Search Engine Industry Predictions for 2003 and Beyond


What would a New Year and last-ever edition of Traffick Monthly be without a few predictions? Some of these are serious. Sorry about that. Jill Whalen’s tongue-in-cheek predictions really cracked me up. Her serious predictions, though – much like those you see below – were utterly without foundation. 🙂

Some niche ideas that should work in the future, and some problems that may crop up:

  • The best multimedia search (SingingFish is on it!);
  • The best way to search the invisible web;
  • Peer-to-peer networks (but this may become just another relevance factor in an existing search engine) and using things like shared online bookmarks to determine what’s relevant – some of this stuff flopped in version 1, but maybe v. 2 will be better received or more courageously funded;
  • A return to human involvement (better thought out editorial categorization projects);
  • Much deeper algorithmic analysis of meaning (by scanning and ‘understanding’ text) to allow users to find related documents;
  • Better metadata for categorizing content of all types, and engines which will better search only certain classes of document or object;
  • Increased emphasis on vortals to aid in navigation;
  • The revenge of favorite sites typed into the browser from memory, or recalled from bookmarks (thus for all sites in contention in various micro-categories, second or third best will be a bad place to be, since the reliance on trusted sites will become more important);
  • The flipside: companies like Microsoft and Verisign will continue to exploit mistyped domain names for their own profit;
  • Growing interest in “The Semantic Web” and the power of XML to enable the web to become a “collective memory” with much more sophisticated searching capability, with Tim Berners-Lee as spokesman;
  • The fly in the ointment: experts in the above field discovering the problem of “metadata spam on a massive scale” much too late in the game, thus triggering a new round of debates about institutional bodies which might be employed to vet the veracity of metadata in comprehensively-tagged documents; with the likely result being a global “trusted feed” system that will threaten the market share of current search engine companies, will threaten to create a two-tier environment that gives superior “findability” to “spoken for, paid for, and actively managed” web sites, and will in general mark a return to the iron cage: a more bureaucratic, more professionalized, less interesting phase of Internet categorization and classification (see also: “Olympic figure skating, rigged”);
  • The recognition on the part of the rest of us that the deliberate failure of metadata experts to “understand” the spam problem is part of their master plan to actually control the old-school
    Platonic-wisdom-claiming, Leninist-leaning organizations that will administer this new semantic universe, since after all, someone has to be there to ensure that public document metadata is not spam-laden and that documents are being “structured properly.” These organizations will have all kinds of hidden ties to content management software firms, etc. To cite one expert, David Green: “The upshot is that the semantic web may act as a ‘collective memory,’ augmenting individual brain power and accelerating the pace of human learning and discovery. But we will need to careful [sic] about controlling its development and our dependence on it if we wish to avoid the emergence of a dystopian digital dictator.”
  • In response to this threat, there will be predictable free-market, anarchistic, and postmodern reactions, and thus a healthy lack of consensus about what or whom the web is “for,” and who does or ought to “run” it, leading to a healthy pluralism of search tools and a free market which revels in the available choices.

Stuff that we’ll need to contend with in the near term:

  • Google, post-IPO;
  • control the universe strategy;
  • Surveillance of everyday activities that may result from the above;
  • Whatever fads the VC’s can make money on next;
  • Pay-per-whatever search engine advertising;
  • Ever more elaborate “hack search” schemes that break into protected areas and archive all the materials; expect a category killer in this area to set up shop offshore in five years and become a massive headache for all publishers;
  • Even more sinister “hack attacks” by terrorists and malcontents, targeting the top web properties, many of which will not be revealed to the general public;
  • Plenty more legal action related to intellectual property, the legality of search, keyword advertising, domain names, linking, and more, often across borders and without much benefit of explicit legislation or clear precedent;
  • Continued misguided mega-corporate efforts to make the Internet more like TV;
  • More books about the Internet-and-TV problem created by well-paid social critics who wouldn’t dream of trying to make ends meet writing the same stuff as an English professor at a tiny liberal arts college;
  • Books about the same subject written by people who only wish they could get a job as an English professor at a tiny liberal arts college;
  • The failure of colleges and universities to create required courses on research skills in this bewildering new age, leaving “just type and go” sites like Google in the driver’s seat (for now);
  • English professors at tiny liberal arts colleges having no clue, either, about the fast-changing world of communications beyond what they read in McLuhan, and passing their dubious deconstructive “skill sets” on to “C” students who would really be better served by just learning how to look stuff up;
  • Marketing weasels who’ve never attended a tiny liberal arts college claiming to know something about the shortcomings of their English departments.


Upcoming speaking engagements:

If you’re part of one of those big-time companies or organizations we always hear people talking about, you have every reason to attend the Jakob Nielsen Usability Week conference in New York (March 17-21) or London (March 24-28). I’ll be conducting full-day seminars on search engine visibility and search engine advertising at both events, and am looking forward not only to teaching some highly practical sessions, but also to meeting a fascinating group of people and attending as many sessions as I can.

More info is available here:

Although the details aren’t yet finalized, I’ll likely be attending Search Engine Strategies Boston on March 4-6 in some capacity, as well. With over 700 attendees expected, it should be an energizing show. See you there!

The full program should be posted soon at:


Last but not least, here’s another reminder that you can subscribe to Page Zero Advisor (for three years)
for the low price of $49 (that’s way cheaper than attending my seminar!). Just buy a copy of the completely updated 2003 edition of my report “21 Ways to Maximize ROI on Google AdWords” and you’ll be added automatically to the premium subscriber list. The next issue of the Advisor is coming out on or about January 15.

For more info, or to go ahead and purchase the report, and get added to the premium subscriber list, see:

Remember, if you want to keep getting email from me (with fewer jokes and more practical, hands-on marketing info — it’s not just for weasels anymore — you *have to make this purchase*!)

Again, many thanks for reading, and for taking the time out to email me your comments. You’ve taught me so much. Stay in touch! Really.

Now it’s time to sign off in the usual way. The order of spicy Thai food just came to the door!

You may also like