Search vs Recommendation: different strokes for discovery?

Over the next few weeks Chinwag will be getting to grips with search in all its forms; from mobile and geo-location to SEO and paid search marketing. We gathered for the first in the series, Search vs Recommendation, on Tuesday 2nd September in Soho to discuss the relative plus points of blanket search systems, recommendation and review sites.

The panel contained a mixture of talent from both sides of the search/recommendation divide. Google consultant and chair Steve Johnston presided over a five-strong panel. Walid Al Saqqaf of Trusted Places lent his expertise. Lisa Ditlefsen, Head of Search at the Base One Group and SEO Blog UK was the sole female panelist, whilst David Maher-Roberts from The Filter represented collaborative filtering in the debate. Luke Errington of review aggregator Reevoo and Jon Myers, Head of Search at Media Vest completed the line-up.

Generally, everyone on the panel concurred that recommendation sites were dependent on search engines for their traffic. But in comparison to search engines, recommendation sites can't be beaten in terms of offering detailed information and choice tailored to the user.

Opening debate up to the audience got proceedings swiftly moving along.

“Do recommendation sites really have a place in a recession? How do we cope when things have changed from when people were cash-rich and time-poor?” asked one audience member.

For Luke Errington of Revoo, the emphasis will move away from reviews for plasma tv’s and holidays, for example, to price-comparison sites that are more consumer conscious - worth bearing in mind in days like these when money’s getting a bit tight.

Trust was still a big issue for some members of the audience:

“You need to be able to see reviews of products that are in some way relevant to you”

For most of the panel the answer lay in social media. Nonetheless Lisa Ditlefsen, Head of Search at Base Group, warned us not to rely too much on information from social media platforms either as it can be just as unreliable as a faceless review from a recommendation site:

“If you have 300–odd Twitter friends you won’t know them all. We use the term friend very loosely these days, things have changed”

Where are the best-placed outlets, then, for your customers?

Interactive video reviews were cited by David Maher-Roberts as an innovative way for consumers to make informed decisions. Video reviews of new gadgets by geeks are now commonly posted on YouTube and elsewhere, he added. They also get indexed by search engines - so the scope for discovery via video product reviews is considerable.

Chinwag Clinic: Search Marketing Surgery – 30th September 2008
Chinwag Live: Search & Location Based Services – 7th October 2008