2010 Search Predictions: The Experts Weigh In

Every January, journalists, bloggers and other industry folk take to their respective blogs and publications to predict what may happen in the New Year. Search is no exception to such speculation.

We compiled a list of five predictions for search in 2010 and asked experts to weigh in on whether they think those predictions will play out.

1. John Battelle – Google will make a corporate decision to become seen as a software brand rather than as “just a search engine.”

Pat Duncan, Associate Partner in Rosetta’s Consumer Products & Retail vertical

In terms of corporate culture, it makes sense for Google to identify itself as a software company to help ensure focus and a proper product roadmap. However, it diminishes Google’s role as the Internet’s largest advertising network, and I wouldn’t count out Google from continuing to dabble in areas where they see opportunities. Take Nexus One, for example, where Google has gotten into the retail business by selling the phone direct to consumers. It will take some time before we know if this works, but it could end up being a game changer in retail.

Rich Kahn, CEO of eZanga

I don’t think it’s necessary for Google to officially rebrand itself as a software company. Many companies that have changed their concept have usually been met with resistance. Ask.com is an example of this, when Ask catered to answering questions, they were very popular amoung women, which is a great demographic to support. As they continued to change their focus away from what made them popular, they started to lose their loyal audience and that, in the end, has only hurt them.

People use Google for certain reseaons, and those reasons are why their popularity is so high…changing that could very well affect their popularity. However, they should continue to grown and offer new products, but should not change their primary focus.

Those that ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.

Richard Sim, VP Product Management & Marketing, Anchor Intelligence

I agree that Google will increasingly identify itself as a software brand, and more specifically, a software-as-a-service brand. Software, as we’ve traditionally come to know it, comes in a shrink-wrapped box with regular software updates. Software as a service is delivered via the cloud and enables unfettered collaboration from virtually anywhere in the world. As Google’s various products continue to penetrate the enterprise (Google Apps), the home office (Google Docs, Gmail, Chrome), and academia (Google Edu), its brand will inevitably become associated with software delivered via the cloud.

Furthermore, aligning its corporate brand with software as opposed to say, indexing data, works towards Google’s advantage in the public eye. Today, Google openly states its mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” As its products become more ubiquitous and concerns about privacy grow, the company will likely downplay its goal of data organization and instead draw attention to delivering seamless and elegant end user experiences.

2. Ron Shuttleworth at Seeking Alpha, Vertical search will finally take off in 2010: local search enabled by GPS on mobile devices will capture the imagination of consumers during 2010.

Payam Zamani, Founder, Chairman & CEO of Reply.com

There’s no doubt that local search is a major need, both for consumers and for marketers trying to engage customers around offline purchases in local markets. The leading search engine advertising platforms have failed in providing adequate solutions for hyper local businesses, such as car dealers, real estate agents, home and car repair services, physicians, etc. I expect to see continued innovation in this area in 2010.

Ben Saren, Co-Founder and CEO of CitySquares

No question that vertical search is up and coming. As consumers have been trained to search and find just about anything they’re looking for, local search is still a huge opportunity and has a long way to go. As a result, vertical search is where it’s at – it’s a long tail opportunity. Looking for babysitters in Des Moines Iowa? There should be a site for that. Looking for garbage pick up schedules in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, there should be a site for that. The problem is that the local newspapers used to provide much of this information to local people, but as local papers have gone under or simply don’t have the reporters anymore, there’s been a void left behind and this is where vertical search comes in. Necessity is the mother of invention, and people need to find this kind of information online. I’m seeing more and more of these vertical and niche sites sprout up every day, and am on the advisory board of two such companies. It’s just awesome to see the innovation and the creativity. 2010 will undoubtedly reveal more of this need and more of these solutions.

Kara Nortman, Senior Vice President, Publishing, Citysearch

Mobile is the future of local search. And, as the local search market continues to innovate and consumers become increasingly more reliant on mobile devices for everything from to work to play, the mobile device will become even more instrumental to our business. As a company, we are heavily investing across all devices and mobile search functionality including GPS, heatmap analysis and the like, to give customers a superior local experience. In addition to building and powering our own Citysearch app, we power some of the most talked about social city guide apps, like Urbanspoon, Loopt and Where, to offer users a customizable experience. The bottom line is that when it comes to any vertical search market, you’ve got to remember that to truly capture consumers you have to play where they play, serve up the content they want – the way they want it, and provide tools that enable people to easily explore, choose and share from the palms of their hands.

Dinesh Moorjani, Vice President, Mobile for IAC

Smartphones will become the defacto access point for urgent content ingestion and search, overtaking stationary computing among higher-discretional spend consumer segments, attracting advertisers. With only 24 hrs in a day and digital media device proliferation cannibalizing idle and leisure time (think e-readers, gaming platforms, Netflix devices, etc.), smartphones are increasingly incorporating functionality that previously existed on multiple, distinct devices. A growing segment of mobile users find their smartphone to be more convenient, personal, and accessible than stationary computing or laptops. The result will be a tectonic shift in companies rapidly investing in consumer behavior analytics, performance tracking, and improvements in the signal to noise ratio among competitive services on small screens. This will be most profound when mobile advertising shifts targeting strategies from one-to-many to one-to-one in a scalable way, based on passive information about the user (location, propensity to engage, etc.). Although share of wallet and retail purchases will continue to be dominated by the full online experience, users will certainly gain comfort consuming in a mobile economy if price points, the user experience, and security continue to improve.

