By Aaron Goldman, VP, Marketing & Strategic Partnerships
I was going to use my final Search Insider column of the year (coming out tomorrow) for ’09 predictions but I had to change course and respond to Steve Baldwin’s column from last Monday taking exception to a comment I made about bid management becoming commoditized.
So, instead I’ll share my thoughts on ’09 with the Find Resolution community here:
1. Yahoo will be broken up and sold off. Right now, I think that’s the only way it can deliver value for its shareholders. My hunch is Microsoft will get Yahoo’s search business and News Corp. or some other media conglomerate will scoop up its portal and exchange assets.
2. Google will offer DART Search for free. More on this in tomorrow’s Search Insider column. Making DART Search free will lower expectations of users (hey, you get what you pay for!) and turn it into more of a solution for small and medium sized businesses (where it will face stiff competition from easy-to-use tools like Clickable). But, if the robust upgrades to Google Analytics are any indication, a free Google tool can still be very intuitive and innovative.
3. Omniture will acquire Covario and incorporate it into its Genesis suite. If a free DART Search becomes the tool of choice for SMB’s, Omniture will solidify its position as the technology for large enterprises (those that can afford to pay for “add-on services” like customer support and would be concerned with Google owning their data). For those not familiar, Covario is a nifty data aggregation platform that simplifies global search management and cross-channel tracking. Genesis is Omniture’s data warehouse that integrates data from disparate sources to allow for ease of correlation and analysis. Both share Fortune 500 customers. Seem like peas in a pod to me.
4. One of the Big 4 search engines will bow display ads on SERPs. I’ve been calling for this for over a year now. When Google bought DoubleClick, I thought this would be a no-brainer. They’ve started to tinker with banner ads on image results but that’s about it. With Yahoo desperate to increase revenue to offset a weak display market, adding banners to its SERP’s seems like a must. Meanwhile, Microsoft has to do something to make up for its measly share of search volume and Ask has already started experimenting with branding the homepage of its UK site for advertisers. One of these players will make the first move in ’09 and the others will quickly follow suit.
5. Microsoft will enhance its search results by incorporating the social graph. A month ago, I outlined my vision for the perfect search engine -- one that allows you to toggle results based on the preferences of the specific community segments (eg, demo, geo, social connections). Microsoft has all this information at its fingertips through its Facebook partnership and Windows Live ID registration data. As I mentioned in prediction #4, Microsoft has to do something radical to capture share. It’s done a good job closing the gap on Google in terms of index size and relevancy (see my comments on this post) but it can't keep playing catch up.
6. Google will have a major privacy slip-up and face serious consumer backlash. A lot has been made over the issue of privacy lately what with Yahoo recently cutting the amount of time it stores data to 90 days and Google falling off the list of most trusted companies with respect to privacy. To date, though, Google has been able to keep its “do no evil” promise intact, using consumer data only for altruistic endeavors like helping predict flu outbreaks. Mark my words, this shoe will drop in 2009. A rogue (or stupid) employee will make personally-identifiable search data available ala AOL’s 2006 snafu. A screw-up of this magnitude is about the only thing that will significantly erode Google’s search share (all apologies to YHOO, MSFT, and Ask -- even something like prediction #5 is only good for a few percentage points… the Google habit is just too well-formed).
7. Mobile will become a staple of search marketing programs. Looking back, iPhone adoption (which surpassed the Razr as the top selling domestic handset in Q3) was a tipping point for mobile search usage in the U.S. (iPhone users conduct 50x more search queries) and voice search innovation will only continue to propel it forward. We still have a ways to go to catch up with mobile usage (and handset utility) of foreign countries but there is now a meaningful audience for marketers to connect with in the mobile environment. And, with passionate mobile mavens like Bryson Meunier and Jamie Wells spreading the gospel, I suspect we’ll see more and more penetration of mobile on search marketing plans.
8. Search marketers will focus more on post-click activity. OK, I’m not really going out on much of a limb here but, with budgets flat, the pressure will be on to extract more value from each site visitor. Rather than fiddle with front-end variables to drive more volume, search marketers will put renewed energy into driving visitors to action by improving conversion rates and average order value while looking to incorporate lifetime value metrics and cross-channel attribution models.
9. Search agencies will expand their offerings beyond “pure” search. With search spend flat, agencies will need to look beyond standard search management for growth. And, with search increasingly migrating to top of mind for marketers and the center of their media mix, it follows that search agencies will be positioned well to plan and execute campaigns across other channels. The key for search agencies will be staying disciplined about where they can add value based on their knowledge of digital consumer behavior, auction-based media, and optimizable content and not stray too far from the path of the query to chase the dollars.
10. I will finally get around to launching GoodSEMBadSEM.com, GoodPPCBadPPC.com, and GoodSEOBadSEO.com. I’ve been neglecting these 3 members of the Good/Bad family, instead spending my time on Good URL Bad URL, Good Slogan Bad Slogan, Good Commercial Bad Commercial, Good Word Bad Word, Bad Ad Good Ad -- not to mention my other blogs like Digital Sea Change, EliaraGoldman.com, Freestyle Karaoke and LyricalG.com. Somehow some way, I’ll build some time into my Type-F lifestyle to start rating the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the search world. Lord knows, there’s no shortage of material out there!