When I worked at Yahoo! my colleague Salim used to talk about seven in every ten web journey’s starting in a search box. This was a statistic that he had in turn picked up from an equity analyst presentation from a bank (I think it was JP Morgan), even this is social networking age, the number is likely to be an underestimate rather than an exaggeration.
Google managed to become extremely commercially successful when it vended the most relevant advertising links alongside search results. It is the reason why Google has managed to scare and threaten established monopolists from AT&T to Microsoft. However, all is not well in the search engine space as anecdotal stories I have heard about declining click-through rates from search advertising has been supported by recent data from Hitwise (via searchengineland) Less Searchers Clicking on Search Ads?
In some ways it was inevitable, advertisers in conventional media from billboards to print and broadcast media have suffered from consumers becoming media savvy and ignoring media messages or using them for their own means. An extreme example would be the activities of the Wooster Collective. Advertising has become such apart of our lives that we can no longer notice what is around us, unless it is remarkable no more than we can remember a brick in a wall that we pass on the way to work.
So it seems to be happening with the paid results part of the search engine results page. I can’t say that I am terribly surprised. Most of the results I see seem to have an Amazon and eBay result somewhere in there no matter how irrelevant the results are. The trust that consumers have in search engine results will still live on, but it means that marketers need to think differently.
Traditional pay-per-click search engine marketing has had the whip hand up to now but this decline in click through and progressively more expensive key words mean that search engine optimisation should take a bigger role in the search marketing mix. One of the avenues ripe for optimisation are the various social media channels, even if companies don’t particularly want the conversation they need the back links. That Facebook fan page with no fans still has value.