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Search Industry Gains Clout

CHICAGO -- Search engines are now recognized as full-fledged media companies and search engine marketing is no longer a cottage industry, according to Danny Sullivan, editor of the Search Engine Watch Web site.

Sullivan, speaking here at the Search Engine Strategies trade show, quoted JupiterResearch estimates that search engine marketing firms control $1.3 billion marketing dollars.

Next year, the search market will no longer be dominated by Google's technology, Sullivan said. Both Yahoo and MSN launched their own search technology this year, and those moves greatly reduced Google's share of all searches, Sullivan said.

In January 2004, Google had a 79 percent share of U.S. searches; at year's end, Google's share had fallen to 44 percent; Yahoo controlled 32 percent, MSN had 15 percent, and Ask Jeeves accounted for 6 percent of searches.

One big change in 2004 was the drop in paid inclusions by most major search engines in natural search results, Sullivan said. Now, only Yahoo shows links to companies that have paid for the privilege in its search results pages.

But paid inclusion will be important in vertical search services. "There are good reasons for paid inclusion," Sullivan said. For example, online yellow pages can be very useful for searchers and they're based on paid listings. Audio and video search and shopping will be much more likely to offer a paid inclusion option to advertisers, and it will be seen as acceptable in vertical searches.

Sullivan warned marketers to get ready for new search technologies that lead searchers away from that first page of natural search results.

"We've been hearing about personal search for a while," Sullivan said, "and it arrived in 2004 with the launch of Eurekster." Eurekster lets people form networks and ranks search results in part on their popularity with other people in the network. A recent partnership with social networking site Friendster may show how well the strategy works.

"They now have a big social community to test whether this really is useful for searching," he said.

Many search services, including A9, Ask Jeeves , My Yahoo and Snap remember or allow searchers to save previous searches. My Yahoo also lets searches append notes, so that when they perform searches again, they can more easily find links that were useful. It even lets users "disappear" sites forever from their listings.

Search histories pose a challenge for marketers and publishers, because they reduce the likelihood that a searcher will happen on a site he hasn't visited before. Sullivan said great, useful content remains the best way to encourage users to visit and to return. Great title tags and descriptions will lure searchers; delivering on the promise of the description will encourage them to save the site.

"Personal search means we'll have multiple fronts in the war between marketers and search engines," Sullivan said. "No longer do people get the same results -- and those little differences may start to add up over time."

Sullivan said desktop search, now available free from MSN, Google and Ask Jeeves, already is changing how search results look on the page. Because they appear at or near the top of the results, often followed by local listings, they tend to push most natural results below the screen. For example, on Ask Jeeves, Smart Search results dominate the page.

He said that it remains to be seen whether marketers will buy ads specifically against desktop search results. "Marketers will move here slowly," he said.

Search Engine Strategies, Search Engine Watch, Jupiter Research and internetnews.com are owned by Jupitermedia.