Search Engine Strategies Keynote: Charlene Li on How to Prepare for the Future of Search

In her keynote at the SES San Jose 2009 conference, Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, calls for search marketers to put people, not keywords, at the center of search strategy, where relevancy is increasingly the goal, and where the social graph (aka our respective social networks) are integrated with search intent. So report Barry Schwartz of the Search Engine Roundtable and Gaurav Sharma of Think Mantra, in their live coverage of the keynote.

According to Schwartz and Sharma’s notes, Li predicts a future where “social networks will be like air,” with our respective social graphs following us, “where we need them to be.” Li points out that today “we have a lot of targeting in search engines, like geo and time,” but future search engines may also include “demographic, behavioral, and social graphs,” which will allow online marketers to develop super-targeted ads.

Future Search Scenarios

Today, through the iPhone and Google Maps, we can “search nearby or even search en route, or change search results based on ‘time of day.’” Li explains. In the future, she envisions that it will be possible to find a restaurant, based on a search of our friends’ online reviews. She further suggests that it will be possible to use search technology to find out where your friends are eating right now.  Instead of generic reviews at Amazon, you will be able to find your friends’ online book reviews. “How useful would that be?” Li persuasively asks.

Impact to Marketers

The significance of social search technology to marketers involves targeting ads in a new way, based on social graph and behavior.  She points to Media6 technology, which identifies who is closest to you, in your network neighborhood. According to the web site, Media6 connects “a brand’s existing customers with user segments composed entirely of consumers who are interwoven via the social graph,” reflecting high degrees of homophily, “the tendency of like-minded individuals to cluster with other people who strongly resemble them.”

“They know person A buys from store X, so they want to find person A’s friends and see if they also buy at store X and then show related ads,” Li explains. Li projects that through this type of technology, “we might see the rise of personal-based CPC (Cost Per Click) and CPM (Cost Per Thousand).”  She imagines a future with “Google charging a CPC (Cost Per Click) based not only on auction, but based on the person who clicks.”

How Do You Prepare for Social Search Technology?

Li offers these tips to prepare for the future of social search:

  1. Focus on people (not keywords) and build the relationship. (Example: Obama’s campaign.) Let your goals define the type of relationship you want to build as well as your strategy.
  2. Listen to and learn from your audience. Monitor what they are saying about you. (Example: Oracle.) Use Google Blog Search,, and delicious. Consider paid tools, such as real-time monitoring from Radian6.
  3. Start a dialog. Help your community members. Innovate with your community members. (Examples: Southwest Airlines, DellOutlet.)
  4. Start at the bottom of the Engagement Pyramid with the sharers and watchers. Many sites have “sharing” buttons to enable people to share products with others.  Look through your site’s pages, and see where you can add sharing features.
  5. Reply to customers and prospects. (Examples: DellOutlet and Comcast. @comcastcares [Comcast’s account on Twitter] reaches out to people who tweet about and/or complain about Comcast.
  6. Share ideas. (Example: Google Moderator and Yahoo Tools help you share ideas, feature requests, etc.
  7. Get your backend data in order through a single database, a CRM application, etc. You must first integrate this data and then sort it by the level of influence that person has. (Example: Citysearch partnered with Facebook and integrated the login with them.)
  8. Give up Control. You cannot control relationships. Relationships are built over time.

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

1 thought on “Search Engine Strategies Keynote: Charlene Li on How to Prepare for the Future of Search

  1. Hi Peg, it sounds like SES had a lot of fabulous content. Charlene is a great speaker, full of incredible insights. I strongly agree that listening to your audience is a must. We are grateful that Charlene has recommended Radian6 for real-time monitoring.


    Warren Sukernek
    Director of Content Marketing

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