Search: Where to Next?

March 22, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Hey, hey! Still hanging out with us? I hope so. Up ahead we have another killer panel. Up next we have the awesome Anne F. Kennedy moderating speakers Josh McCoy, Rob Garner, Eli Goodman, and Duane Forrester.  Susan Esparza is liveblogging for Bruce Clay, Inc. to my left. If her laptop “accidentally” gets knocked over preventing her from being able to finish…well, then…I have no idea how that may have happened?

Anne asks where you were five years ago. Five years ago I was probably sitting in the very same seat liveblogging an SES New York session. Oh how far I’ve come. ;)  Okay, sounds like we’re going to hop right into things. There are no formal presentations. We’re just going to chat. And I’m going to scramble to get it all down.

Everyone has a minute to convince you why you should listen to them. It’s all introduction stuff.

Right now we have Facebook, Google, YouTube – is it fair to suggest that likes are replacing links? Discuss?

Eli: He’s the numbers guy. Google last month in the US did 10+ billion searches, YouTube more than3.5 billion, Facebook 600-700 million. Based on that information, he does not think that likes will replace links. Likes are relatively limited. He hasn’t seen an incredible revolution in the world of social search just yet. 5-10 years from now, maybe. He’s also concerned about people getting totally personalized search. A lot of times what’s interesting are the things you didn’t mean to look at, but you found through search.

Rob: He’s done a lot of research on the influence of social signals on natural search results.  We’ve moved into an area where social influence is coming. Are likes going to replace links? No. But you have an area where the social graph can be contributing to as a vote for content in some way. It’s not wholly increasing it, but it’s taking away from the link graph. We’ve seen this since December 2009 with the integration of Twitter data into Bing and Google. We’re still talking about apples and oranges in terms of social networks and search. Will Facebook also eat into Google?  They’re not going to totally eat each other. With social signals and links contributing, it’s doing that now. We see what’s useful to the engine.  When they’re useful, the engines use them. When they stop being useful, the engines stop using them.

Josh:  He doesn’t think that down the road it’s going to be a dominate over actual link building because it’s easier to game than general link building. It’s one of those things in the last couple of months we’ve seen Google clean house with the type of content that’s out there. He thinks likes will become more beneficial. It’s one way the search engines will try to combat bad link building.

Duane:  There’s a couple of things to keep in mind. Social is a great signal. Bing is very interested in understanding those signals because they help you get to the root of intent – which is, essentially, what they’re trying to uncover. Social, as a signal, can really back-fill that for them and give them a lot of understanding. One thing to be careful with is – you have a group of friends and you’re super popular and they like something, the challenge you have is that you have a limited universe. The signals that are given back by your friends may not be enough. If everyone of your friends drives a horse to work and you ask them where to get the best gas for your car, their answer is going to skew away from what you need. They have to be careful of that. Social will continue to grow in prominence. Sites like Facebook are great for helping you understand your peer intent, that’s great in useful areas. Where it falls out of usefulness is when you’re not that focused on it or there’s a limited set of results.  They have to parse out what’s relevant to you and what’s relevant to everyone else.

Personalization – what are the effects?

Eli: It’s all local now. They know exactly what you want and where you are.   Most people don’t mind being advertised to as long as it’s relevant. It doesn’t mess up your experience, it’s not like pop ups. That said, too much personalization can be a bad thing because the person you are today isn’t the person you’ll be in 5 years. When they start building out “who you are” – how intelligent are those systems? Can they see the full who you are as a person?  Although there’s a degree of personalization, it won’t be too personal because it’s too limiting.

Duane: He often thinks of exactly that. If you’re logged in you see something that’s more relevant to you. When he thinks of personalization, he looks at it as how can something help him accomplish what he needs to do? Search isn’t necessarily a destination, it’s something that helps you get there.   That’s where he’s heading. He seems personalization as something that’s going to grow more out of apps. The mobile apps are hugely influential in this. You have to have smart apps. If you’re looking for something and you’re using an app for it, that app better be savvy enough to tell if you’re walking or driving. Are you traveling down the highway at 75 miles an hour or are you walking looking for the nearest Starbucks? You have to be watching for that kind of thing. It’s going to make a big difference in how you move content out.

