Last year brought us few new innovations besides, or course, the Google killer Cuil (you've heard of them, right?). In my humble opinion, 2009 will see search engines focusing less on new product innovations and more on new revenue streams during our economic crisis.
Google has seen a significant drop in its stock price; Yahoo continues to tread water and await a buyer to save them; MSN continues to plod along at 5 percent market share with the industry questioning why Microsoft is even playing in the space; and Cuil, well, let's just hope they get to see 2010.
Speaking of Yahoo, my first prediction isn't much of a stretch. There will be consolidation within the search engine market space in 2009. The jury's still out on who's buying who, but if you've followed the news over the past six months, it's a good bet that someone will buy Yahoo.
Yahoo's not the only acquisition target. Ask.com may not have the market share, but the floundering search engine offers a good product line that could enhance someone's capabilities portfolio. Perhaps there's a buyer out there that's looking to build an application backline to challenge Google. Ask.com could prove a huge asset in that case.
"Free" gets the attention of many people, including marketers. With the cost of paid search terms going up, the organic search folks may see a lot more attention in 2009.
Although organic search traffic is often touted as "free traffic," it truly isn't. Developing rankings for key terms in an industry requires an investment in all the elements that go into building a Web site: content, coding, design, and strategy. Though the traffic isn't free, the ROI tends to be better.
Organic search marketing just might become the bread winner as cash-strapped client become wary of increased media costs in traditional space and an up-turn in bid competition in paid search.
ROI on the Prize for SEO
It's about time! ROI will no longer be a "nice to have" for those who practice SEO in 2009.
Again, the economy will dictate scrutiny of every marketing dollar spent, and clients are going to want to know ahead of time what they can expect from their SEO programs. ROI models, all with their own flaws, will control the landscape of organic search programs as search marketers hope to woo marketing dollars away from less successful or measurable competing tactics.
As part of a global agency, I welcome a shift to focusing on client returns. This may help the SEO profession gain acceptance and operate at a higher standard.
Local All Over Globe
In the coming year, if you own brick-and-mortar locations you better get familiar with local search and put a program in place. Local search will be the big thing in 2009 for search.
Local search is far more measurable than a traditional organic listing and, therefore, lends itself better to demonstrated ROI benefits. Additionally, the number of mobile searches will only increase as mobile phones become more sophisticated. Marketers must make sure they show up in these results.
A Paid Inclusion Rebound
If there's one paid search service that can thrive on '09, it's paid inclusion. Yahoo offers a unique PPC program called Search Submit Pro, which provides marketers with the ability to feed results directly into the organic listings. As organic results become more important than ever, marketers will try to get into the listing by any means necessary.
So far Yahoo is the only engine to offer this service, but I predict that we'll see similar offerings as other engines look for new revenue streams in 2009. These may not be straight text search results, but I don't think we've seen the last of paid inclusion.
The Year of Monetization
This year will be interesting for search engines. As factors from recession to emerging technologies convene, engines will have to create new revenue. Only time will tell whether that revenue comes from acquisition and increased market share or new programs like Yahoo's SSP.
Marketers will also look toward search to drive additional revenues, but they will only make the investment if the ROI is there. This will be an interesting year for the agencies and practitioners of search; they will have to be even more creative in their search programs. Money talks, and this year SEO must answer the call to prove its worth.