For many Net companies, commercial search was the saving grace of
advertising sales in 2003, reminding everyone of the early promise and
growth of the online ad industry.
But it also sparked fierce competition
among Internet big wheels, foreshadowing greater rivalry and further
clashes in 2004, as more advertisers and publishers depend on the
efficiency--and riches--of paid-search listings.
Sales from paid search--Web marketing that pairs text ads with
keyword-triggered search results--accounted
for an estimated $1.6 billion of the $6.3 billion online
advertising pie this year, up significantly from 2002. It also helped
Early in the year, the major Web
portals committed to developing search engines to compete
with No. 1 search provider Google. Microsoft
2003 was a year for experimentation for all the search players.
Google and Overture unveiled search
analytics technology, and all the major players tested local
search services aimed at tapping a $26 billion yellow-pages advertising
market for paid search. While much of the promise of local search is
still far off, Web providers are expected to continue to strike deals
and innovate in this area next year.
Google, Yahoo and many others introduced applications that let users
search directly from their browser, while AOL
Search advances are expected from Microsoft's research department in
2004, and all the search players will be aiming to personalize and
improve the relevance of search results. Internet heavyweights will be
jockeying to dominate search outside of the browser as well, with likely
new software geared to query information databases from the operating