Josh: You’re going to want to take that personalization to your site. They want your site to serve as an extension of that experience. They’re going to log into their Facebook profile. You’ll know the last time they were there and you’ll be able to show them the new content to your site. It’s going to better help get the content to people who are returning to your site. It’s going to help new and returning visitors.

Rob: Location is one of the most sensible uses of personalization but there are a ton of issues with it.  In Google, about 20 percent of the search results page may be personalized as it stands. It maintains the overall character of your search page and it’s not too disruptive.  There are a couple of angles on this. It’s about tailoring your results to who you are and what you may be seeking, but you don’t always want that from a search engine. There’s an inference of credibility when a site ranks number one. We don’t want to know what WE, the user, things is the best answer spit back at us. Right now there’s no good toggle for doing that.  Another impedance is that Google is sensitive to “the creepy factor”. If you get your experience spit right back at you, it’s a shock to the system and it creeps you the heck out. People are put off by that. We may be giving the engines a ton of data about ourselves, we’re not quite ready for that yet. It could be generational.

Eli: 10 years down the road there will be an incredible evolution in the science of understanding intent. If he types in [chicago bears] he could be looking for tickets memorabilia, anything.    Maybe he hates the Chicago Bears and he wants blogs that are mean to them.  It’s going to take syntax and inflection into account.

Is it possible or impossible or in between to think about how we can monetize this?

Eli: Monetization in personaliation is the ability to Facebook to tag pictures with search ads. Another thing he’s thinking about is we’ll see billions of dollars into search from brand marketers.

Rob: We look at search as being last click attribution. They’re looking at the last search and tying it to a dollar amount when the reality is there’s a much deeper process behind that action.  They’re giving you a window into a complex thinking process. As we get more data and learn more about them we’re finding it’s a much deeper experience and there’s a more profound way to deal with these users in search and social. Once that’s realized than those million dollars will begin to come over. The engines are holding all the data when we talk about personalization.  They have patterns within groups or exact users about what they’re thinking. It gets into privacy areas and how far you can go. He talks about when AOL released anonymized user data where you could still find out who they were, what their interests were, etc.  They go through a research process with personas but the engines are sitting upon way greater data.

Duane: He thinks it’s an extremely exciting opportunity. More dollars are going to come to online and there are new avenues no one has even thought of. Things are going to come faster than we expect.

Anne says can recline on her sofa, watch television and buy something on TV – She asks if she’ll ever  get off the sofa? Or I can say something to my search and tell it to find me new shoes under than $500 [duuude, where you beuying your shoes??]

Josh: We live in a society of convenience. Things like audio and visual search are definitely going to happen. In 10 years you’ll be able to sit there with your laser pointer.

Duane:  You’re still gonna have to get off the sofa to go get the box w hen it’s delivered. He doesn’t see any of this making us more sedentary. He sees this as a response to everyone needing more time. We’re using our time more efficiently. The process of completing a task will become more transparent and take less time. Imagine if you were walking through your living room and you make a gesture at your TV, and you’ve made a transaction. It’s about saving time. [I mean, I agree…but I think it’s also about us being a tad lazy. ]

Rob: In one trunk you have traditional search. That’s not going to go away.  Then we have this other aspect of search that’s coming into everything in the physical world. It might be coming to our TV. We’re talking about transitional things right now. The other thing to think about is we’ll still be having this conversation. The world will still be changing in a great way. He’s been monitoring touch interface design and they’re at the beginning of all this. They’re mapping physical touch points to everything.  It’s a very real possibility that youll be able to order more milk straight from your fridge. It’s a story that is just now being written and mapped. We have a lot to think about in terms of where we’re going.

Eli: He thinks in 10 years everything will be interactive. He asks if anyone here as played World of Warcraft. GUYS, I HAVE SO MANY JOKES! You’ll be able to interact with everything and search will be a key component of that.

