Thursday, 7 April 2011

Where Search is Heading in 2011 and Beyond?

2010 was a very busy year from a search point of view. Google, Bing and Yahoo have implemented many changes to their algorithms and ranking structures. One of the most obvious developments was the social media integration with real-time search. With the increase in the popularity of user-generated-content, search engines led by Google and Bing have increased their social signals contributions and started displaying more social elements in their search results.

What that means is that search and social media becomes inextricably linked with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Trip Advisor, YouTube and other social networks. Search engines are paying closer attention to the changes in consumer search behaviors and have started giving them more value in their algorithms. Search engines are looking for the pure organic signal which is what makes the social media more prominent.

According to several research findings, people trust online reviews more than the brands' messages -even comments from people they do not know or have never met before. This provides important insight for search engines. At the end of the day the purpose of all search engines is to provide up-to-date, relevant and quality search results for the users. Since consumers do value peer-to-peer communication and user-generated content more, search engines are taking the advantage of this trend and harnessing it within their search results to increase the quality and provide more interactive and relevant results. Simultaneously, they must keep visitors on the site for longer in order to increase loyalty.

Google has very recently announced (see the below video)that it will increase their emphasis on social media results according to users' search histories, interest and contribution within the social landscape. When you log in to Google, you will see in the results of your social media channels where you are active, receive notifications at the bottom of the page and get updates accordingly. We have witnessed that Bing has been trying this approach for a while. More bold action from Google will only increase the popularity and usage of the social elements in the other search engines and elsewhere.

As a business you must keep an eye on these changes to make sure your search strategy has a social media core thereby benefitting from these shifts. If you are not active in the social media, now is the time to re-think and re-structure your online marketing strategy to include it - before you are left behind.

Real-Time Search

The second trend is as a result of social media -the Real-Time Search. Last year Google launched "Caffeine" and then "Instant" updates to accelerate this trend and provide more instant, up-to-date search results. Also Google, Yahoo and Bing have partnered with Facebook, Twitter and other social channels to provide the most up-to-date search results.

In 2010 two important incidents proved the importance of real-time search and helped accelerate the trends.

  • The first one was when the Icelandic volcano erupted and air-space across Europe closed down. Millions of passengers were trapped in airports, airlines' websites went down, no-phone lines worked and it was impossible to find someone from the airlines to give an update about the situation. Search engines failed to provide the instant information that the users were looking for and real-time social sites like Twitter have become more important as people found more last minute news on these channels. A short while later Google launched the "Google Caffeine" update and partnered with Twitter and Facebook to provide results that visitors are looking for.

  • The second real life incident occurred in December 2010 when snow chaos affected thousands of flights and hundreds of thousands of passengers across the UK and Europe. People felt stranded and again found it almost impossible to reach anyone from the airlines or airports representatives further signaling the importance and necessity of real-time search. This time Google and Bing were more prepared and they offered real-time search with the social sites.

Smart Phones & Tablets

In addition to social media and real time search the mobile phone has become a very important tool especially when instant, on-the-go news required. People can easily access the internet and search via their smart-phones from everywhere. With the launch of iPad and other tablets, usage has further increased. Mobile internet search is expected to exceed desktop browsing by 2013-14. Also mobile access to social media sites has boomed with over 200 million users accessing their Facebook accounts via mobile phones. Today social media sites receive millions of visits via mobile phones from all over the world.

The rise of geo-location sites like Foursquare, Gowalla and the latest Facebook Places has accelerated the development and popularity of geo-tagging. People can check-in to a place and receive promos and offers from close retailers with a personalized touch. This will no doubt play an important role in future marketing disciplines. It is the best way to reach people on-the-go, offer them your products and services according to their preferences and to increase demand for your products and services. You can read my previous article on geo-location marketing where you will find more detailed information.

What should You do?

It is obvious that search is evolving alongside consumers' search behaviors. Today as a marketer you must keep an eye on social media and align your search marketing strategy accordingly. The web itself is a social space and social media is an extension to that. If you want to remain competitive, retain and defend (if required) your reputation and benefit from the optimisation processes then you must put the social media at the heart of your marketing mix. As an extension to that you must create a consistent search experience among all channels.

Developments in technology have opened the doors to new forms of marketing such as geo-location and the likes. As mentioned earlier, by 2013 it is expected that mobile search will overtake desktop internet browsing. To ride this wave, you need to have "a mobile plan" that fits within your organizational structure. As Eric Schmidt the ex-Google CEO said "mobile is the single most important strategy for Google in 2011" makes it very clear.

The way we are moving is towards the mobile web combining social media and real-time search. You must integrate these three elements in the heart of your search planning in 2011. Your customers are already there, and expecting that you deliver the same experience and consistency among all touch points.

Can you afford not be where your customers are? If your answer is no, you need to consider the above mentioned points and start developing a well structured, 3-pronged strategy immediately. Not sure where to start, please get in touch with us.

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