Morning Keynote – The Evolution of Search: End Users Signal The Way

March 25, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Good morning, folks! It’s Day 3 here at Search Engine Strategies New York and I am just a little bit punchy. Hopefully this coffee will get me settled, otherwise today is going to be very amusing indeed. SES is finally rocking some awesome tunes and they’re almost loud enough to dance to.  Oh well. Just as I said that they start playing that stupid Coldplay song.  I retract my statement.

But it’s time to get started. Yusuf Mehdi is up on stage getting ready to speak.  Yusuf is Senior Vice President of the Online Audience Business of Bing. Or Binghoo. Whatevs. I hear we’re gonna get some big Bing announcements.

He’s been at Microsoft for 19 years. I think my head just exploded. NINETEEN years? That’s the longest time ever.  He was at Microsoft when Windows started [Not really something to brag about, is it? I’m KIDDING! Relax.]  He worked on Internet Explorer 1-5. [These jokes are just writing themselves.]  He was there when Microsoft debated and entered search.   They had to see if they could even write a crawler for the Web.  They crawled 48 documents and the server tripped over.    Most recently he’s worked on Bing and MSN. He says it’s been great to be part of the momentum.

Microsoft was late to get into the game with Internet Explorer and search. Was there pressure there to just do something?

Absolutely. We had a view but the market moves quickly. You have to be responsive to the market but also build on your strategy. Microsoft missed the boat with the Web early on. They were more focused on the head than the tail. But things change.  Every second of the day when search started there were 4 new URLs created.  On any given month, about a third of the queries that show up are first time queries. And a huge chunk, they’ll never see again. You have to be up to speed to respond to the data and index the right things. The problem gets harder as you move into new forms of anything, for example, with unstructured data. How do you get to Twitter feeds or YouTube videos? How do you get to things that are closed off? What about URLs?

When you bring all this data together and you’re looking at new types of documents, how important is on-page SEO? Should you be looking at links first?

There isn’t anything out of the ordinary that people aren’t already doing today. It’s the classic things – make your pages well-designed and well-formed to make them easily crawlable.  How have things changed? The biggest change is that search was really good at navigation. The whole point was helping people to find a Web site.  Page Rank was about helping people understand the dynamics of URLs and relevancy.   You have to think about the new types of queries and how to formulate them. They’re trying to design the next generation of search where they can answer questions that are more fuzzy and are more of a dialogue with consumers. They want to be a destination site, not just deliver people links. He says that consumers are looking for something other than links.  When he thinks about the SEO community, he thinks about them as developers of search.

If you only use links to rank documents, then you’re excluding millions of users. If you start tracking users and looking at query trails, you can learn a lot more about users and what they prefer.  The end user has taken the lead now. The more you understand them, the better you can connect them with the right content.

He agrees. They’ve done a huge amount of data mining and it’s been a big breakthrough for them. They watch on an anonymous basis and they can see how people complete a task. The way to help people is to help them perform tasks, not to give them links.  It’s about understanding intent.  He compares it to building the ultimate mind reader.

Users are more sophisticated now.  If you know what it is that I like and what I want, why do I have to keep asking? [Girlfriends and wives have been asking this since the beginning of time…]

He nods.

They have a place on their site that makes sure the URL was crawled properly, that the proper keywords are there.  What can you do with applications or richer answers on the page.

How has search changed with Bing?

They have a new graphic approach.   It’s ‘hot with kids in schools’, he says. Heh.

He starts with a query on Taylor Swift.  In the past, you’d get some links and little by little some content. They’re adding a bunch of information in a new box that effectively becomes the answer. They’ll link to the official site, include images, etc.  It’s not just a page with keywords, it’s an entity. It’s a person.   They’re using the left pane to bring topics into the mix.  A search for Taylor Swift means you can find Songs, Lyrics, Ringtones, Albums, etc.  It essentially becomes a portal page.

A search for Miami Beach will bring up different hotels, parts of Miami, spas and resorts, etc.  They’re pulling out the content.   They have full screen slide shows (I have to admit, that was pretty cool) so you can check out a hotel before going there.

If you’re booking a flight, they’ve introduced some new tools with Bing Travel. You can see the prices and they’ll tell you if prices are going to go up or down. You can see flights directly on Bing to help you get the task done.

A search for will tell you the links that are being shared.  You can see Twitter trending topics.

He brings up a search for [new car].  You can search visually, get specs and safety info, read reviews, etc. He calls it an incredibly rich way to discover information. Honestly, I feel like we just time warped back to when started its own blended search a few years ago. Remember that? When they created the 3 pane view and it was awesome and better than everyone else? I’m talking about BEFORE Barry Diller killed the engine and broke my little heart.  The stuff we’re seeing is cool, it’s just not “new”. It also doesn’t show how they’re going to conquer search.


Yusuf says that local and commerce will be very big things as search evolves.  He shows Bing Maps. I haven’t played with them but they actually look pretty cool based on what he’s showing.  Cool enough that I’ll consider using them.  Though I’m not sure I really needed a five minute Bing Map demo.  This is what you’ve got for me, Bing?

He talks about applications and goes to the map applications. Oh noes, more maps! You can take a live feed of Twitter and overlay it on a map. Because that’s what you’ve secretly always wanted to do.  He shows how you can find tweets that just have photos of them and the photos will appear on the map.  I suppose that’s clever.   You can geo-code photos so that Bing will now where to put it.

Some other man named Dennis comes up to talk about the new FourSquare app.  Dennis is pretty cute.   They’re using the FourSquare info in real-time by overlaying it on (wait for it) A MAP! and see where people are as they update. When people post info it’s being disaggregated from its local context.

And that’s going to do it for the Bing keynote?  Thoughts? I’ve got one word: MAPS!

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