Four Search Predictions for 2010

I ended last year by swiftly showing 2009 the door. Regardless of client or industry, no one seemed sad to see 2009 retire into the sunset.

So here we are in 2010, and I get to make a bunch of predictions that I won’t be held accountable for, which is the beauty of writing a column or predicting the weather.

Overall, I’m optimistic for what 2010 has to offer. If you believe in numbers, then the recent J.P. Morgan report that global search will grow roughly 17.8 percent and display advertising nearly 11 percent is encouraging. So with that… on with the predictions!

Consumers Will Return… but not in the Same way

In “Frugal is The New Black,” I discussed how the recession will change us. Even as the market rebounds, we’ll be cautious about diving back into big houses, cars, and electronics. Marketing in 2010 will feel the impact of this cultural shift.

Think about a brand that isn’t solely marketed to the affluent, such as BMW. If you bought a BMW three years ago, you may have cared about horsepower and luxury. After the recession, however, you may now be more concerned about reliability and lower payments. Brands like BMW must internalize this and focus on recession-friendly messages.

I have Sirius, and once Howard Stern leaves I’ll to have to decide whether $12 a month is worthwhile. Not that I was frivolous, but three years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Post-recession, I’m thinking that that money could go to gas or groceries.

Advertisers that focus their targeting and messaging on the post-recession world will have the greatest success in 2010.

Target the Cookie

Ad exchanges made tremendous strides in 2009. Applying paid search principles to media buying, while layering in behavioral targeting, is the next frontier.

Once again, we see that marketers want to be more efficient under the lens of the recession. This makes search re-targeting a hot button opportunity — helping marketers reach the right audience, even if it’s smaller.

Think about the implications for a financial services company. If it could segment between low- and high-risk customers, the opportunities are endless. Consumers who visited sites about repairing credit, clicked on a credit report banner, or performed “debt consolidation” queries would be driven to a page for a pre-paid credit card. Conversely, an individual who appears to be shopping around would be driven to a comparison page and sign-up form.

Search can provide us with invaluable, query-based intent data, but we still lack the ability to properly pull it all together for appropriate targeting. If only there were two companies merging together that had a search engine and a mass amount of display advertising…

Bing Wins!

I have to include at least one prediction that may not come true, at least not in 2010. Every year it’s been mobile, so I’m picking something else. All kidding aside, I actually believe in Bing’s ability to win — just not in the manner that everyone else thinks.

People always ask me if anybody can beat Google. My answer is always, “It depends how you define ‘beat.'”

Google has 70 percent of the search market. It’s habit-forming. It’s a verb. It’s on our phones. It’s so ingrained in our everyday lives that it would be hard to stop using it. Therefore, if you define “beat” as “taking significant share,” then the answer is no; Bing won’t win anytime soon.

However, Bing doesn’t need to gain significant share to win. What if Microhoo takes its combined share up to 30 to 35 percent but properly leverages its display network to deliver on the promise of re-targeting and integrated advertising campaigns? Yes, this would require some strides in technology and a realignment of how they sell, but in the end they could do it.

So if “beat” is defined as “going beyond search to true targeting and integration,” then I think Bing can win. If this isn’t a huge opportunity, why is Google putting so much effort into its ad exchange?

The Google Backlash

If Tiger Woods has taught us anything, it’s this: Don’t leave voice mails. Actually, I meant that he taught us that no matter how beloved you are, you can easily fall from grace. As much as we love Google, our society, sadly, loves to see a train wreck.

I have long believed that when Google breaks it will be our fault. We put so much stock into Google. It dictates movements and changes, and not just in the digital industry. The stock market moves based on its earnings. We’ve put so much into Google that it has to move beyond search in order to meet the demands we’ve placed on it.

And Google can’t stand still. It’s forced to meet our channel demands (mobile search and Chrome), find ways to maximize profits (change trademark policies), provide increasingly creepy ways to target (DoubleClick Ad Exchange) and launch products that can hurt my brand (SideWiki).

Service from Google has gotten worse over the last year or so. As Google branches into new areas, it really doesn’t have to pay attention to clients as much — because, frankly, there’s really no other place for them to go. While I’m not happy about SideWiki or changes in their trademark policy, I can’t take my clients off of Google.

Between service, new products, and privacy issues, this year we’ll start to see a backlash against Google. It could go from being perceived as friendly and altruistic to a company focused on a bottom line.

“Roads? Where We’re Going we Don’t Need Roads”

To quote the immortal Dr. Emmett Brown, the road in 2010 isn’t clearly defined. Some good roads have been laid out, but there are just as many trails off the beaten path that need to be carved out. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited by the prospect of blazing some trails as we continue to shape an industry.

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