A keen eye to the past and cutting edge forward-thinking defined today’s discussion on the “Where to Next?” SES San Jose panel. Moderated by industry veteran and SES Advisory Board Member Anne Kennedy, she posed a loaded question: “What is on your search radar for 2010?”  

The session was exciting because for the seasoned search engine marketer, our very livelihood is dependent upon our understanding of past to help shape and prepare for the future.

Carla Borsoi, VP, Research & Analytics, Ask.com shared that focus on semantics are enormously important.  What is the searchers intent?  What do they want when they enter a query?  As marketers we need to think “beyond the ten little links” and help provide contextual answers. Engines need to help refine the query to add value through relevance.

Borsoi noted that search engines fail to help very long queries, yet real people through social media can help you find what you’re looking for when engines fail.

Chris Boggs, Director, Search Engine Optimization at Rosetta and Expert Columnist at Search Engine Watch agreed that semantic intent will be key to the future of search. Shedding light on how past impacts future, he compared search engine efforts in the past to share meta descriptions to help users find relevant information with the trend that engines will need to provide better and better results using a semantic connection between links to better refine relevancy.

Examples of this evolution includes the way people are searching. The number of keywords users are searching on have increased, users ask more via more queries.

Heather Dougherty, Research Director, Hitwise agrees that the ability to tailor results for relevancy is imperative.  There are now longer queries with five or more words and more complex relevancy is quite an issue, personalization can help tackle this problem as well as  search suggest according to Dougherty.  Shifting behavior includes more input from social media and she reminded the audience to keep in mind that companies need to participate in social media for branding purposes.  She uses video to illustrate the point.  Music is entrenched in video.  MySpace is a lot of music searches.

Those mediums must be leveraged to create a relationship with the end market.  Facebook is more about people, LinkedIn is more about business searches,  Twitter is very topical, each social network is different and provides value in different ways, “Things can seem trivial until they are viewed with hindsight and that can help identify trends,” said Dougherty.

Eli Goodman, Search Evangelist, comScore, Inc.
shared that we need to better quantify all of these search elements for our clients. Offline branding is moving online and search will continue to grow as a branding vehicle.

Fragmentation of the decision-making process and our jobs will include getting down to the nitty gritty of what they want.  Goodman noted that there has been a 25% increase in searchers per searcher and the opportunity to find them is going to be much more scattered in the future.

Stephan Spencer, Founder & President, Netconcepts, LLC
referenced his answer around the law of accelerating returns.  Humans think in linear fashion, he said, when we view a horizon we don’t necessarily think about being on the globe. It’s often hard to see the present for what it is.  Innovation will slow and at today’s rate of change, the last 100 years of advancement and change would fit in the next 20 years.

Pavan Lee (Peiwen Li), Senior Research Manager, Microsoft ventured that voice recognition will help engines understand what consumers want and allow them to provide more relevant and meaningful results across multiple devices.

When Kennedy asked,  “Where is digital media going next?” Li spoke in depth about mobile search and it’s importance to the digital user.

Technology has extended media consumption from laptap to phones and they are considered to be a very personal device, “There is a personal relationship with the phone designed specifically for the users tasks,” said Li.  Sharing a Toyota case study, Li shared that adding mobile search to mobile display adds a great deal of exposure and conversion.  She cautioned the audience to get into mobile now or an opportunity to affect the space may be lost.

Now the big question, is SEO dead?  Goodman agreed that SEO is changing, but said to keep optimizing, “SEO is alive.  Long live SEO.”

Another big shift in the future of search is in defining SEO?  How do we continue to define and add value for our clients? Fragmentation of the decision making process, and the number of searches per searcher has continued to increase as well as the depth of sites where people are finding answers to their queries.

YouTube generates 3 billion searches, Facebook 1 billion searches and people are continuing to get relevant results via these and other social media channels.  As SEO’s we need a grander set of data to be relevant, said Goodman.

Spencer spoke briefly on the Social Media underground and that there are niche online communities to help leverage information to get critical mass by having a power user account at some of these influential communities.  Having street cred is more powerful than contacting web developers one at a time, he said.  Boggs cautioned to be careful using communities to leverage agendas and to be respectful.

That presents a challenge for SEO’s and finding the balance between being an exceptional community member that adds value and shameless leveraging of SEO objectives.

As search marketing evolves, searchers expect better results and more relevant results.  If you google “the future of search” the top two

entries are from the Official Google Blog in September of 2008 and a quote from the godfather of search, Danny Sullivan from July 2004.  This illustrates not only the difficulty of providing relevant and timely results as well as the fact that some of the illumination from planning for the future is gained from understanding and respecting the past.

Lisa Williams has been an online marketer for 12 years and search marketer for eight.  Williams is CEO of MEDIA forte marketing, an Oregon search marketing agency located in Hood River which specializes in search marketing for Ecommerce companies.