The Many Futures of Search

by Marianne Richmond on July 27, 2009

future of searchLots of discussion lately about search and its future. Before we really have had time to decide if Bing was necessary to our search life or that the thought

of Yahoo’s new homepage was interesting enough to take a look at, Ad Age reports that, “Yahoo is close to making Microsoft’s Bing its search provider.”

Huh? Must be the can’t beat ‘join’em, that was the Yahoo homepage redesign strategy.

So is the future of search real time? Is it social relevancy?

Is it even relevant to discuss it in such terms as though “real time” search makes Google obsolete or unless social relevancy rank is determined, results are somehow incomplete? Not really, because the importance of real time search or the importance of social relevancy rank in search depends upon the reason behind the search; in other words, it depends. Real time search, or what’s on Twitter, is valuable if your search is for something that has recency. Throw in Trending Topics and you have recency with a bit of the weight of the crowd.

But who is that crowd? Friend Feed gives us “our crowd” (by choice) but as noted here on Read Write Web, that can be more about social proximity than relevancy. But social proof theory would perhaps indicate that social proximity=relevance; we’re influenced by the “crowd;” with Friend Feed we filter the crowd into “our socially proximate crowd” which equates to relevance by default. Read Danny Sullivan‘s post on the definition of real time search.  It lays out the entire existing landscape…as it is at the moment.

So the future of search in general is probably not all that exciting to us individually… until it is put in the context of our individual web/blog/business/marketing strategy. And the definition of our own overall business goals and marketing strategy is something we really should be reviewing in the context of all the many new choices and opportunities for using search.Then the next step is to check to see if your digital identity or that of your brand or business is consistent with what you want it to be…

In the context of your business, how do local search, social search and real time search, fit?

If you want to be found online, especially if you want your business to be found online, and you believe that you don’t need a search strategy because you write great content and have a social media marketing strategy, think again. Sure, blogs and social networks are continuing their rapid increase of share of time spent online and certainly of the share of time spent reporting this trend.

However, as the Ketchum/Annenberg study of media in the 21st century correctly pointed out, “the content deliverable that were once owned by a specific medium are now found on nearly all platforms” and not only does that mean that an online visit to Amazon to purchase a book, obsentibly, an online shopping occasion is also a visit to a vibrant and influential social network consisting of aggregated and hierarchical  peer and product reviews, topical user generated lists, comments, suggestions and 2- way conversations. Even the review itself is rated on helpfulness and the reviewer can create a profile with off-Amazon contact information and that attests to his/her peer rated status: e.g. 85% helpful score.

So, the lines between search and social media are pretty blurry here already. And of course we already know that we trust the people that we know, our friends and family…..if not the people that we went to high school with, the people that went to our high school. And if we happen to encounter one of those trusted sources who is frequently recommending a new restaurant, hairdresser,  or social media consultant there is a reasonably good chance that their information was at least partially obtained through search (use of search 70% among influencers and 57% general population according to Annenberg).

If you have been writing a blog for a while and participate/have a profile on social networking sites, have a presence on Twitter you have a social media search strategy. You may be satisfied with your search rank results and not see the need to pursue the topic any further. However when you think of search strategy, also think of what people looking for you/your business might find… you have a profile on Yelp? on Amazon? Do you write reviews. Are their responses to your reviews? Have you been reviewed? All part of a social media search strategy that should include online reputation monitoring and management. Check your digital trail and respond accordingly.

What else is relevant?

Google introduced an important shift in search called Universal Search in May, 2007with the following announcement:

Google’s vision for universal search is to ultimately search across all its content sources, compare and rank all the information in real time, and deliver a single, integrated set of search results that offers users precisely what they are looking for. Beginning today, the company will incorporate information from a variety of previously separate sources – including videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites – into a single set of results. At first, universal search results may be subtle. Over time users will recognize additional types of content integrated into their search results as the company advances toward delivering a truly comprehensive search experience.

Fast forward to now and what this means to small businesses, i.e. most of us. I use the term “small businesses” not “local businesses” because this distinction was something I am embarassed to admit caused me to think too much about local search. In other words, although my business is located in St. Louis, my business is not dependent upon a specific location like a retail business or a doctor, lawyer etc so where a search for a lawyer may consist of “st. louis attorney” my thinking was that the search term “St. Louis” was not relevant to me. Wrong. Google merged “local” into “maps”a few years ago so as you notice “maps” is included in Universal search. Maps/local is partly a  business directory listing: Business name, phone, location map that is generated by third party listings such as Yellow Pages so chances are you, small business owner, are listed.

However there are many other components of this listing explained by Google here but to highlight, the first mentioned, the Local Businss Center is where Google encourages business owner to go and verify the 3rd party information and to actualy create a listing that describes your desired business profile; you can add your description of your business, categories, photos, videos, and other websites. Also, other people can write a review. Note, Google says “Both of these sources (UGC & Web) are submitted directly to Google and crawled.”  SO…even before we get to “Universal Search” your local listing is important to your search results. Google encourages that you check it and verify it. If you do, they note that with a “verified by business owner” designation. According to David Mihm’s survey ranking , claiming your listing is the 4th most important factor influencing your ranking in the Google and Yahoo Local “universal search algorithms.

My suggestion: Go immediately and find your listing in the Google Local Business Center and Yahoo Local. That is the easy part. Navigating the meaning of all the intricacies of the implications of Universal Search for your own business is more complicated, What I would recommend though is to Google your business name with and without a local designation. Then use Google maps and do the same thing. Repeat with your businesses relevant “keywords”.  Check out what’s there. Reviews? Negative? Respond! You don’t show up in the top search results for your keywords?  Read “Google Becomes More Local.” and “Google Showing Local Results On Non Local Queries” and It’s All About Local Organic Domination”. And for more info about user ratings and review.

Another bonus to claiming your listing is the dashboard that Google provides. To further analyze if “local” is relevant to your business, the dashboard will tell you how many times your business came up in local search, what the search term was and how many times, if any, driving directions were requested. You might even be surprised at the results.

So, find the part of the “future of search” that is relevant to you and your business and evaluate frequently.

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