Peter Berger, CEO of Suite101.com

It’s important not to conflate – as I think Shuttleworth does – mobile technology and local search, however much the two overlap. Google’s very recent move to allow business owners to verify and post updates to Place Pages, for example, are as much aimed at dethroning Yelp as providing value to mobile users.

I would argue that vertical search has not only already “taken off,” but has been an integral part of the search engine landscape for years – and indeed has experienced its biggest success through integration into global engines in the form of universal search. But that may simply be a point of nomenclature.

Mobile search is absolutely poised to be a bigger player in search, as evidenced by a number of search initiatives already rolled out by Google in the first weeks of this year. Development and adoption of search products related to GPS-enabled devices will continue to grow rapidly, if not at the furious pace predicted by some analysts. And reports of the imminent death of PC-based based browser queries are greatly exaggerated.

3. Kim-Mai Cutler at Venture Beat – Twitter will launch its own social version of AdWords — And contrary to what chief operating officer Dick Costolo said earlier this year, we’re not sure everyone is going to love it.

Craig Greenfield, Vice President of Search and Performance Media for Performics

Advertising on Twitter will be even more relevant if advertisers are able choose to target ads not merely based on keywords within tweets, but also based on certain criteria. This criteria could include the tweet’s sentiment (positive or negative to a brand), location, a user’s number of followers, overall attitude of the user (generally happy, anxious, etc.), the user’s tweet volume, and eventually the profile of the user based on their past tweets. Balancing relevancy with volume will be key to effective Twitter advertising.

Pat Duncan, Associate Partner in Rosetta’s Consumer Products & Retail vertical

With their own version of AdWords, Twitter could certainly put a different twist on ‘social shopping’. Imagine your friend tweeting about an offer they just found while shopping on the Internet, and the tweet showing up with a link directly to the offer. Additionally, sites like GroupOn could benefit with instant access to the group offer. This opens up a whole new avenue for retailers trying to reach interested buyers.

David Berkowitz, Senior Director of Emerging Media & Innovation at digital marketing agency 360i

If Twitter launches its own version of AdWords, it could lead to an all out user rebellion depending on how it’s rolled out and communicated to users. If ads are attached to specific tweets, tweeters might demand compensation in exchange for the display of advertising. There would then be two camps – those who accept the cash and those who don’t, and those who don’t would be doing so mostly because of the moral high ground of not wanting to be outright shills. One of Twitter’s many challenges is to find a broad enough advertising model that doesn’t compromise the current organic conversation occurring to the benefit of all its users, including marketers.

4. Chris O’Brien at Mercury News – Google gets hit with an antitrust suit.

Ben Saren, Co-Founder and CEO of CitySquares

I can’t help but think that Google is heading where Microsoft once was – in too many places and making for unfair competition. While they may be cooperating with open standards and the open web, Google has become a massive, unstoppable machine that is making it very difficult for anyone to compete with them on any level. As it seems now, Google is everywhere – online and offline. Be it word processing and spreadsheets, SaaS, email, mobile, desktop platforms, mobile platforms, search (of all types), and on and on, they’re going too far too fast and making it difficult for anyone to compete or innovate. They’re setting the rules in too many places (China, anyone?) and as a result, government(s) are going to step in. In my not-so-humble opinion, they must step in. I’m oversimplifying this quite a bit, but I know I’m not the only one thinking this way. I fear Google now, more than I like and respect Google as I once did.

Rich Kahn, CEO of eZanga

Antitrust issues always pop up for large companies, I guess it is just the nature of the beast. It’s a sign that your company has reached an elite level. There are rules that all of us must abide by, so as long as they follow those rules, then it will just be a formality, almost a right of passage.

5. Alex Chitu at Google Operating System blog, Google’s search engine will group related results.

Alex Cohen, Senior Marketing Manager at ClickEquations.

Google already groups related results: we see images, news items, real time results and video links bunched together in some SERPs. I think a more important trend to watch is the increase of AdWords “attacking” organic search, as I mentioned in this blog post. Google is starting to diversify its paid ad formats, which includes grouping new kinds of results together, most notably Product Listing Ads. Product queries are frequent and I predict this will be rolled out across all advertisers and appear in more SERPs.

Tom Demers, Director of Marketing, WordStream

I think this is a huge opportunity for search engines. Google and co. are just starting to apply a landing page philosophy to their SERPs. Really the engine’s desired action is as many clicks as they can get, with as much of the distribution going to AdWords (or the other engines’ platform) inventory as they can while maintaining loyalty. The interesting thing for Google has always been that satisfied searchers on organic listings are good for business (more likely to return, more likely to trust the sponsored stuff). But for a long time they weren’t creating “paths” for their visitors: whether you entered in something informational, transactional, or you were after a comparison of multiple products you got effectively the same experience. Keyword segmentation and developing conversion paths are certainly great processes to map to search intent (just ask successful SEMs).

I think clustering results (something like what clusty does) on informational queries could be really powerful. It would allow the engines to create “conversion paths” and would let searchers walk themselves a step closer to the best result set for them.

What do you think of these 5 predictions for search in 2010? Weigh in with your opinion in the comments section below.

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