Search Is On

The search-engine world is changing everything, from how your company markets and advertises to how your employees create and share information.

Search Is Transforming Marketing and Advertising

For advertising and marketing, Internet search is doing nothing less than changing the rules. By letting companies place ads on relevant search-results pages, search companies are transforming advertising from intrusive to inclusive. Sitting through a TV ad for a mountain-crushing SUV while watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” is intrusive, but reading a Web ad for that very same vehicle, this time because you’ve searched for “mountain-crushing SUV,” is less so. “This is the only medium in which advertisers and users have the same reason for being there,” says Berkowitz of Ask Jeeves. That may be optimistic — some of us just want to check the box scores without being assailed by ads — but it is true that search engines can identify active shoppers in a way that TV can’t.

According to a survey sponsored by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, that has translated into a big business today: keyword-related ads account for 35 percent of all online advertising (the rest is mostly banners, sponsorships, and classifieds). Total online ad spending in 2003 hit $7.3 billion, the IAB says, putting search ads’ share at about $2.5 billion.

One satisfied user of Google’s AdWords program is Harrisdirect LLC, a Bank of Montreal unit that provides investor services. The company bids against competing advertisers for some 1,000 keywords, says Eric Frenchman, Harrisdirect’s marketing director, vying for top billing in “sponsored links” lists that Google generates for those search words. It works like this: Harrisdirect gives Google a list of search terms it wants to bid for, along with the maximum bid it is willing to make for each term. For example, it might tell Google that it wants to display an ad on results pages for the search term “invest” and that it’s willing to bid as much as $100. Google would then look at the bids from all companies that want to advertise on the word and rank them according to their final bid, with the highest bidder at the top of the list. But that’s only half the equation: Google also factors in an ad’s actual click-through rate, the percentage of times users who draw the ad on a search-results page actually click on it. “It’s a complicated process, one that requires us to analyze which search terms are most relevant,” says Frenchman. “We use real-time reporting to track people as they click on a keyword to a ‘landing page’ and then to an online application.”

Search Is Changing How Your Company Works

Search technology is not only changing the Web and online advertising, it’s also changing the way companies store, organize, and share information. There are two new frontiers for search: the PC on your desktop, and the servers and networks within your organization.

On the PC front, Microsoft is reportedly developing search-related functions as part of Longhorn, the next major release of its Windows operating system. Industry watchers say Longhorn will enhance the current Windows file structure with a searchable database. If they’re right — and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently told online advertisers that his company had erred by not putting more effort into search technology — then users of Windows PCs will have an entirely new way of storing, searching, and retrieving files. One expected feature is a search box on the Windows desktop that will reportedly activate a mini­search engine that will prioritize data on the PC according to the context of a document or file.

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