Clearly, the war to win the hearts and minds of Web searchers has only just begun. Heres a look at three of the major trends that emerged from the events in search in 2004: Targeting: Search became much more than Web-page results this year as the major engines attempted to stretch their reach into more targeted areas, from images and news to local and shopping results.Will local search reach its potential? Click here to read more. On the search engines heels are major phonebook companies. Verizon SuperPages.com launched a more aggressive local search service, while SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. joined forces to reinvigorate their online efforts through the acquisition of YellowPages.com Inc. Staying relevant: As the amount of information grows, returning relevant search results becomes more difficult for search engines. Experimentation grew throughout the year as search engines strive to create customized card catalogs for users. Personalization became a watchword. MyJeeves, My Yahoo for Search and an Amazon.com offshoot, A9.com Inc., were among the early services basing results on past searches and user behavior. But desktop search also began playing a role in better relevancy. The more users can find personal files and e-mails, and pair them with data on the Web, the more pertinent the results will be. Google already dove in, while MSN and Ask Jeeves plan desktop launches by years end. Even Yahoo, whose strength is the Web not the PC, said it has desktop plans in the work. Staying relevant also requires that the search engines consider new approaches to retrieving results. Upstarts in particular began focusing on creating dynamic categories through clustering (Google even started talking about a similar approach), while startup Blinkx Inc. started returning search results based on the context of what a user is doing rather than keywords. Making money:Whether they are expanding services to better target users or make results more relevant, search engines had one goal in mindmaking more money. Search grew into its own profitwise thanks to the rapid rise of search-based advertising programs. Yahoos Overture Services and Googles AdWords, among others, deliver targeted sponsored links based on a search term or the context of the content on a Web page. Advertisers bid for the top paid spots and pay based on the clicks on their links. Google alone relies on advertising for more than 90 percent of its revenues. To continue to meet advertiser demand and keep the profits flowing, it had to expand the number of times pay-per-click ads can appear. More Web searches help in a big way, whether they originate on google.com, through a desktop application or through partners. Click here to read about how Google also is eyeing image-based ads. Ultimately, grabbing a greater share of advertisers dollars is what the Web search wars are all about. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.
Local emerged as an area with perhaps the most potential for hyper-growth, if the users and advertisers follow the hype. Google, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves all launched geographically targeted sections of their search services, which tie together business directory and Web data in various ways.