The Love-Hate Relationship Between Search and Discovery

Posted by Brian Cavoli on September 7th, 2011 at 4:32 am

It seems like these two can never get along. It’s funny because they actually have a lot in common. Semil Shah stirred things up between them in his Techcrunch post recently. He said that despite all the talk about there being a big shift from search to discovery, he’s not buying it. People will always need to search and discovery can impact it by changing how we search.

People want to see search and discovery compete with each other, but they really are a lot alike. This is important because understanding how your customers learn about your product is fundamental to a successful marketing plan. Here’s what I’m talking about:


When someone has a need, they need information quick. They are certainly likely to reach out to their social networks for a recommendation, but while they are waiting for responses, Google’s there with a doodle and a million links. That behavior’s not changing. In fact, ComScore qSearch finds that in the age of social, people are searching more. The total volume of search queries is up 9% from the same time last year.

Before you automatically side with search, you have to realize what people see when they are on a search engine. Much of the content created on the web now comes from users and not professional publishers. This is what’s being index by the search engines. Bing is constantly expanding their integration with Facebook. Yahoo’s integrated social networks in Mail. Google+ now has 25 million users and their social network discussions are showing up in search results. Combine that with the fact that queries on Google+ are designed to emphasize social, and it’s easy to see that when people search what they find is consumer-created content. Search uncovers the experience of someone else’s discovery.


A consumer’s path to purchase often begins in social. The web takes up most of our media consumption time and most of that time is spent with social media sites. Social media is where we learn about what is new and interesting. Whether a friend on Facebook is raving about how much their family loved a new meal, or that tweet from a co-worker about a one-day sale at the mall, or the detailed Amazon product review someone in your Google+ circle just posted, our friends are our filter and we trust them.

Marketers are all over social media but consumers don’t really want to hear them talking. You can hear that anywhere. We turn to each other in social to learn about products so we don’t have to listen to marketing spin. There are many brands doing a great job putting a face and personality on their product in social media, but if someone is following a brand, they are usually there hoping for a discount. (see ExactTarget and AdWeek/Ipsos studies on this) There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not going to generate much discussion to boost your discovery potential.

Discovery is caused by the widespread sharing of honest and authentic enthusiasm about a product. It’s the experience of customers expressed in their words on the sites they prefer to use. There is no shortcut. A marketer’s job is to activate it, cultivate it and to measure it.

Focusing your marketing on this type of consumer discussion helps others discover your product from their friends and followers, and it fills search engines with highly relevant and influential content. Sounds like a perfect marriage.

One Response to “The Love-Hate Relationship Between Search and Discovery”

  1. yakz says:

    Nice Comparison you got there

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