The Death of Internet Search as we know it…

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Okay, that may be a little overdramatic but I wanted to make a point.  Search is ever-evolving.  What we knew yesterday as “search” won’t be the same as today’s or tomorrow’s search.

What do I mean by search?

When I’m talking about search, I mean it from two perspectives:

  1. As a user of search – the information you get in your search results pages when you type a search (word or phrase) into Google, Bing or Yahoo! or even less trafficked search engines Ask.com or search aggregators such as Dogpile.com.
  2. As a small business marketer – The way that small companies interact with search engines including listing their sites with search engines or directories,  adjusting their sites to improve rankings in search engines, paying to appear in search engine results or creating content to be included in search results.

So what was yesterday’s search and what is tomorrow’s search?

Yesterday’s Search – the era of Authority and Relevancy

In the past, search consisted of finding the best page for a particular topic. This was using Authority and Relevancy as the two main criteria for delivering the top results in a Search Engine results page to you. Google was very good at determining authority and relevancy via a complex set of constantly adjusted algorithms weighting things such as page titles, keywords on pages, links within a site to other pages in your site and links to a site from other pages (the better site linking to you, the better for you).  Because Google was the best at finding you a site that was extremely relevant and authoritative on a given topic, it became the dominant search engine and attracted the lion’s share of the search business – usually around 65-70% depending on the period (very dominant!).  They also spent (and still spend) a lot of time refining their policies for the paid results that you’ll see in those same searches  delivered via their Adwords platform (see the top and right side of your search results page for “Sponsored Links”) to make sure those ads are relevant for your search.  Overall, Google is the champion of “Authority and Relevancy Search”.

Tomorrow’s SearchAuthority/Relevancy + Blended Search – including Local, Current, Personalized, Video, Picture, Audio and Niche Search – including Mobile Search, People Search, Facebook Search, Realtime Search, etc.

Blended Search: Tomorrow’s search results from the “big three” search engines (two, if Microsoft/Yahoo partnership goes through) will be different.  The general results that you get from a search in Google (for example) will increasingly include the following:

  • Searches will still include many of the top relevant authority sites as deemed by Google’s algorithms.
  • Local results – a search for “Shoe Stores” will be deemed more local than a search for “Tennis Shoes” so the results will (and do today) include some local stores based on your location. Local search is hot and the engines that can provide the most relevant local results and deliver customers to retailers will be able to reap significant rewards.
  • Current – for topics that could have a “current” component will increasingly have “news” or current items in there.  For example my search today for “tennis shoes” brings up a blog post on a newspaper site about the 17 year-old tennis player, Melanie Oudin, who upset Maria Sharapova at the 2009 US Open!  The race will be on for search engines to have more relevant news items, blog posts and twitter updates that combine authority with near real-time availability for the searcher.
  • Engines will be playing with personalization – either based on your preferences or settings or based on your search history and what you typically click on.  Look out for this. Your results may not be your neighbors’ results!
  • In addition to sending you to Web pages, search engines will continue to work on ways to include pictures, video or audio into search results.

Niche Search: Tomorrow’s search will include more options and better results for specialized searches.  For example, if you are using your mobile phone and do a search, there will be continued optimization of the results, how they’re displayed on your phone and what you can do from the results page (e.g. call, place an order, get directions, etc.).  If you’re looking for people, there are companies trying to perfect ways to deliver broad or detailed results for a person (their work history, Linked In page, Facebook page, blog, location, etc.).  If you’re looking for what’s being talked about now, search engines such as Technorati and OneRiot try to deliver up-to-the-minute blog posts (Technorati) or the most shared content on the Web (OneRiot).  Of couse, there are now (and there will be more) ways to do searches for particular types of content, such as videos, pictures, or even powerpoint presentations online!

So what do all these changes mean for you?  Why should you care?

As a searcher:

  • Know how to tailor your searches to get the results you want (are you looking for a local shoe store or the best site related to tennis shoe design)?
  • Know what niche search options or sites are out there.  These can help you find what you’re looking for  – including market research for your business.

As a business:

  • Make sure that your company has a solid foundation in the current search paradigm.  A good Web site that is optimized for search engines (Authority and Relevancy) and which includes a lot of informative and relevant content for your audience/customers.
  • Realize that what worked in the past may work differently in the future (e.g. will your search engine optimization efforts work as well as they have in the past?  Will they be better with some video or photos?  How are you addressing mobile?)
  • Begin to create a broader presence for your company where it makes sense and when opportunities present themselves.  Take some risks with social media sites or tools but be targeted and don’t spread your resources too thin.
  • On a related note, consider how your company can participate online in ways that will expose you to potential customers who may use Niche Search such as Twitter searches, Facebook searchers, blog searches (Technoratie, Google Blog Search), etc.
  • Focus more on Local Search if this makes sense for your business – this can be very important to most small businesses (don’t overlook this!).
  • Different opportunities to advertise within or near search results will provide your company with increased flexibility to reach your potential audiences in targeted ways with the right media (text ad, video ad, banner, etc.).

Search is dead, long live search!

Search will not go away.  In fact, as it improves and evolves, it will touch more aspects of our lives. In addition, more people will go online in general, so search will continue to grow in usage and importance.  As a searcher, take advantage of the improvement and new ways to find what you need.  As a business, focus on the basics first, then look for additional opportunities to expose your company to your potential customers!

Tom Treanor is the founder of the Right Mix Marketing blog. He’s the author of the Search Engine Boot Camp, the co-author of Online Business Productivity, and regularly speaks at industry and corporate events. His writing has been featured on the Content Marketing Institute, Social Media Examiner, Copyblogger and other leading industry blogs.