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Keeping the search advertising business rolling

Last week we discussed the implications of search engines becoming ‘answer engines’, and whether there was a long term future in informative web publishing if there’s no need to visit the websites supplying the information. A reader wondered if there was another problem though: how will the advertising model bankrolling the search engines work?

Here’s what will change. At the moment, websites advertise on search engines to get people to click through to them. Pretty simple, and for commercial sites, that shouldn’t change. We’ll still be happy to pay for those clicks, and the clicks should continue. It’s true, instead of searching for ‘blue widget suppliers’ (and then browsing through various sites to find a product that fits), users might now ask the search engines to give a list of suppliers who can meet their specific need. However, there’ll still be a chance to advertise alongside the answers. The clicks will be fewer, but more targeted. And more expensive.

The problem for news

What about news or other informational sites? These have various ways of monetising, but they still require clicks, and will pay for them. At present, if we ask: “what’s the fastest blue widget speed?”, search engines will give us a list of review sites or even manufacturers’ sites that might have the answer. In the future, the ‘answer engines’ look set to publish the answer directly, meaning that there’ll be no need to click through …including on adverts.

And yet… I’m sure the ‘answer engines’ will find a way of retaining this part of the business. Perhaps there might be more of a sales push on the branding benefits of appearing alongside answers. Some very bright people at the search engines are even now working out how to adapt. Don’t have sleepless nights worrying about their welfare. They’ll survive.