Why Search Is Still Prehistoric

Remember those faxes that used to have the shiny paper? Many a good white shirt was ruined. Remember when you used a diskette instead of a thumb drive or Google Docs? If you bent one of these disks like Beckham, your day was ruined.

Both of these seem fairly prehistoric to us now. Hopefully, we'll be saying the same thing about our current search results in the near future.

Life is pretty simple and grand in the SEO (define) world right now. You help your site or your client's site get high in the rankings. For the most part, the results you see are the same results that millions of others see.

As search engines evolve and searchers become savvier, the corresponding search results will become less and less ubiquitous. If you type in "Paris," the search engine will know that your interest is in Paris, France, not Paris Hilton, Paris snow sled, or Paris, Texas.

Some of this will be a result of your previous direct feedback to the engine(s) -- "block this site," "this site is relevant," etc. Another factor will be what you tell the search engine algorithm (define) indirectly through your click actions and behaviors. What occurs is, forgive my liberal use of the English language, multivariate search results (MSR).

This obviously has ramifications for SEO experts since the world will become more complex and begin to (gasp) behave like other marketing channels, which means segmenting your audience. So, for the example above, an SEO expert or company won't simply target the term "Paris," but will need to determine which of the four segments to target and adjust the SEO strategy and tactics accordingly.

While this makes the SEO world a bit more complex, with change comes an opportunity for gaps to be filled. The SEO expert who stays ahead of the curve on trends will always be more valuable to their company or clients (no news there).

On the results side, it's obviously a welcome advancement for the user. It's also good news for developers creating tools to track the various search segments' behaviors and results.

For example, an executive for a candy company can no longer simply type in "chocolate bar" to determine where exactly her company falls in the search engine's eyes, as her results will be unique. Proper tracking tools become even more valuable to this executive who doesn't know where she stands relative to her competition. She only knows what her search results are based on her predetermined direct/indirect preferences, which will be much different than the general population.

This is also extremely important for the search engines themselves. This is crucial to their brand equity. The more a search engine can tailor their specific results to a user, the more likely they'll retain that user for a lifetime or an Internet lifetime (think dog years).

Today, if a user doesn't like the result they receive from Google, they'll perform the same search on MSN, Yahoo, Wiki or Ask until they get the result they're looking for.

However, it's likely that users in the future will only spend time building a "search profile" on one engine. This would indicate that Google will remain king since they are the incumbent. The switching costs would be too great for the user if they built up a history with one particular engine.

While Google does most things well, they still have some major "holes" that can be attacked by the competition.

Here's a quick example of one such "hole." A search for "Nice hotels in Memphis" returns all Memphis hotels in the organic results.

However, six of the nine sponsored listings (paid results) are for Chicago hotels. Google may be testing some behavioral targeting (indirect) based on a search I performed earlier in the day for Chicago hotels, but it's a confusing user experience. I want a hotel in Memphis, not Chicago.

Even if you didn't know what I'd searched for, you'd be scratching your head as to why both Chicago and Memphis hotels would be in the same search result.

We'll explore why Google isn't perfect in more depth in Part 2 of this series.

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About the author

Erik Qualman is the Global Vice President of Online Marketing for EF Education, headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland. With more than 26,000 employees in 53 countries, EF Education is the world's largest private educator.

His book "Socialnomics: How Social Media has changed the way we live and do business" was released from Wiley Publishing in August 2009. Qualman is a frequently requested speaker within the Internet and marketing community and also maintains a social media blog at www.socialnomics.net.

Qualman has been highlighted in numerous publications, including: BusinessWeek, AdvertisingAge, USA Today, Forbes, PR Week, Investor's Business Daily, eWeek, Media Life, Direct Marketing News and Direct Response Magazine. He has also been interviewed on various radio and television outlets. Qualman is also a published fiction author.

Prior to joining EF Education, Qualman helped grow the online marketing and eBusiness functions of Cadillac & Pontiac (1994-97), AT&T (1998-2000), Yahoo (2000-03), EarthLink (2003-05) and Travelzoo (2005-08). Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. He was also first team Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State and still finds time to follow his beloved Spartans.