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Downturn accelerates search innovations

There’s nothing like downturn to spur innovation. A rash of new product and feature updates have recently been flung upon the search marketing industry, some better than others. This is nothing new: Canned food, Jeeps and the microwave oven also were born during a time of duress. The French government issued a prize for the inventor of an efficient and effective food preservation system when supplies were low; the Jeep was developed for a wartime bid; and the microwave oven was a chance discovery that helped a firm survive by diversifying when military orders came to an end. The question for today is, which of the following innovations will stick?

Consumer search updates have made up the lion’s share of announcements this fall, the assumption being that interface and functionality improvements will boost market share. Web searchers can now find people through a more intuitive LinkedIn search interface, play with results with SearchWiki, find local flu trends on Google, and get a first taste of Yahoo Glue, which strings together relevant from disparate sources on a single topic. Local searchers also have a more robust offering from Citysearch. Not to be left out, Microsoft’s Live Search is widely rumored in the process of a rebranding effort. The name? kumo.com.

On the mobile front, Google launched voice search on the iPhone, along with easy access to Google applications. Yahoo’s OneSearch recently partnered with T-Mobile’s Web2go service, which will include a OneSearch button on the handset. E-mail also has gotten a boost with the launch of video chat within Gmail, and the less useful, but fun, Gmail Themes.

Improvements in online video are trying to keep up with the increase in online consumption of longer formats, such as full episodes. When YouTube wasn’t looking, Hulu, the little video player that could, gained traction in 2008. As a result, YouTube has recently launched widescreen and HD viewing functionality as well as YouTube Live. On the monetization front, YouTube has launched two new ad units, including overlay ads on partner videos as well as “video units” — sponsored videos ads that appear on the right hand of a screen, much like adsense text ads.

Marketers also are getting a few new tools. Yahoo! has just launched Yahoo Publicidad for marketers to better reach US Latinos as well as Latin Americans, and Microsoft’s AdCenter is reaching out to SEMPO members by offering them offering $1,000 in free clicks. And to round it out, Google TV ads has recently improved its search capabilities for offline TV advertisers looking to make use of this next generation platform.

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