ADOTAS – As the Facebook IPO draws ever closer, we are barraged with amazing statistics around social media. In the U.S. alone, Facebook accounts for 25 percent of internet page views, and Twitter has 130 million unique visitors per month. Pinterest is the fastest-growing social media application of all time and is already seeing over 80 million unique visitors a month in the U.S. Surely these dominant, highly engaging platforms must be becoming the driving force within digital advertising, right?
Well, as it turns out, not really. As the chart below illustrates, search marketing continues to be the Borg that is slowly subsuming the universe of digital advertising. The answer as to why this is happening is clear — it simply works. It delivers measurable ROI and provides clear attribution. With a user declaring his or her interest and intent, the value proposition of matching a marketer, who believes they can fulfill that interest, to the consumer is straightforward and well proven.
So, where does that leave the traditional web publisher? It would appear they are caught between the immovable object of search and the irresistible force of rapidly growing social media platforms. This leaves these sites with few choices: fight for the declining share of digital advertising that is left to them, or try to tap into the social or search revenue streams.
On the social side, publishers have done a great job of tapping into these platforms as a referral source. For many, social platforms are driving greater traffic than search. The ability to virally spread their content has been one of the driving forces behind the growth in page visits. But while they have benefited from increased traffic, they have not been able to tap into these core social campaigns. A good case in point is Pinterest and recipe sites. Recipes, and food in general, make up one of the largest categories on Pinterest, and eating is an inherently social experience. But, while recipe sites have benefited from the increased exposure of their content, food brands are looking to Pinterest to enable new social campaigns, not to the recipe sites. So if social is not the answer, what about search?
Search, after all, is the largest category of digital spend. And while content sites are the raison d’être for search, these sites participate in none of the economics. However, these content sites have one huge advantage over search engines: They know the context of what you are doing, they can understand at a deep level the content you are engaged with, and they know the path you have taken through the site. Search engines, on the other hand, start essentially as a blank slate each time you interact with them. Because of this, a real opportunity exists for publishers to implement what I’ll call content assisted search.
Let’s go back to our recipe site example. Typically, a user searches Google (in fact, 1 percent of all Google searches are for recipes) and lets say they search for “chicken and yogurt.” They choose one of the 23 million results that Google returns because something in that recipe caught their eye. However, once they land on the recipe, if it is not quite what they were looking for, they typically return to Google and search again, and pick one of the other 23 million choices. The publisher knows a lot about what the user was looking for, based on the positive choice they made to get there. They know: It was chicken and yogurt, it was an entrée, it used chicken breasts, it was classified as an Indian dish, it had a preparation time of 90 minutes and they know all the individual ingredients it contained. With that knowledge, it is possible to create a pre-populated search result that takes all of those variables into account — a search result that is far more refined, and in testing shows a 300 to 500 percent improvement in search results. In addition, it is possible to allow the user to simply check off positive and negative attributes around the current recipe. For example, I want it without garlic, and with a preparation time of under an hour. By leveraging the knowledge that they have, the publisher can create a better, faster and more accurate search experience than any of the search engines. The benefit to the publisher is multifaceted. It keeps the user on the publisher’s site while performing the search, it allows for the prioritization of results for the publisher’s own content that matches, and if it is indeed appropriate to send the user off the site to find the best result, it allows the publisher to participate in the search economics.
So for the next revolution in search, it may be that you need look no further than your favorite content site. Not only will you get a better search experience, but it will also open up a new revenue stream for these publishers, keeping them healthy and profitable so they can continue to bring us the great content we have all come to rely on.