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Plan for Tomorrow’s Search Engine Results Page Today

By Mar 09, 2010

In 2009, the number of worldwide searches increased by 46%. In December alone, there were 131 billion searches, according to a recent comScore announcement, and despite Compete.com reporting that Facebook has overtaken Yahoo! for the number two position, Google remained the most trafficked site on the planet with more than 147 million unique visitors in January 2010. These statistics show that search engines continue to serve as consumers’ research tool of choice, and consumers continue to go online to research purchases in droves.

Ample research findings from as far back as 2004 across many different product categories have consistently documented this propensity for online research. When Performics partnered with ROI Research to study consumer behavior in 2009, consumers’ pre-purchase use of search engines was part of each monthly survey. On average, two thirds of respondents in 2009 said they searched online specifically to find better deals on purchases.

Planning & Content Creation

Considering that nearly all search traffic originates from the first page of search results, most brands strive to own as much of the first search engine results page (SERP) as possible. Marketers can leverage paid (text-based search ads, Yahoo! Rich Ads in Search, etc.), owned (native Web sites, social media resources, etc.) and earned (user-generated) content to increase a brand’s presence, but what about the ever-changing nature of the search results page itself?

The results pages of top engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing look little like they did even just a few years ago. They continue to evolve and become more personalized. Instead of trying to keep up with each change, CMOs should encourage their SEM/SEO teams and agencies to keep a few larger, more definitive trends in mind when developing content for the search engine results pages of today and tomorrow. Consider these four examples:

1. More embedded rich media

Videos and images already populate natural search results, and Yahoo! Rich Ads in Search (RAIS) has quickly demonstrated the power of rich media in paid search ads. One electronics retailer recently attained a 774% increase in click-through rates and a 504% boost in conversions with RAIS compared to traditional paid search ads. Expect this trend to continue, possibly expanding to include paid video search ads and other variations.

2. Growing role of real-time content

Google and Bing already include a lot of real-time content in their results, including blog posts, news and tweets but only present this content for high volume search queries like “iPad” or “Imma Be” (the new chart topping single from The Black Eyed Peas) for example. As the engines refine real-time search over the coming years, marketers should anticipate real-time content to also permeate low volume search queries.

3. Increased visibility of user-generated content

Searching for a top brand on Google typically results in at least one user-generated first page result, either a positive or negative product review, a Tweet, a YouTube video, an image or even a user-created Web site about that brand. Consumer-generated earned content will control the SERP of the future, bringing these tweets, reviews, videos and other social chatter to the attention of millions, amplifying consumer voices and opinions. Brands can embrace social listening technologies to better understand consumers and exert some control over consumer content creation. Responding to complaints quickly, for example, can quell negative conversations, and fostering positive conversations also helps.

4. Greater local focus

Thirty-seven percent of consumers who searched for a local business in 2009 ended up visiting the store in person (TMP and comScore, Oct. 2009), and local searches will rise from 28% of all mobile searches in 2008 to over 35% in 2013 (Kelsey Group, Sept. 2009). To influence local search results today and tomorrow, brands should take steps to position their addresses, phone numbers and maps on search results pages by ensuring spiders can understand the local info on a Web site. For instance, brands should make sure their store location info is not hidden behind a ZIP code function that spiders cannot navigate to ensure the engines can index and display it.

CMOs should discuss these trends with marketing teams, agencies and search partners, identify their brand’s strengths and weaknesses on the search result pages of the future, and adjust SEO and SEM plans and goals accordingly to ensure future success.

Michael Kahn (Michael.kahn@performics.com) is senior vice president of client services at Performics and a monthly contributor to Chief Marketer.