As Google continues to stake its claim as the universal search app, many may wonder if the trend will continue. Practical eCommerce asked Lisa Wehr, the CEO and Founder of Oneupweb, an integrated online marketing firm, for her views not only on Google, but also about the future of online search features. Wehr has been counseling clients on improving website ROI and search engine marketing since 1995. Her firm, Oneupweb, creates integrated online marketing plans that include natural search engine optimization, paid search marketing, marketing research, conversion analytics, online advertising and podcasting. Oneupweb was named a 2006 Michigan Top Company to Watch and is the only three-time winner of the prestigious ClickZ Best Search Engine Marketing Vendor Award.
PeC: The overwhelming majority of searches are now done on Google. Will this continue in the future?
WEHR: Google will likely maintain its dominance in general search, however, the search marketplace will keep them on their toes. For example, while Google is moving toward broader, universal search results, we’re seeing growth in vertical engines specializing in particular topics, industries and geographic regions. As searchers become more sophisticated and demanding, growth and evolution in these areas will continue. We’ll also see increasing innovations within the social media arena. Those search engines who integrate new social media into their search models most effectively will see the greatest growth in the segment. Right now, Google has an edge, but competitors seem to be catching up rapidly.
PeC: Many believe that search results are frequently unrelated to the intent of the searcher. In the future, how will search engines better match intent with results?
WEHR: A few trends are currently addressing this issue. First, there’s personalized search, which bases results on an individual’s past search history. In theory at least, searchers will get more relevant results based on the sites they clicked on for similar searches in the past. The second trend is local search, where those searching for businesses or services within their region, a restaurant specializing in Thai cuisine for example, will find just those results in their immediate area. From a related paid search perspective, Geo-Targeting — though it has been around for some time — lets an advertiser reach a particular, geographically targeted audience. There’s less waste for the advertiser and fewer irrelevant paid search results for the searcher. And finally, there are additional vertical search engines, geared toward specific subjects or industries. These eliminate a lot of confusing search results and allow the experienced searcher to skip the general search engines all together.
PeC: What advice would you offer Yahoo! Search, MSN or Ask.com in their effort to gain ground on Google?
WEHR: Keep innovating and improving service. The revolutionary “preview” and other features launched at Ask.com, for example, were one of the forces behind Google’s rollout of Universal Search. Personally, I’d like to see less emphasis on knee-jerk acquisition and more on steady improvement on the search experience for users and advertisers. More specialization, less diversification.
PeC: The Internet is notoriously fickle. Many experts believe social networking sites will supplant search engines as vehicles to assist consumers in locating websites. How do you see social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook and others, competing, or interacting with, search engines?
WEHR: Currently, the major social networking sites are being assimilated rather than replacing the major search engines. Google owns YouTube, Facebook is in talks with Microsoft, MySpace sold to media giant Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. This cannot continue indefinitely. Given the fickle audience of search sites, it will prove an expensive, short-term strategy at best. What is more likely is that all search engines will begin integrating social media into their results and advertising offerings through models similar to Google’s Universal Search. In the case of paid search, I expect search engines coming to advertising and technology sharing agreements with the major social sites, either directly or through ad networks. The social sites will continue growing for the foreseeable future, not as a replacement for search engines, but as a delivery medium for new forms of content.
PeC: Other thoughts on the future of online search?
WEHR: Social media, universal Search, and the evolution and expansion of web access have incredibly widened the playing field — and the opportunities for search marketing. The new leaders in the field will be those able to accommodate new technologies and platforms most effectively, while delivering a greater level of service for their customers. It’s an exciting place to be and will remain so for the foreseeable future.