- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2008

CHICAGO

The Windy City played a snowy host to the last Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo of the year.

The four-day event, held at the Michigan Avenue Hilton, gave search engine aficionados and online marketers a place to learn, share and build business opportunities based on information retrieval and delivering advertising to the average Web user.

With gap analysis reports, typosquatting, link remediation and ontology tagging dancing in their heads, attendees found a selection of sessions, workshops and panel discussions loaded with knowledge on how to get search engines to see their clients and services.

As the online world transitions from Web 2.0 to the next digital landscape, at least three search trends stood out during the conference.

• First, the days of a search engine simply offering “10 blue links” per results page are over. Big boys such as Google and Yahoo are fully on the track to displaying rich, universal (also referred to as blended) search results. That means results routinely page embellished with video, star ratings, maps, top ten lists, music snippets and photos. Pushing more information with fewer clicks to the end user is core of the initiative, and it’s already happening.

Chris Blakely, director of Client Services for comScore, a global Internet information provider, reported that 85 percent of Web users have seen a blended search result and that 31 percent of all search results average at least one enhanced entry.

Yahoo has gone one step further by empowering publishers to take control of its results listings. Larry Cornett, vice president of Consumer Products for Yahoo Search, spoke in three panels in a row about his company’s SearchMonkey initiative (http://developer.yahoo.com/searrchmonkey). Offering templates and application development to the Web site owner, it delivers an enhanced listing tailored to a site’s content. It should be noted that it will not help rankings or how high up a listing appears on a search results page.

• Next, the question of a search engine’s effectiveness outweighing privacy rights continues to heat up. Anyone using a browser, might as well be “sitting in front of his computer naked,” according to Mike Grehan, global KDM (keyword driven marketing) officer of Acronym Media during the panel “Battle of the Browsers: Personalization or Privacy.”

Terabytes of information from browsers, ISPs and search engines continue to be collected daily and used to deliver more relevant results and ad messages.

Gary Stein, director of Strategy for Ammo Marketing, said he believes that a culture of transparency has developed and capturing sensitive information leads to a constant ethics dilemma for collectors and marketers.

“People are afraid of the government in a black helicopter, ‘X-Files’ kind of way,” he said.

“But a more realistic concern is your searches on WebMD end up in the hands of your insurance company. Or, what if a perspective employer could find out what drugs you were searching on or whether you ever did a search on how to take care of a panic attack.” Keynote speaker Bill Tancer, general manager for Global Research at Hitwise, touched on the topic in the keynote “We Are What We Click.” His observations and data suggest the younger generation has “less sensitivity to privacy” and more of a demand to find information with the minimal amount of work.

• Finally, the emergence of methods to better deliver a Web user’s need for targeted results. Essentially, searchers can in some form, literally by taking an action or through captured data, vote on the relevance of their search outcome to improve an engine’s performance.

One speaker offered an example using the word “bass.” If a search engine knows the user is part of a music community it can target results to the guitar rather than the fish.

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