I missed the question – but it was something about how personalization is going to work when going global

Eli: It’s pretty clear with the lack of net neturality that there will definitely be people gaming the system. Let’s say that.  That will always be a battle. If there’s something that involved money, someone will try to exploit the system.  [Anne says it’s not “exploitation” it’s “opportunity”.

Rob: It’s the passing of data that gets sticky.  We could lose the passing of data that’s not validated by the user. As far as actual personalization, it can still be extremely robust. That potential will still be there.

Josh: The Web made the world small, social media made the world even smaller. With personalization, going global is much easier.

Duane: Wherever you’re at, you have to follow the laws in that area. They’re looking for the signals and they have to work inline with the law.

Audience: I have a question for the Bing guy (hee!). Recently you’ve added a search box in search. If he ‘bings’ Expedia, there’s a search box in the Bing result. What are the results of that?

Duane: We are constantly testing any good ideas that we bring forward that will improve experience and shorten the path to task completion.  They also have tabs now on search results to see if people will utilize them.  What the future plan is for that? He’s not sure. It’s also not something he can share because it’s a beta test.

Anne likes the rollover snippets.

In your opinion, what’s most important – location-based search or social search?

Duane: You can’t choose one of those. Be careful where your spend time. Focus on creating good content. Their job is to deliver the best results. You have to give them that. Local, social – these are signals that they’re using.  It’s never going to be as simple as saying, “oh, local is more important”.

Josh: He also says both. You can go local-social. If you’re concentrating on your local presence, you’re having aggregated in reviews, social info, etc. If you’re doing well focused on location-based search, it’s going to pull in the other data.

Rob: The answer definitely is “both” and “it depends”.

Eli: He feels the maturation of local search will happen much faster than social search.

What are your thoughts on automated link building vs quality content?

Duane: We like links and we like organic links. We like links that are obvious and that use good terms to describe the content. That’ SEO 101 and you don’t need to stray from that. That helps us understand the intent between the two. Don’t be worried about putting stuff up on Craigslist to get extra rub. They can easily discount the value of that. Look for good Web sites that are willing to put a link in the content. If someone embeds a link in their content they obviously feel strongly their readers should go to that link. They look at that stuff seriously.  It’s always about quality content. It’s the basis of everything and it is that simple.

Rob: There’s one word about the new approach to SEO – engagement. It’s engaging your core user. When you engage someone, you create content that they want to read and it’s going to travel.  Engage your target audience through content. Low-quality SEO’d pages was easier a few years ago. It’s not going to be so easy in the coming years. You have to compete by doing more research, better understanding your users, what they like to do, etc. Figure what that is and then do it better than everyone else.

Duane: Think in terms of Content Optimization, not search engine optimization. The content is what the search engines are after.

When are we going to be able to serve relevant personalized ads based on what someone did on their client’s site?

Josh: We already have that in terms of remarketing.

Duane says to talk to him after the session.

Final Takeaways:

Duane:  Quality content, rich snippets, getting people from doing to done. How do you help your user complete that task? Think of your content in terms of the person who’s going to consume it and they’re need.

Josh: Content. Quit building pages just to build pages because all you can think about is SEO with your blinders on. It’s about engaging and that is extremely important as we move forward. No more building junk pages. Google is cleaning house with that. You need to have unique data that is purposeful.  Pay more attention to video and images.

Rob: Content is exploding. There’s  a gap between the search demand going on and the content you have to meet that demand.  You have to have a piece of content to match a query and an intent. Build out long-term content- stuff you can keep on your site for 5-10 years. Look at the technical aspects of your Web site. Advanced SEO is taking the basics and doing them over and over and over again.

Eli: The best way to see the future is to look at what your competition is doing.  The future is someone else is already there. Research and analyze what’s working for your competition that’s not working for you.

And that’s it.  I gotta go run and charge my laptop because SES doesn’t believe in power strips. ;)



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