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Hot Search Engine Strategies in Cold Chicago

Marketers and technologists will converge on Chicago next week for Search Engine Strategies, a trade show focused on the intensely competitive search industry.

Search services are locked in a features war as they battle to grab market share or hold onto what they've got. It's been a dizzying quarter for marketers, Web publishers, online retailers and technologists trying to keep up with the shifting landscape.

Today, Google launched Google Suggests, a tool to help deliver more relevant search results to those who enter short generic queries. It's another salvo in the features war waged by search providers in a red-hot market.

Google Suggest works like Google's "Did you mean?" feature for misspelled queries. However, instead of returning a results page with suggestions, the suggestions take place as the query is typed. Suggestions both auto-complete query terms and offer refinements. For example, if a user types "bass," Google Suggest might offer a list of refinements such as "bass fishing" or "bass guitar."

The news follows late-night announcements from Ask Jeeves of its impending launch of Ask Jeeves Desktop Search next Thursday, and a toe-in-the-door announcement from Yahoo that it plans to deliver its own desktop tool next year.

Interest in Microsoft MSN should be high at the show, with speculation that Redmond may use the occasion to unveil MSN Desktop Search. The company remains committed to shipping a beta in 2004.

Workshops at the conference will explain search engine marketing, working with agencies and optimizing Web sites for the various search engines.

"Search as we know it will evolve. People will no longer go to Google just to search for Web pages," said Andy Beal, vice president of search marketing for WebSourced, a Morrisville, N.C., search engine optimization company. Instead, they may use a mix of specialized search services, subscription-based access to proprietary content and desktop tools.

According to Beal, successful search marketers need to understand not only how to position your content to appear as number one in Google search results, but the implications of these additional technologies and how to take advantage of them.

While marketers will come to the show to learn strategies for optimizing their Web sites for crawlers and buying pay-per-click advertising, search vendors will showcase their technology.

Many of them are grappling with how to wring more cash from search. Patrick Spain, founder and CEO of HighBeam Research, said Web search services seem to be trying to drive down the price of content until everything is free.

HighBeam is a subscription-based, research-oriented search service that includes magazines, newspapers, journals, databases and Web content. Spain said that HighBeam competes not on the size of its index but on its ability to integrate the content sources to deliver relevant results.

Enterprise search is another growing category. Companies like FAST aim to help business users find information that may be buried somewhere within the firewall.

"Our technology unifies the information from siloed repositories," said John Reader, senior vice president of global marketing for FAST, which provides integrated search of corporate data and the Web.

But JupiterResearch analyst Gary Stein said specialized search services have to overcome users' habits. While specialized search services have much to offer. If one Web search engine becomes the default way of searching, he said, it could be hard for upstarts to get a trial.

While Jupiter reports growth in search marketing has slowed, Stein said that's only because growth has been so fast.

Search is still plenty hot enough to heat up Chicago.

(Search Engine Strategies, JupiterResearch and internetnews.com are properties of Jupitermedia.)