year's, My SearchDay Gave to Me:

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In the third week of New Year’s, my SearchDay gave to me:
Four conferences,
Three key trends,
Two hyperlinks,
And a ranking in the top three.

To date, we’ve looked at the 12 speakers, 11 bloggers, 10 scribblers, nine Diggers, eight firms, seven forums, six engines, and five Google things that will set the agenda in 2007. This week, we’re going to wrap up this SearchDay Carol by trying to predict some of the events, trends, challenges and opportunities that will shape the search engine industry in the coming year.

Four conferences

Back in the late 1980s and early '90s, you could keep up with the PC industry by attending one conference a year: Comdex. But those days are gone -- along with the show.

These days, you need to attend at least four conferences a year just to keep up with the rapid changes and new developments in the search engine industry.

Two years ago, after the Search Engine Strategies 2005 Conference & Expo in New York, I realized that more than half of the sessions, more than half of the speakers, and more than half of the exhibitors at the event hadn’t been at the same event in 2004.

On March 21, 2005, I wrote in SEO-PR’s news blog, “I know that half of what I learned at last year’s show is obsolete, and I had to go to this year’s show to find out which half.” As I continued to track Search Engine Strategies over 2005 and into 2006, this trend continued, unabated.

If fundamental change isn’t slowing down in the foreseeable future, then one of the best ways to spot the next unexpected threat or opportunity is to attend industry conferences early and often.

Here are my recommendations for the four conferences should you attend in 2007:

  • Search Engine Strategies, New York, April 10-13, 2007
  • Search Engine Marketing Expo, Seattle, June 4-5, 2007
  • Search Engine Strategies, San Jose, August 20-23, 2007
  • WebmasterWorld PubCon, Las Vegas, November 14-17, 2007

Three key trends

As Yogi Berra observed, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” That's not stopping us from naming three key trends that are likely to shape the search engine industry coming year.

First, search is getting more vertical and personal.

Search is getting more vertical, with both the big general search engines building custom vertical tools, as well as upstarts like Eurekster and Rollyo joining the fray. Vertical search engines are set to pop up in specific topics like news, health, shopping, music, video, or cars. Personal or social search is focused on what you or your network is searching for -- aggregated over time.

Danny Sullivan has been tracking this trend for years. A quick search of the Search Engine Watch archives turns up promises of vertical search getting big in 2000, 2003, and 2004. More recently, Danny spoke on vertical's impending glory in his Evening Forum at SES New York in 2005, and again during his “Special Guest Keynote” at PubCon in November 2006, where he noted that search is entering its third generation, which will be driven by vertical search and personal or social search. The dot-com bust may have slowed things down, but it seems that vertical search may finally be poised to fulfill its potential.

Second, online video usage is increasing as TV viewing declines.

Safa Rashtchy, a managing director of Piper Jaffray and a senior research analyst focused on Internet media and marketing, spotted this trend in his Silk Road newsletter:

“Our latest survey of online users suggests that video usage is on a rapid increase as consumers are expanding their selection of videos online and the popularity of video sites continues to rise,” says Safa. “More importantly, our survey also confirms other industry data that TV viewing is declining -- 40% of our survey respondents have indicated that they watch less TV now than two years ago.”

Third, SEO as we know it is about to change drastically.

Gord Hotchkiss, president of Enquiro Search Solutions, discussed this trend recently in his blog, Out of My Gord. According to Gord, “SEO is going to get a lot harder, not easier. And that increasing difficulty is going to be in an area that today’s crop of SEOs have next to no experience in: knowing the end user.”

Two hyperlinks

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines suggest that, when your site is ready, you should “Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo”

Well, using Yahoo Directory Submit is still good advice. For a review fee of $299, your request to be listed in the Yahoo Directory will be reviewed and the Yahoo editorial team will respond to you within 7 business days. But, it’s time to stop suggesting that any site owner should spend time trying to get listed in the Open Directory Project (aka DMOZ). As a volunteer-built guide to the web, DMOZ is beyond dysfunctional. It needs to be replaced.

There are several possible alternatives, as far as we can see:

  • The owners of the Open Directory Project, AOL Search, could start charging a review fee -- enabling them to start paying DMOZ editors to respond within a reasonable number of business days.
  • Or, Google could replace Open Directory Project with something like Wikia, and start suggesting to site owners that they build a free content wiki-based website instead of submitting their site to DMOZ -- if they’re “feeling lucky.”
  • Or, search engine marketers could just vote with their feet and start using alternatives like Business.com, Exactseek.com, or the Best of the Web Directory instead of the Open Directory Project.

And a ranking in the top three

A recent eye-tracking study from Microsoft Research shows that searchers may be spending time with even fewer search results than previously thought.

Where top 10 results have been the goal of many search marketers, this particular study of MSN users, which was a small-scale study, found that most users will only get past the top five when those five results are not satisfactory. According to Danny Sullivan, who dove deeper into the study earlier this week, “We've long known being on the first page of ten results is crucial. But this study suggests it's about being in the top five for success.”

If you consider the amount of prime real estate on search engine results pages that are often occupied by Google OneBox Results or Yahoo! Shortcuts, then it becomes even more crucial for search marketers to be concerned about getting a ranking in the top three.

And while SEO may not appear to be “rocket science” these days, it does involve a lot of “social science” to get a ranking in the top three. Why? Because inbound links are a big part of getting a top listing today.

And after submitting your site to Yahoo, DMOZ, and other relevant directories, you need to make sure all the sites that should know about your pages are aware your site is online. And, then you need other relevant sites to link to yours.

How do you do that? The answer involves creating “original and unique content of genuine value” -- and then getting bloggers, scribblers, Diggers and other site owners to link to it.

Of course, this could change during 2007. This is why you should attend at least four industry conferences during the year. If your boss won’t let you attend more than one, then hire an SEO who goes to at least four conferences a year.

Please share your thoughts about these lists, or suggest other events, trends, challenges and opportunities that will shape the search engine industry in the coming year over at the SEW forums.

Greg Jarboe is the president and Co-Founder of SEO-PR and a partner in Newsforce. He is also the news search, blog search and public relations correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog.

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