Call The Question: Is There Life Beyond Google?

Is there life beyond Google? According to this session’s speakers, the answer is YES, YES, YES, a resounding YES! As the early afternoon bell rang at SES Chicago 2008, a diverse panel of speakers did indeed assure participants that there is life beyond Google. But is this like trying to find life on Mars?

While, logically, the plethora of available information would indicate that no single search engine can possibly deliver it all, Google continues to dominate. In this session, “Is There Life Beyond Google?”, speakers empowered marketers to explore alternatives. The session was moderated by, Mike Grehan, Global KDM Officer, Acronym Media.

Speakers presented some common themes. One was that search today doesn’t give users what they are looking for. Why? Because many results continue to be mostly text, but, alas, there is hope for the evolution. The key is to understand what people are really looking for and to understand their intent. Then, in turn, give them a better experience and save them valuable time.

Dr. Larry Cornett, VP, Consumer Products Yahoo! Search gave examples of how Yahoo! answered the call. In the quest to understand intent, they launched drop down suggestions that completes the query for the user in the search bar. In response to the need to provide a richer, more relevant experience, Yahoo! launched Search Monkey which is a tool that can greatly enhance results by providing addition information in other forms .

“Boss,” allows users to create their own search engine since, for example, the search word “java” has two completely different meanings to a developer versus a sleepy person in the morning searching for the magic jolt of hot liquid. Boss Open Search also allows for monetization with its ability to show ads.

Yomtobian outlined the evolution of the internet from creating services to focusing on relevance plus  push and pull user generated content. In the present day scenario of social search, users benefit from each other.

Yomtobian outlined 3 cornerstones to creating successful social search: 1) Create efficiency and save user’s time by creating relevancy, and creating connections so people can connect with each other. 2) Remember that despite its warmth, it is still a computer and it cannot replace humans completely. Only people can tell you how they view the relevancy of search results. 3) Since 56% of users are so comfy with Google, they wouldn’t switch even if the alternate was better, incentives must be offered.

Austen Shoemaker, CTO, Cooliris , offered perspective about the visual web from the client side. Shoemaker feels the missing link is visual search that interacts with results without requiring the user to leave the search context. He suggests helping users see the big picture of what is available with tools that combine browsing and searching. The marriage of these actions can be very powerful and can enable greater user discovery.

Michael Benedek, Vice President, Business Development, AlmondNet says that to find the answer, we must first look at what makes Google successful. Consumers spend less than 5% of their time on Google, but no media company in history has aggregated so much consumer purchase.

Life beyond Google is not defined by an improved search engine, but by the aggregation of scaled consumer purchase intent data, and its availability on the pages where people spend money. While internet advertising will weather the economic downturn, marketers will need to focus more on performance. What does this mean? It means media owners will need more data.

This could present a challenge since most companies are data starved. Starved in an environment where consumers generate plenty of data. It’s like being thirsty and surrounded by clean water. All one has to do is bend down and slurp it up. Consumers are willing to share their data if they get the benefit of targeted ads. For instance, discovering that consumers browse before they buy and most complete their sale 2 or more weeks after the initial search could be highly useful.

Michael Leo, Director of Product Management, stated that users are looking for new innovations that are not on Google. Innovations that include smart answers, related searches, and blended search that focuses on answers. determined that user search queries on their site are in question form 3 times more than in other search engines. In response, launched “Q&A” which provides a new way to provide compelling answers to users by indexing communities and providing answers within the web search results page.

The answer to a life beyond Google lies not in another search engine, but in enhanced features missing from Google’s one stop shop arsenal.

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