Search Breaks Out of the Box in Park City

First published December 9, 2010 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Wow! The Search Insider Summit is in full swing in Park City, Utah and for the first time in six or seven Summits, I’m not there. I don’t mind saying, it’s feeling kinda weird.

Laurie Sullivan and the team, including your emcee Aaron Goldman, did a bang-up job putting the show together. I did have some limited involvement, looking on from the sidelines as they lined up the speakers and nailed down the agenda. They’re touching on all the hot topics: the convergence of display and search, social and search (pretty much everything and search); new platforms to allow for more effective targeting; the ongoing changes on the SERP; using data to make smarter marketing decisions; and yes, once again, how mobile will change everything (and this time, it’s really true!).

The agenda is a broad one, reaching into virtually every aspect of online activity. And really, that’s what any search agenda has to be. One of the ongoing challenges of programming the past several Summits has been where to draw the line. Despite the best efforts of many to define the search “box,” search is not a box, a channel, or a tactic. It’s what we do. And as such, it connects everything. We search in social networks. We search on mobile. And if we happen to see an ad that triggers our interest, the odds are very good that we will — you guessed it — launch a search. So a Search Summit has to be, by necessity, a Social/Mobile/Testing/Analytics/Display/Target and Segmentation Summit. You can’t keep search in a box.

I started writing this column way back in 2004. Since then (for almost 300 columns), I’ve been watching how search has seeped into every nook and cranny of online behavior. It’s become the gold standard for intercepting a consumer with intent. Search inventory forms the core of any performance marketing strategy worth its salt. Most of the things Goldman and Company will be talking about, nestled in the silver frosted peaks of Utah, revolve around extending the accountability and performance of search into other channels. Once you’ve tasted the search Kool-Aid, it’s hard to settle for any other flavor. The problem is, of course, with the keyword-restricted limits on search inventory, there’s only so much Kool-Aid to go around.

But another thing struck me while I ran down the Summit agenda: we’re talking about things we would have never talked about in 2004. We’re talking about the users on the other side of that search interface as real live people, not just volume numbers in a keyword discovery tool. Tony Fagan from Google will be talking about how constant testing helps hone your marketing skills against actual behaviors. Eli Goodman from comScore will share some tasty data about how Google Instant is changing behaviors on the results page. And, of course, you can’t dive into social media without understanding how people behave when they’re traveling with the herd.

If there’s one thing I’ve found lacking in search marketing, it’s the “marketing” part of the industry. More often than not, search plays out as a technical exercise, full of algorithms, rules and tools, rather than what marketing should be: a drive to forge relevant connections to people with needs, fears and dreams. When I programmed the Summit, I always tried to bring that perspective to the stage. I’m glad to see Laurie and her team have also kept the human part of search very much alive at this Summit.

Have fun, Search Summiters. I’ll miss you (and will see you in Captiva)!

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