It's No 'SERPrise' — Search is Evolving

Q. Boyer
With the recent approval of the U.S. Justice Dept. and European Union of Yahoo and Microsoft's deal to combine their search operations, the ongoing rollout of Google's new "Caffeine" back-end which includes real-time incorporation of Twitter and MySpace data, and the emerging Google Goggles image search technology, the last couple of months have been a time of explosive activity in the web search market.

Each of these developments is probably worthy of its own in-depth article, but for the moment, let's just look at some basic info about how these developments could impact the adult Internet industry.

The Bing/Yahoo Marriage
Implementation of the deal between Bing and Yahoo has just begun, as the deal's approval was announced on February 18. The most immediate and obvious impact of the deal is the scale of searches that will be handled collaboratively by Bing and Yahoo, with Microsoft's engine serving as the platform.

ComScore estimates the total combined search audience of the two entities to be 577 million users worldwide. While it is hard to say what percentage of those searchers will be actively seeking adult materials, history suggests the portion will be sizeable, and any whole-number percentage of 577 million is a pretty significant number.

The Microsoft and Yahoo deal is probably of greatest interest to advertisers, and to mainstream advertisers, specifically. Bing has acquired a reputation as a relatively porn-friendly search engine, however, and while it remains to be seen what sort of content guidelines the combined search effort will adopt, the existing terms and conditions of both Microsoft and Yahoo make no explicit reference to pornographic material being disallowed, instead limiting their prohibition to "obscene" materials — a definition substantially narrower than "pornographic" or "sexually explicit."

Even if one assumes the combined search effort will prohibit adult advertising, it is extremely unlikely that organic search results for adult-related terms will be heavily filtered or censored, meaning that we will likely see an increase in the number of sites gearing their SEO efforts to attract Bing's spider.

Google Caffeine
The status of Caffeine is so up in the air at the moment, even people who closely track the world's leading search engine can't agree on the extent to which Caffeine is already in effect, versus how much of it remains to be incorporated into Google's current search architecture. That said, there's no question that Google has at least begun to incorporate Caffeine into its search results, and that Google's new, evolving backend is placing greater emphasis on new and timely content. (More about this in the section below about Google's incorporation of major social networking site data into its results).

Google's stated goal in developing Caffeine is (surprise!) to improve the accuracy of its search results — but there's more to that goal than a simple enhancement of response relevance, of course. Google is aiming to make its search more flexible, customizable, comprehensive and efficient, as well.

While many things about Caffeine are still uncertain, or just plain unknown, SEO marketing firm Irbtrax supplies a handful of tips with respect to engineering with an eye on Caffeine, and much of that advice will ring familiar for webmasters — like the importance of relevant, well-worded title and description tags, quality outbound links and keeping your site's text fresh and up-to-date.

Caffeine and Social Media
The single biggest 'new' aspect of Caffeine is probably the weight it gives to social media and realtime information drawn from Twitter and Myspace. Google has been incorporating its realtime and social media search aspects slowly, but those who track the SEO craft closely have already observed a marked increase in the appearance of social media related results, and substantially faster indexing of such data than had been witnessed previously.

Irbtrax founder Scott Moir posted in February that a "popular article… can achieve first page organic SERP for highly coveted keyword phrases within a couple days," and remain in that position for several weeks. This is very good news for marketers who are already adept at marketing via press releases, articles and blog posts; particularly when their subjects of choice become hot topics. In this sense, Caffeine's preference for fresh, topical subjects sounds very much like the function of Google News, in giving precedence based not only on relevancy, but 'timeliness,' as well.

While it's less than clear just how much impact the above developments will have on the adult market, generally speaking, new search technologies have been a good thing for the adult web. Any development that gets more people searching more often typically leads to more people watching more porn, more often, too.

Here's hoping that trend translates into more consumers buying more porn, more often, too.