There were two dominant, interrelated themes at Search Engine Strategies conference last week. The first was near-unabated chatter about the recent comScore/Overture study estimating 92 percent of all search-initiated computing and consumer electronics purchases occur offline. A BIGresearch study went further still, finding close to 75 percent of all consumers research online before buying offline.

These two reports sparked a bit of irrational exuberance among many marketers attending SES. Some, it seemed, appeared to have convinced themselves search equals shopping. Well sure, a lot of the time it does. And a lot of the time, people just search for information, Web content, and general stuff. As Yang put it, "There's no context of user interest."

As search becomes the fastest-growing sector of the burgeoning interactive marketing industry, spawning billions of dollars' worth of new advertising and business models, there's been no good way of knowing if a term such as "digital camera" means the searcher is researching a purchase, looking to buy a camera, or chasing down information about using a camera he already owns.

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