July 29, 2009


Challenges for ads in the world of real time search

Real time search is the newest kid on the block and everyone is quite excited about it. The excitement almost rivals that of the non-existent iSomethingOrOther from Apple. The obvious way to make money is now a decade old - show relevant ads for the search queries.

So far so good. Let's understand how real-time search is different.

1. Trends is a wave. When people are tweeting about something they are creating a wave. Now that essentially means the trends come to you rather than you searching for something. It's almost like news, where most of the time you want to know what's happening right now and may be use search occasionally to dig into the less prominent stories or simply find relevant information from thousands of news stories.

2. Waves die. The promise of real time search is to provide relevant information which is just out of the oven. A very relevant tweet which is 6 months old has almost no value. Contrast this with the Google world where good content gets rewarded handsomely over a long period of time (until something significantly better shows up.)

3. Bar is not high for quality of the content. After all, how much information can you cram in 140 characters? I don't see one tweet to be far superior than the next 10.

How do these idiosyncrasies of search affect the ads.

1. Since trends are coming un-announced, it is hard to catch the trend. In Google world, advertiser roughly know the keywords. They can create ads for those keywords, bid and let google handle the massive ad auction while you sleep peacefully on a soft pillow. You can take a look at your campaign once in a while (a day or a week), tweak a little and again go the soft pillow.

But the real-time search is different game. The google world of adwords will look almost static in comparison. The trends are getting created quickly, you don't have enough time to think of all the keywords & the bid amount, and you need to respond fast.

For example, you are a chocolate company and few people found worms in it. They are very offended by it and it is becoming a trend. You need to go out, put the ads pacifying all the consumers.

How will this be done? Well, I don't know. May be you need a service which gives early warning about possible trend.

2. Since trends die, you need to constantly keep on tuning your ads. You don't have the luxury of soft pillow in this world. You are on your toes all the time.

3. The current discovery model is not geared to handle the micro-trends or long-tail trends. More than 12 million tweets are created everyday. There must be so many trends getting created every hour. How do you sense those tiny trends and target ads for them?

4. Real time search is only about scanning the content. Like say checking headline and going away. You don't care about the quality of headline, just the message. So, ads are not really competing with content for users attention like regular search. This is sweet! If ads are just right, content will lag the ads significantly in terms of user attention.

I don't know if real-time search is for real. For all you know it simply is a mass illusion. But if it shows promise in early stage, we are in for an exciting ride.

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