Checking in on 2009 Search Shifts & Predictions

We’re a society of predictors. And from Jim Cramer to countless overconfident athletes, a lot of predictions go awry.

In the online world, we tend to make predictions and never really look back. We promote the new things that make a splash and forget they ever existed as they fade into obscurity (see: Cuil, Powerset, etc.). Alternatively, we talk about why we were wrong for touting them in the first place.

In one of his last columns before I took over, William Flaiz shared his thoughts on search shifts and predictions for 2009. Now that we’re close to the midpoint of the year, let’s see how accurate some of those predictions were. Besides, if they’re way off, it’s not like they were my predictions.


Prediction: “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.”

Verdict: Yahoo has certainly had some shake-ups, but still nobody willing to plunk down the money to take over its search operations. The “on again, off again” romance between Yahoo and Microsoft still seems to be out there, but not likely to be resolved soon. Recently, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz declared, “we’re not a search company.” This leads me to believe that this prediction is still likely to come true in 2009.

Recession Boost

Prediction: “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.”

Verdict: It’s a little hard to quantify this one, but based on discussions with colleagues and clients, it seems like there’s more focus on SEO as a “low-cost” alternative to paid search. It’s important to remember that, for most clients, SEO simply won’t deliver a comparable amount of traffic to paid search, and therefore should be viewed as a way to stay in the game — not a replacement strategy. We’ve seen a handful of clients cut paid search budgets and divert a small portion of those cuts to SEO.

ROI on the Prize for SEO

Prediction: “It’s about time! ROI will no longer be a “nice to have” for those who practice SEO in 2009.”

Verdict: One of the holy grails of SEO has been the ability to accurately track and measure campaign success in order to fuel future predictions. While every analytics package can track keyword-level metrics, these figures tend to get lost in the configuration shuffle. We spend a tremendous amount of time with clients trying to fix their analytics so that we can prove out their ROI.

Once you have the analytics package properly configured, you can provide a predictive ROI story for future engagements. Companies like Enquisite are trying to not only track SEO performance, but also help marketers understand how much that additional traffic is worth. It’s an interesting model that could be a windfall for clients and agencies if proven successful and scalable.

Local All Over Globe

Prediction: “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.”

Verdict: This prediction is true, but companies still haven’t taken advantage of it. It seems a lack of education on how local works and how to fix your listings continue to be roadblocks here. Local continues to grow and will be the main benefactor as mobile grows.

However, marketers are still missing opportunities to even clean up the most basic aspects of their listings (e.g., hours of operations, services offered). I can’t stress this enough: you must fix local now before your competition does.

A Paid Inclusion Rebound

Prediction: “If there’s one paid search service that can thrive in ’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.”

Verdict: Paid inclusion continues to be a search strategy staple, and those budgets are increasing. The traffic numbers may be limited because of Yahoo’s market share, but what remains the same is the principle that a lower CPC that’s just as easily tracked as paid search is a good thing.

The Year of Monetization

Prediction: “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.”

Verdict: First, two quick points:

  1. I’m a conspiracy person.
  2. My feelings on this are mine and not the opinions of Razorfish or our parent company, Microsoft.

Google recently revised its double-serving policy and changed their trademark rules to allow others to bid on brand terms. Why now? I like change, but I just find it interesting that Google’s recent changes come during a down economy and will lead to an increase in CPCs.

This isn’t Twitter (which is great for the 10 percent of the 23 million Americans who use it monthly). We need the engines to survive, and I can’t fault them for trying to find ways to better monetize their offerings.

However, they should find ways to monetize without changing the existing unwritten rules. Yahoo’s RAIS program is a great way to take an existing product and monetize against it while leaving it up to me as a marketer.

The Score

Overall, William did a pretty good job with his 2009 predictions. With the exception of a Yahoo buyout, it’s hard to find a prediction that has already come to pass to some degree. And with more than half of 2009 left to go, there’s certainly more to come.

If anything, 2009 has been the year of buckling down and doing solid client work. Sure, we’ve had our share of Bing launches and Jeeves returning, but the real trend this year has been much more of a focus on core business.

Bigger companies are getting involved in SEO, and better campaigns are being crafted. While the economy makes things more competitive, this competition raises the bar for sophisticated SEO strategies. Ultimately, this will increase quality standards of the industry at large.

If we’re lucky and successful in 2009, then 2010 might just be the year of the case study for many, where we look back on how we drove innovation over the previous year and plan ahead for the changes of the next one.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Toronto, June 8-10, 2009, at the Sheraton Centre Toronto.

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