People of all ages, from all walks of life, use search engines today with barely a second thought, happily typing (or mistyping) their search requests into the familiar box on-screen, and waiting just a second or two before setting off to find what they're looking for. It can be only a matter of time before technology and pricing models develop that let us feel equally at ease doing the same on other web-connected devices, such as mobile phones and IPTV.
Even then, we will still be scratching only the surface of search. Brand owners and advertisers are already wondering how to make sure they are found on MySpace, YouTube, Second Life and other social-networking innovations. Some believe the next big thing will be semantic search, where search engines will be able to understand and interpret the meaning and context of words in a request. There is voice-activated search, image-recognition search, even musical search; and with each additional 'flavour' comes a set of new challenges for brand owners to fashion content in a way that ensures it is found via the latest platforms.
In other words, search is here to stay. Certainly, there will be important issues to be resolved in deciding the future shape and direction of some services, in particular those concerned with personal privacy. Beyond that, the only limits on future development will be the ones imposed by human imagination, individually as well as collectively.
For all its speed and ease of use, the most compelling aspect of search (not just in the context of marketing) will continue to be its inherent sociability. Search is user-driven. It, and the advertising associated with it, 'works' only when the individual wants it to.
Traditional marketing techniques, and even most online ones, are still little more than unbidden invitations to buy, sent by advertisers to consumers who may or may not want the product or service in question. Search marketing turns that model on its head; it is the customer issuing the invitations - 'I'm looking for this, who can help me find it?'
Marketers in the UK seem to understand the latent power in this customer-driven process of matching up ready-to-buy consumers and ready-to-sell vendors, having pushed paid search's share of online adspend to nearly 60% last year, the highest proportion in the world. In turn, the success of paid search is generating renewed interest in natural search techniques to improve the performance of results.
In fact, it is hardly stretching the point to say that search, whether paid or organic, has finally given truth to the old marketing adage that the customer is king or queen. Whatever their gender, long may these monarchs of the market reign.