The first thing to do when talking about the future of search is to look at its past, which is why this introduction is themed around Deloreans and crazy mad scientist wigs.
Interestingly the overall patterns and objectives of search and search-led behaviour and marketing haven’t really changed a lot over the centuries and decades, although the technology certainly has.
People have received information via broadcasting methods for longer than they’ve been empowered to seek it through their own medium of choice or necessity, but in this digital age there are plenty of options to do both. Which type of behaviour does your business encourage in its potential customers?
There are benefits to both approaches in the traditional marketing – broadcasting information or catering to the way customers seek it – but when it comes to modern search marketing what brands need to increasingly remember is that thanks to developments in modern search technology from algorithms and platforms like Google, users think in questions. So in order to be visible and make sure you are on their mental map of the competitive landscape, you need to make sure your brand is offering them answers.
In fact more than just answering questions, modern search engines are really more like “solution engines.” Users go to them for everything from direct informational queries to transaction-type searches, multimedia-based enquiries and specific things based around context like location, especially when searching from different devices.
Don’t forget that people aren’t tied to a desk any more when it comes to their search behaviour. The smartphone-fluent generation are used to treating their mobile devices as something more than a “phone with internet” too. Hyper-personal queries based around personal habits, schedules and geography are sharply on the rise as devices become even better at collating and interpreting data made available to them. There’s a growing lack of “keyword” thinking on this level and a real increase in terms that are ambiguous without context, like “my” and “here.” This only reinforces the need to focus on your users and laser-targeting their likely intentions when considering your content and advertising strategies.
Local is tied closely to mobile, for obvious reasons, but again the lack of outside context is becoming clear across all devices. Single sign-ins allow easier data sharing and most devices are now becoming smart enough to recognise routines including multiple locations. “Near me” is no longer the limitation to geo-location technology – increasingly search technology can recognise recurrent location visits so it knows office locations, work sites, commuting routes and other commonly-visited places (and how the user gets to them). The internet made geographical location seem redundant for a lot of consumer businesses, but as people once again look to real-world bricks and mortar for solutions to their immediate needs, the offline where is once more coming back into business play.
Continuing the trend of context-critical searches, the acceleration of image, sound and video recognition is driving a new kind of multimedia search behaviour. As well as conventional queries, often focused around the “how” for video, users are starting to demand more information from their audio-visual data. Shopping based on appearance is set to be enormous as users can find and purchase items based on something they have seen. The “Internet of Things” is connecting devices beyond conventional computers and smartphones, leading to “smart homes” and other locations, opening up still more channel opportunities – and risks – for the brand wanting to be found by the user.
Google is leading the charge in this space at the moment, offering new opportunities for app creators to give access to the search crawler so it can add even more to its copious stores of potential results. Those who think apps have no future clearly aren’t paying attention, because the personal touch and ability of search engines to interface with formerly standalone applications is only going to get bigger. As well as returning websites, search engines like Google are now able to talk to apps and offer results based on what a user already has installed or what is available to install that might suit their needs. This then ties into other technologies to provide a fully integrated, personalised experience to allow users to ask highly specific questions of their devices and receive accurate, up-to-the-moment answers. Don’t write apps out of your brand’s future – ask where they will feature, not if.
Generally the focus of the short-term thinker, transactional search based around a user wanting to complete an action the business would count as a conversion is undergoing a rapid transformation thanks to the rise of digital assistants like Cortana and Siri. Solution-based searching is still on the rise, but so is the requirement for searching to be done by digital users on behalf of humans, and more critically the need for those digital users to easily undertake transactions is starting to emerge. As well as websites and applications offering a beautiful and rapid human UX, having the right technical markup and architecture to provide the same experience seamlessly to a digital persona acting on behalf of a human counterpart is going to take off in a big way. These are the PAs of the future, and if they can’t fulfil their mission through your site or engine they won’t call customer service for help – they’ll just go somewhere else.
How do you think search and user behaviour are shaping – and being shaped by – new technological and societal developments? Pop your ideas in the comments below or tweet to @4PsMarketing – we want to hear your ideas!
4Ps isn’t just another London SEO agency. To discuss how SEO, PR and paid advertising are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction and brand needs, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.