Taking Search Personally (and Socially)
No doubt, online search has firmly established itself as the No. 1 thing that consumes the majority of our time on the Internet. No. 2 is e-mail, and evidence suggests that in the Top 10 (but with a bullet) is the time many of us spend on social media and social networks.
There's been some hand-wringing of late about the controllable effects of such innovations as universal search, real person search, meta search, vertical search, and geo and local search. But perhaps more intriguingly, with the exception of universal search, there is a small but growing group of searchers creating their own personalized search engines, using tools like Google Custom Search Engine and Yahoo Pipes.
I will discuss the marketer's dog in this fight, but first, here are a few observations about many of our customers today and some things we need to know that many of them already do with personalized or custom search.
Say consumers do a lot of searching for a particular type of information -- magic and card tricks, for example. Over a period of time, they realize the same sites or types of sites appear in their search engine results pages, and as a result, they decide to refine their searches to bring up more specific -- and likely more informative -- sites.
Google Custom Search Engine and Yahoo Pipes offer simple tools that allow the above users to develop and use custom search interfaces that tailor their results based on sites or other criteria they build into their own custom search engines.
Truth be told, Pipes is a pretty stunning advanced application and for even the mildly geeked-out techies among us, is worthy of serious investigation. But for the purposes of our discussion here, let's concentrate on the much more accessible, if less robust, Google Custom Search Engine. MSN also offers a mix of intriguing tools as part of its Ad Intelligence program, but none yet that allow for the customer search-results generation.
Using the Google tool, you essentially build a "white list" of sites you want to include in your search universe. Once you've created your customer search engine, you can save it to your Google homepage as a gadget and even share it with others -- although they won't have editing rights, which is something we'd imagine the wise engineers at Google are working on.
What's in it for marketers?
It's reasonable to be wondering what all this means for brands and the marketing partners who count on search as an important -- in some cases, integral -- channel for customer acquisition. Here, three major considerations.
1. Some of the more savvy consumers out there are starting to actually narrow their search results to a more focused set of organic listings. This, of course, can be problematic since they have already proscribed a limited universe of sites that will provide results for the terms they enter into the search box, thus reducing our chances of acquiring them as pure prospects through the very acquirable and efficient channel of organic search.
Let's hope they recognize our sites as being authoritative. The upside is that these customers -- or prospective customers -- more likely will be farther down the consideration set and purchase funnel when they commence a targeted search. So if we can attain organic visibility via the key terms they are seeking, we'll actually target the most lucrative band within the funnel.
2. This is good news for established brands, since they'll be that much more likely to be included in consumers' custom search engine "white lists" of sites, and thus more prominently found where consumers are searching for brands' specific products or services.
3. Last, but most intriguingly, these custom search engines can be used to discover important customer conversations happening online and reveal key insights that can inform everything from search engine site optimization to product design to advertising strategies.
Here's how it works
Let's say you're working with a consumer packaged goods brand marketer that wants to develop a social media program to learn how it can find, understand, react to and influence social media conversations that can affect offline products sales.
Using a tool like Google Custom Search Engine, it's simple to set up a custom engine, and you'll be surprised how fast you can locate key conversations by searching for terms that are included in posts made to blogs, forums, social networks and content aggregation sites.
Why this is important
As a marketer, your professional life will be impacted by three key areas when it comes to
custom search engines:
1. As a professional research tool that reveals unique and authentic customer-voiced intentions, advice, questions and complaints, custom search engines are a must-have for informing insightful development of personas, content strategy and offer positioning.
2. If you're embarking on a social media program for your brand, setting up a custom search engine is a critical early first step for getting your head and your arms around what's happening out in the customer ecosystem, and for beginning the planning of your insights-driven attack plan.
3. If your customers are going to start building these types of personalized search engines themselves, then you'd better be sure that you're optimizing your messages and product visibility so you have a presence or at least an effect on the social networks and platforms where these critical conversations are happening -- every day, all day.
As marketers, we all recognize the explosive generation of social media and the increasing
participation of consumers within and across online social networks, and the significnat effect those activities have on a brand's equity, reputation and sales.