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What’s Next in Search? Mobile – Maybe, Social – Ehh

in Search Marketing with tags , , , ,

While I couldn’t fully capture every quote from the panel I moderated at MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit this week, here’s a rough rundown.

The panel was Search as We See It, “Search Insiders’ view of the Future: Industry Trends, Challenges and things to keep an eye on.” The panelists included:

  • Ron Belanger, VP, Worldwide Agency Sales, Omniture
  • Daniel Boberg, VP, Advertiser & Agency Professional Services, Yahoo
  • Brian Boland, Director, Media Auctions, Microsoft Advertising
  • John Nicoletti, Head of Agency Operations, Google

Q: What was different compared to the Search Insider Summit in May 2008?

Everyone mentioned the economy to some extent, often to the full extent. Ron said profit optimization was big, as was customer retention. Yahoo mentioned that the economy has led to declines in click-through rates for commercial times, and lower order sizes. John noted economic issues, brought up the expanded use of universal search, and plugged Google Flu Trends (the only swine flu reference I recall hearing at the events.

Q: What will we be talking about a year from now that wasn’t well covered here?

Ron noted search will be used even more for campaign planning. Brian expected a greater emphasis on contextual advertising and performance display. John said we’ll hear more about mobile (which was barely touched on at all this event). Dan thought semantic structuring would play a bigger role, and was bullish on Rich Ads in Search (the Yahoo push, also mirrored by Google, to start including images and video in search ads).

Q: Where is mobile search now?

Overall, there was a lot of skepticism for how big this will get how fast. Brian surveyed the audience and fairly few in the room conducted mobile searches on a daily basis, and this was more of an early adopter crowd, especially for search. Ron noted the searches on mobile are far more directional, such as for Facebook and MySpace and news/weather sites, and the commercial searches are more for local listings and services like movies and other spots nearby. Ron said mobile display presents the much bigger opportunity.

As for will it all be Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft in mobile search, panelists from Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft collectively said, “Yes.” They all noted the challenges of creating a viable search rival. During the audience Q&A, there was some optimism for voice search, where Google and Microsoft both have live offerings.

Q: Here I channeled my inner James Lipton (better than I expected to) – as covered by Joe Mandese on MediaPost’s blog, and asked, What does social search mean to you?

Panelists didn’t have great answers for this one, and two didn’t answer at all. That’s a sign for a moderator that the question sucked. Ron discussed a bit of how social actions already inform search rankings, but as this wasn’t a favorite topic of the panelists so I wasn’t pressing here. During Q&A, John reiterated the importance of universal search, and Dan noted his

Q: What about Wolfram Alpha, the highly buzzed about search engine? I noted that when Stephen Wolfram sneezes, TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington gets him a tissue. Is it a Google killer? The holy grail of search? The next Cuil?

Again, panelists were largely nonplused by this, seeing it more as an academic solution rather than something most consumers will find useful. I asked Brian if he could share anything about what Microsoft was doing with Powerset, the one-time rumored Google killer that Microsoft acquired. Yes, Microsoft was doing something with it. No, he couldn’t talk about it here.

There was one other question I had to cover. I’ll return to MediaPost’s coverage:

“Can I ask how much each of your companies has bid for Twitter,” Berkowitz inquired of the Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Omniture dais. No answer.

“I just watched Frost/Nixon,” Berkowitz explained, adding, “So I’m trying to bring people to tears now.” Mainly, they laughed.

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