Arthur C. Clarke’s foreboding tale of 2010 as the year we make contact was a bit off. 2007 will go down as the year we were bombarded with everything we want and a whole bunch of things nobody wants. The year our pretty, clean little search box took a step back to 2001 and the search industry saw a whole new way to make contact with people and new revenue.
Google calls it "Universal Search." Ask calls it "3D." Microsoft calls it "Live Search," and as of last week’s announcement, Yahoo calls it, well,..."new Yahoo search." I liked calling it SearchMash, but SearchMash.com is already owned by Google.
We personalize, we tempt, we dazzle and we excite with video, news and geographically relevant search results.
We have to optimize with video, images and every other site asset we have. That sounds like so much fun it makes me want to jump up and dance a jig. Many search engine optimization (SEO) firms have to change the way they're doing things and the often disparate entities responsible for --internal and external-- optimization tasks are stretched even further.
Now that the gang's all here, it's time for some straight talk.
The Killer App
"Killer" might be the operative word. Are we gently killing the simple search box we love so much? One could easily argue that a good optimization strategy has included secondary (other than text) site assets along the timeline that image, news and video search were introduced.
Optimizing for all kinds of content conditions is the name of the game today, but why would we want to do such a thing?
More refined search? Better results for human beings everywhere? Perhaps, but the pure genius behind much of these initiatives are the cozy little side benefits we search sites see in ad revenue growth.
Did you think Google wanted to shell out $1.65 billion for YouTube because “Skateboarding Dog” was wicked funny? Not so much. How about Yahoo picking up Flickr? I could go on. The harsh reality is that many of these start-ups had no revenue model, but a big audience.
While brands have seen questionable results in using sharing sites like YouTube as a way to build awareness, the real money lies in vast expanses of content related ad inventory. Pimping site assets is one way of looking at the new results format, adding more money-making query or content driven ads is another.
The question most often posed to search analysts and anyone who is considered something of an expert in the space is, "Do you think Yahoo will catch up with Google?" Maybe Yahoo isn't trying to catch up with Google at all.
When I ask people outside the search engine marketing industry about information and commerce portal activity, many have similar answers. I usually hear something like "I use Google for search and Yahoo for everything else."
The “everything” portion of the answer (for Yahoo) often refers to e-mail, news, and financial information. Why? Because Yahoo was first to bring us many of these treats and Google added them later. I’ll go back to the question I originally posed on record: who’s trying to catch whom?
Mashed-up search results defined as multiple types or formats of information returned in a search result page is not new. Assigning a cool name to it is.
We know that search sites trade query induced traffic like swingers swapping wives. Each one offers the same basic operation but sometimes it’s that little variance in style or positioning that makes all the difference. Searchers go back and forth between search engines for things like local information, video and images by the millions on a daily basis.
A Little Back-and-Forth
Reducing the search activity flip-flop behavior might be a one the strategies behind acquiring sharing site after sharing site, but Yahoo still offers video results from competitors like YouTube. Google includes Flickr photos in search results. I predict vast increases in unique visitor trading, a.k.a. overlap.
Another series of questions arises when you consider the conflicting revenue models. The oldest question is; “Are search engines required to be unbiased givers of information?” We can feel entitled to search ad labels due to the FTC’s request for “sponsored” labels on the site.
Should search engines be compelled to include competitive content in their search results? Should they also be required to prominently disclose ownership of sites included in search results?
Tim Mayer, vice president of product management at Yahoo Search depicted a search result page for the phase "sunflowers photos" in a recent Yahoo Search Blog entry. The post outlines how Flickr photos are being included directly or "inline" with search results a phenomenon one is not likely to see on Google.
The third search result for "sunflowers photos" on Google says it all about one search site driving revenue for the other search site:
Flickr: Photos tagged with sunflower
NEW Explore and refine sunflower photos with our brand new clustery goodness! Sponsored Results. Send Sunflowers - $34.99 ...
www.flickr.com/photos/tags/sunflower/ - 36k - Cached - Similar pages
My personal favorite is the inclusion of "Sponsored Results" text in the listing. It's kind of like bundled sales of Zunes and iPods. Then again, bundling two competitive media players might not be a bad analogy for search. When one invariably doesn’t work, you can always use the other one.
We've Only Text Begun
I like Yahoo's opt-in methodology for enhanced search results because it's smart business on many levels. Someday I (along with the rest of the population) may grow tired of watching people set themselves on fire and train their pets to do crazy things. Another benefit of an opt-in lies in allowing users to select the type of results they want to see, and an open door to avoiding or easily addressing nasty letters from the FTC about disclosure.
After setting up my Yahoo home page in the somehow happiness inducing tangerine color and being sidetracked by clicking the latest Britney Spears news, I did some customizing and was off the search races.
Most favored status for blended or mashed-up search results has yet to be seen. Watch for any query category specific traffic spikes in the coming months. I expect there are a few more issues surrounding conflicts and disclosures that will have to be sorted out before a winner is declared.
Bet your bottom buck we'll see contact made with new revenue.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!