Search is now the trusted advisor

Looking at companies such as Microsoft, Google, WPP etc investments in the area of search it’s obvious that it’s more than a big deal to them to get it right.

Within media now, it’s probably the most discussed and debated topic. If it’s not around investment in kit around search or mergers and acquisitions, it’s around search and its role in taking revenue from the old content providers (many of whom believe, astonishingly, that search is actually hurting their businesses).

Anyway, search is an important area – really important – and an area that has great future potential in terms of planning and integration with other media channels. I feel that the next 5 years in the area will be really exciting.

But that’s not what I’m trying to say. So let me get back on track.

Rewind to a world pre search. And I don’t mean the Google/AV algorhythm search … I mean even the old search – the human curated directories model that made Yahoo! famous initially.

Back then, most people had media brands they trusted. Brands they turned to to find out information in the areas these brands were experts in. Be it health, sports, news, world news, current affairs, gossip etc – these media brands were destinations that users would visit every week and read religiously.

They had 2 key things that were hard to erode. Trust and loyalty.

They also had another thing on their side – decent barriers to entry for competitors. It was hard for someone locally to find the resource to set up a competitor, and we had limited access to international media.

Right now that whole scenario has been thrown out the window. Search has changed the game.

Such huge percentages of many publishers traffic comes from search engines. In some categories 40+% of the traffic originates at a search engine. For many, Google is now the universally trusted media brand and the one they turn to to get the information they need.

There’s lots of examples …

1/ Imagine a baby has a fever and is crying at 3am. The obvious first port of call for a mother looking for help is Google.

2/ Imagine a 31 year old male looking to find information on 42 inch plasma TVs that have the best quality picture for sport. He’d start at search.

3/ Wanting to get impartial information on the new Lexus? Search will provide that.

4/ Wanting recipes to cook the ingredients left over from last night – search.

One area I touch upon often in this blog are the user habits around many ‘premium’ web destinations. It always surprises me that on so many sites people generally don’t return within 30 days, and when they are on the site they’re on for 2-3 minutes and consuming 4-5 pages max.

It suggests to me that they’re entering via search – getting what they want – and leaving.

And they probably won’t come back. That is, unless search sends them there.

So what does this mean for advertisers and the perceived value around ‘trusted media brands’? How trusted are these media brands if consumers are turning to search as a first port of call … not the media brand direct?

And does it mean that SEO and SEM is now the most important investment for these media brands as opposed to investing in content and keeping users at the site once they’ve gotten what they came for?

It’s an interesting area to think about, particularly from an agency perspective. Some publishers and providers are extremely reliant on search.

Some publishers and providers are actively buying the search terms of brands that advertise on their sites despite this not sitting that well with the actual brands.

Has the game changed from building up a reputable, established and trusted media brand … to building up strong SEO and SEM and selling pageviews to advertisers for more than you are effectively buying them for through SEO and SEM?

Let’s go back to the two elements I discussed above which have always been important for any media brand – trust and loyalty.

Who has the trust and loyalty now?

I’d be betting for many consumers it’s the search engines.

Back in the early days of the web it was considered that the one stop shop, ‘portal’ destination was the way to go. So far it hasn’t been …

But is Google the best example of a successful portal/one stop shop ever created? Sure, it doesn’t own the content but it determines which content will get the traffic.

Maybe this is what pisses off the content creators so much.


3 responses to “Search is now the trusted advisor

  1. Fionn Hyndman


    Think you have hit the nail on the head. Google is up there in the trust stakes.

    I used to work for Lycos which was big as a search engine and a portal in Europe and when I first saw Google I said “it’ll never work, where are the ads”. Thats the point – most consumers don’t know half the results are ad’s. There are some interesting stats on the demographic breakdowns on who clicks on paid ad’s and who doesn’t. The older the Demo the more likely they are to click on the ads. Good for now for Google but maybe not so much in the future.

    This is also backed up by the research which shows that consumers think less of brands who don’t appear in search results (natural or paid). This makes sense and it backs up your trust theory as consumers think “well if Google doesn’t trust them, should I?”.

    There is also another theory about consumers and Google. Right now they are really only successful in the consumers eyes for Search. If their other areas of expansion had been hugely successful (gmail, google talk, google finance etc) then consumers may change their regard for Google into “just another massive multi-national company”. The trust may go if consumers think they are just out for money, right now they think of Google as the big friend who tells them what they need to know.

    Interesting problem for Google to have, whilst they rule search they need to diversify but if the diversification works well people may think less of them as a trusted source and more as another profiteering company.


  2. Ben,

    “It suggests to me that they’re entering via search – getting what they want – and leaving.”

    This behavior has been described as Information Foraging (theory coming out of the Palo Alto Research Center) and Jakob Nielsen has summarised it neatly in some of his works on web usability.

    In order to create a good user experience you do have to understand how your visitors are actually using the web, and that also enables you to tailor your site to manage and guide their behavior.

    These new users (Informavores) have specific needs and behaviors. If you’re tailoring your site to them appropriately they’ll be back, even if they’re coming via Google.

    That trust can still be earned.


    Eric Rowe

  3. Hi Ben,

    firstly, love reading your blogs and the comments.

    i just want to add a comment to your examples on what people search for.

    I agree with all of those points and i think i have used google for everyone of those but i was looking for a cheap tv that did the job and a subaru not a lexus 🙂

    However, your point hopefully falls over, if i am looking for a job as an accountant in surry hills, i think i am going straight to seek as opposed to a google search and the same if i am in the market to buy a house. i think i am going straight to realestate / domain.

    I know both of these companies are taking a hit in different ways but i think there is still a win in there for the trusted portal model.

    We run a couple of portals and yes we do get a lot of traffic from Google, however we do have a growing base that come to our portals directly for our information. Hard work? yes! But its working.

    Our strategy is to win market share one keyword at a a time in our geographical space. Similar to seek owning jobs in Aus we are chasing brand awareness in our space in Australia.
    I think local information like a job or property or a local business can come from a trusted portal. We are in a better position to market to them because we are closer to them and we can also service our clients a lot better.

    Night 🙂


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