What’s the Future of Search?

Isn’t there something just inherently ‘Internet-y’ in speculating about what the future will bring? Personally, I always enjoy chatting with smart web-savvy internet folks about where we are headed with ‘this’ or ‘that’ in the future.

At SMX Advanced in Seattle this year I asked Rebecca Lieb about what she is reading in the tea leaves insofar as search is concerned. Here are a few key concepts I considered the big takeaways from the discussion.

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Social Media: Rebecca believes we are going to see search engines spend a lot of time and effort developing ways to integrate social and behavioral data into search. We all know about Google’s appetite for data. Most people even on the periphery of the industry have a really good idea (and a nagging worry?) about how much data Google has about our search behavior.

What about Facebook? What about Twitter? Facebook goes a little different direction than what your behavior is, they know more than what we do… they know what we like. They know this because we tell them. We tell them our favorite colors, our favorite bands and where we like to go on vacation.

We tell Twitter about ourselves too, but most importantly with Twitter, we tell them what we are doing ‘right now’. Think a search engine wouldn’t be interested in knowing what you are doing ‘right now’ when you are doing a search? Maybe?

If you can get past the slightly creepy aspects of this concept, the upside of it all is that we will probably have better search engines. All of this data we are feeding the machines about ourselves is going to make the machines exponentially better at interpreting what we ‘mean’ when we type in a query. Pretty soon, who knows? They may know more about what we want than we do. Won’t that be nice? Instead of typing queries into search bars, we can just request optimal instructions. Be a big time saver… Gives the ‘Feeling Lucky’ button a whole other slant too, doesn’t it?

There’s an App for That: Rebecca seems to be of the opinion that search, particularly mobile search, might slip through the fingers of the giant aggregators like Google and Bing. She believes we are going to see an uptake in usage and mobile search marketshare going to specialized search apps like Urban Spoon.

There may still be 3 or 4 of you out there thinking ‘meh, mobile search’ but pay attention to the part in the video where Rebecca points out that “30% of Google search in Japan is coming from mobile search”. That’s a lot of search. Think that % is going to go down? Clearly I can’t speak for everybody, but personally, I think this smartphone thing might have some legs to it.

Say Hello to your Customer: Another memorable Rebecca quote (well praraphrase at least) from the video is; “people are really realizing that monitoring reputation management is more and more a part of search”.

As social media data makes it’s way into search engines, companies better have a good idea about the potential impact – good and bad – they may be looking at when ALL of their customers have the potential to air their opinions.

The guy that bought the ‘XL Blue Beach Widget’ last week and left a 3 page rant about how bad it sucked and how horrible your company was to deal with, could more and more find his way to the top of search results for your ‘XL Blue Beach Widgets’. What happens if your ‘XL Blue Beach Widgets’ normally make up 30% of your seasonal spring internet sales? That could get ugly. Say hello to your customer. If they wave, wave back.

Search, as Rebecca points out is becoming more and more of a 2 way street. Your clients are informing your market strategies already now more than they ever have. This influence is only going to grow. If you are thinking about your Search strategy and have another group in your organization working on your Social strategy…. you guys need to hang out more. A lot more. Go to lunch, have drinks after work, become room mates (if you are management, consider handcuffing these people together) – whatever it takes. Social and search get a little closer every day. If search is vital to your business, then social is vital to your business, you may just not know it yet… But it’s coming.

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