I hate to admit it, but honestly, I’ve been pretty down on search lately. After almost a decade as a search engine marketing guy, I’ve seen this industry grow, mature, and now, plateau.
Do I still think it’s a great marketing channel? Of course! It might be the second best form of advertising in the history of marketing behind word of mouth in terms of effectiveness. Its highly trackable ROI and bottom-of-the-funnel net ability to close all other types of advertising is unchallenged. There are strong reasons why SEM is now 51% of all online ad revenue in this country.
But a lot of the milestones in search have been mainly behind the scenes. Paid search quality scores, big organic algorithmic changes, etc have been major game-changers over the last ten years, but the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) innovation has been incremental at best.
Yes, we did see a shift to “universal search” in the last few years which added map listings, images, videos, products, etc to the page on occasion, but ultimately, the SERP is still a page of links: static blue underlined gateways to the rest of the Web.
So, going into the Reinventing the Search Experience session last week at the Search Insider Summit, I wasn’t expecting to get absolutely blown away from what I saw from the senior-level engine representatives about the future of the SERP–but I was.
To give you a quick teaser, Yahoo’s SVP of Search, Shashi Seth declared that “today’s SERP experience will be virtually unrecognizable in five years.” Wow!
My fellow SEM professionals…I want to give you a moment to let that sink in. Today’s SERP will be virtually unrecognizable in a matter of years. In short, what I heard and saw made me realize that next industry game-changer has already been set into motion.
In five years, search will be reinvented to the point that even makes me wonder where SEO and paid search will fit into the picture. Of course, I only had a glimpse into what the Big 3 are up to. However, I’m sure they’re not even considering giving up their cash cow, but rather how to grow it.
Serving Content In SERPs
Later, commenting on the presentations, Internet pioneer Esther Dyson aptly cited the Bill Gates’ quote: The future of search is in verbs.
What does that mean? It means that instead on just finding things with search, we’re gong to be doing things with search. Why transport people all over the Web and have that audience be serviced by someone else?
The key to this change (note – I’m unifying the vision here based on their individual and separate presentaitons) is that for a good portion of the top queries, there is a rather predictable set of intents. And if the engines know why people are searching for these terms, then they can present much richer content and features that handful of [very precise] links.
The search engine results page will become an actual Web experience, not just a digital version of the yellow pages.
The engines only gave us glimpses into what’s on their minds these days, but here’s an example on how I interpreted the vision: think about what users are looking for when they search for a movie’s title. If it’s not out yet, they’re most likely looking to watch a trailer. While it’s in theaters, users are mainly looking for reviews, showtimes, and directions to theaters. If the movie is out of theaters and users are searching for it, they seem to be most interested in where they can rent, stream, or buy it.
So, if you were a search engine looking to rengineer the SERP experience, what would you do?
Well, before the movie comes out, how about showing trailers? Right now, that traffic is being shot off to movie sites where they are monetizing that traffic, not you. I bet if you were an engine, you’re probably be thinking “why am I sending people away when I can provide the same content right here on the results page?”
Right? Think about it. I bet the top slim percentage of queries represent a massive percentage of actual searches. If the engines can really map out the top intentions of each search and present not only the Web links but also highly relevant content to the searcher, then we have our game-changer, folks.
It’s not hard to think how the SERP could provide much deep content experiences for such queries as: used BMW, ipad 2, or American Idol. Heck, even chocolate cake.
Think about it. I bet that most people wouldn’t have to go very deep into the Web if the SERP had not just links, but actual real content such as chocolate cake recipes, images, nutritional info, and where to order one for delivery [and in your area]. It would be as though chocolate cake had a Facebook page. :D That’s one I would definitely “like”.
The senior engine reps presented a few mock-screenshots of how they might best display this content to users. For example, in one presentation there was an image of a multi-tabbed large box above the search results where users could flip through various content categories, almost like a microsite.
I’m sure there are many ways they could lay this content out to best service the searcher and it’s not a stretch to think that it would probably even be very customizable and gradually personalized over time.
Ultimately, my guess it that the SERP will probably end up looking like Yahoo’s home page…except all of the news stories, images, videos, product feeds, links, tools, etc. will be related to the query the searcher just typed in.
Well, I’m not sure how this will all net out. The effect of the social revolution is changing everything online and with mobile set to emerge as the dominant gateway to the Internet, it’s inevitable that search will have to change with the times. I’m actually pretty excited to see how my dear, little industry will evolve over the next decade and how it will affect my role.
Are you ready?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.