Search (or more precisely the search results) is undergoing some of the greatest changes we've ever seen with the influence of local search, mobile search, personalization, and universal search. Search marketers and site owners alike are bouncing between wild speculation and frantic contemplation of how search will change and what impact those changes will have.
Who better to turn to on the topic of search results than Gord Hotchkiss and his team at Enquiro. Now famous for their eye tracking studies revealing the infamous "Golden Triangle" and F-shaped patterns of user scanning of SERPs, Enquiro takes a bold step to try to track user interaction with Google universal and personalized results, and an even bolder leap of predicting the result pages we may see in 2010.
Enquiro just made available a must-read whitepaper, Search Engine Results: 2010, for anyone dealing with search in any way. Along with the traditional eye tracking studies done for this report, they assembled a dream-team of industry experts to discuss thoughts and ideas on the future of search results.
Merely a sampling of highlights, what follows are some of the great nuggets to explore from this report, starting off with a quote that truly encapsulates the report's essence:
There is, without a doubt, great passion about the future of search and we strongly believe that the next three years will represent the most exciting era yet in the short history of web search.
Usually when we talk about websites, search engines, and intent, we refer to the intent on the part of the SEO or web designer... white-hat versus black-hat, delivering relevant content versus gaming the engines. This however is a whole new intent... the intent of the user.
Much of the future for search will come down to the ability for search engines to identify searcher intent. A great illustration of this comes from Justin Osmer, product manager for Microsoft Live search,
"An area that we're focusing on over here at Live search is thinking more about the mode in which people are in when they're using search."
Are searchers looking to buy, to research, or just to be entertained? Each of these modes may dictate very different results for the same search.
Google personalization and universal are trying to tap into that intent as well, based on previous search history as well as by serving up a mix of content types, including maps, blog posts, videos, and the traditional textual results. Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land and chief content officer for Third Door Media, added to the discussion on the importance of relevancy in how the information is presented, such as providing maps for appropriate location searches or the ability to list blog results based on recency as well as relevancy. It's not just about presenting the results, but presenting them in the format that matches the searcher's intent.
One area that will see great exploration will be in how users interact with search engines. As RSS adoption continues to grow and the sheer amount of information in its many formats expands, users will continue to look to search engines to be more than just a search destination, but a source of information aggregation; the search engine as portal, pulling and updating news and other content based on the user's preferences.
A particularly interesting comment was made by Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of Search User Experience and Interface Design, that furthers the sense that search engines will continue their evolution beyond search:
"I think that people will be annotating search results pages and web pages a lot. They're going to be rating them, they're going to be reviewing them. They're going to be marking them up..."
The separate mention of "web pages" may be another reason why the development of a Google Browser would be so important. Tapping into the web browser might lead to that ability to annotate and rate those pages and further help Google identify what content interests the user.
While Chris Sherman, executive editor of Search Engine Land, feels that advancement within search personalization is still fairly limited, he offered up an interesting interactive approach that the search engines might pursue,
"...submitting a page of content and analyzing the full text of that page and then tying that in conjunction with our past behavior..."
as a way to allow users to interact with search engines and help bring about better results.
New Search Patterns
Google personalized and universal results are still slowly trickling into everyday searches. Enquiro created sample pages representing a futurized version based on where these new results may be headed to see the potential impact on user interaction through eye tracking.
While this was very limited and exploratory research, it may hint at the important impact these changes may have. The eye tracking revealed how the introduction of images, as long as they are relevant, may begin to alter the search pattern into more of an "E" pattern than an "F" pattern, with the image forming the middle connection. Searchers may then expand their attention to the title and description accompanying that image, and then may move above or below the invisible line drawn by that image, depending on which cluster of results appears more relevant based on personalization.
To wrap up, search marketing is making a natural shift, somewhat downgrading those things that have been synonymous with SEO, like rankings, keywords, and optimization, to a much greater focus on the users, tying into their intent and interests at the time of search. Personalization will make site stickiness ever more important. Securing a position in users history, becoming an authoritative go-to source for information, will be more critical than ever. Winning in the SERPs will require much more than just position.
This new whitepaper from Enquiro is filled with much more detailed and interesting discussion than could ever be covered here, so be sure to download your own copy today. The time to prepare for all the exciting changes in search is now, after all, 2010 is only three years away.