The future of search is unclear – what is clear is that change is rapidly happening for all of the top Internet search engines. Google as always is the frontrunner for many of these search trends, but even little guys like Ask.com are making waves. In this article, I will attempt to cover some of the more interesting search trends that are occurring today with the top Internet search engines – but I am by no means being comprehensive about the subject. Things are changing on a weekly, or sometimes even daily, basis, and future articles will cover additional developments in depth.
In May 2007, Google – the leader among top Internet search engines — got people talking (again) when it rolled out its latest search concept, Universal Search. Universal Search was Google’s attempt to create a single page of search results, rather than separate pages for types of results, such as videos, images, maps, and websites. When it was first introduced, many search engine optimization firms raced around exclaiming that this was one of those search trends that would change everything and that new optimization rules should be created and followed immediately.
I published an article in early 2007 in which I noted, “The problem with Universal Search is that it can muddy the results, and it can also introduce irrelevant results that a searcher cannot use.”1 I also wrote, “Clearly, Universal Search will change how an SEO campaign is run if it catches on. But this is a real if – users’ search habits are hard to change overnight, even if you are Google and you essentially define what searching is and how it works.”2
And in fact, Universal Search didn’t quite take off the way Google had hoped. A post on MediaPost’s Search Insider by Mark Simon boldly states, “Universal Search will probably not be viewed as the greatest Google fiasco since Google Video, but it’s clear that it’s failed to deliver on the vaunted promises made by Marissa Mayer back in May.”3 So will we see more of Universal Search, or will it be quietly put to the side? Will other top Internet search engines want to use it for themselves? Only time will tell, but it seems like Google needs to do a lot more work before users really warm up to it.
Personalization and Personalized Search
Personalization on the other hand seems to be one of the search trends working very well for Google and many of the other top Internet search engines. In an article I wrote a few months ago, I said “The basic principle behind personalized search is simple. When you go to Google and type in a search query, Google stores the data. As you return to the engine, a profile of your search habits is built up over time. With this information, Google can understand more about your interests and serve up more relevant search results.”4
As it works right now, if you use a Google product (Gmail, Google toolbar, AdWords, etc.), Google is keeping track of what you search for and what websites you visit, and it’s then tailoring your results appropriately. Search for “bass,” and Google will know whether you mean the fish or the instrument. As I pointed out, though, there are major issues with search trends like personalization:
Privacy issues that arise from personalized search are also a big question. The EU recently announced that it is probing into how long Google stores user information (this probe was subsequently extended to include all search engines). AOL recently committed a serious blunder when it released search data from 500,000 of its users, and it was discovered that it was fairly easy to identify many people by the search terms that they use…5
Yet if nobody makes a fuss about this, then it’s very likely Google – and the other top Internet search engines – will start tracking everyone behind the scenes, whether they use a Google product or not.
It’s actually already starting – right now, the cookie Google places on your machine (did you even know they did that?) will expire in two years – but they won’t really expire at all. According to the official Google blog:
In the coming months, Google will start issuing our users cookies that will be set to auto-expire after 2 years, while auto-renewing the cookies of active users during this time period. In other words, users who do not return to Google will have their cookies auto-expire after 2 years. Regular Google users will have their cookies auto-renew, so that their preferences are not lost. And, as always, all users will still be able to control their cookies at any time via their browsers.6
Seems it won’t be long before Google knows what you’re searching for before you do.
Expanding “Sneak Peeks”
Ask, one of the smaller of the top Internet search engines, has been using sneak peeks to entice searchers for a while now. Searchers who use Ask.com can mouse over an icon next to many results and see a screen shot of the website. No clicking needed. Google, always watching for search trends, seems to have noticed, because they’ve filed a patent for expanding their own snippets.7 Soon searchers on Google may be able to read expanded summaries of pages, or longer clips of page text. This tactic appeals to searchers who are now demanding more and more information faster and faster from the top Internet search engines, and who don’t want to waste precious seconds clicking on a link and then on the back button to find just the right site for their needs.
When Ask was Ask Jeeves, the butler was supposed to listen to your search queries in the form of questions and then get answers for you. The problem was, this never worked exactly the way it was supposed to. Instead of answering the question based on syntax, the engine still responded to searches in the same way others did, by analyzing the words and returning a list. Jeeves was retired with a bit of fanfare, and the engine handles queries in the more traditional manner for now. But all of the top Internet search engines have continued to work on this concept, with Google again leading the way since it has the manpower and brainpower to do so. I expect that within the next year, this will be one of the search trends that the engines will want to focus on with a greater push toward answering questions rather than just returning related results.
Speech Recognition and the Mobile Market
Speech recognition is really going to be one of the huge search trends in the coming months and years for the top Internet search engines. In an interview from this past summer, Peter Norvig, director of Google Research, noted, “[Google] wanted speech technology that could serve as an interface for phones and also index audio text. After looking at the existing technology, we decided to build our own. We thought that, having the data and computational resources that we do, we could help advance the field.”8 With speech recognition in place, one could go to Google (or another of the top Internet search engines) and use a microphone to ask a question aloud, or just say some keyphrases, and get a list back immediately.
And speech recognition has the biggest benefit for top Internet search engines when it comes to users of mobile devices. Let’s face it, as advanced as those keyboards may have gotten, they’re still a pain to use and it’s time-consuming to type in more than a few sentences. (That’s y txt msgs r lk ths, u c?). Norvig is on top of that too, noting, “In general, it looks like things are moving more toward the mobile market, and we thought it was important to deal with the market where you might not have access to a keyboard or might not want to type in search queries.”9
More to Come
As I noted in the beginning, this is just a small sampling of the search trends for the top Internet search engines today. Google, Yahoo, and even Ask are all working tirelessly to get your business and to make search easier, faster, and more accurate. Keep checking back for future articles covering some of the other trends and following up on the ones I’ve already discussed.