Search marketing is an ever-evolving beast, so at our regular team catch-ups on the couches at 4Ps HQ in December we’ve put together our thoughts, opinions and predictions on where search has been in 2015 and where we think it is going in 2016 (and beyond).

I’ve been recently quoted myself on Econsultancy (shameless plug alert) in both their “sum up” of 2015 and post about predictions in 2016, but since they quite sensibly decided not to put in my entire War and Peace style response to their request for a comment I’ll share the whole shebang here for posterity:

I think probably the biggest change I’ve seen start up in 2015 would have to be the growth of Google results pages as a transactional and direct engagement space – not just in terms of passive presentation via elements like the Knowledge Graph or Quick Answers, but in the growth of direct book-through advertising or sitelink search markup. Things like this are really starting to take users away from “clicking in results to get somewhere” and much more towards “clicking in results to do something.” Brands really have to be thinking carefully in terms of their user touchpoints rather than relying solely on their own assets to do business – real end to end UX, not just “on the website” or even “in the app.”

The push towards app indexing in Google is only emphasising this further, and I think as consumers get more accustomed to this idea of a SERP as an action space we’ll see more happening there in both the organic and paid spaces. That’s an interesting difference to me between Google’s approach and Microsoft’s use of Bing in the Windows 10 environment or via Cortana on Windows Phone – Google seems to be trying to pull people into the SERP by giving them more to do there, while Microsoft is instead trying to push Bing into the places where it knows people exhibit search-style behaviour.

In 2016 I think we’re going to continue to see rises in this “transactional” aspect of search on Google – it will be interesting to see how Microsoft counters it considering how aggressive they’ve been with Bing/Cortana with Windows 10. Of course the idea of making actions more machine-readable has other implications too – especially considering the rise in different “digital assistants” who are not so much search tools themselves as they are engines to conduct and interpret searches on a user’s behalf. Voice recognition and natural language processing is only going to get better. I’m also hoping that we’re going to start seeing other multimedia elements catching up in that regard – things like more advanced image and video recognition, as the technology development pace in that area is very exciting and has some potentially huge implications for how users search as well as the results they might see.

Alex Smith, on the 4Ps Food and Drink team, got so excited about this topic that he wrote his own blog post on the subject (which you can read here) – I’ve cherry picked some of his key points:

I think that the biggest thing I’ve noticed this year has been a big change in the attitude people are taking to the way search and buy products online, people now want things ‘here and now’. Obviously mobile has been the big ‘new’ thing for a while and behaviour on that has always been different, but I think we’re starting to see an even bigger split in the way people are searching and buying on mobile…technology (is) becoming more integrated and people knowing more about the possibilites and potential drawbacks and problems associated with this. People are getting smarter about our industry, especially regarding ads across all platforms. Tools like adblockers, No Script and Ghostery aren’t new, but people are becoming more aware that they are being tracked across multiple platforms and device even if they don’t realise what information is available to us.

Maybe we’re starting to see a shift back to a state where the users are back in control of their data and brands are only able to use what people give them express permission to have? This would further indicate that marketing has moved away from ‘who can shout the loudest’ and towards ‘who can tell users what they want to hear, when they want to hear it.’

Sam Webster, on the 4Ps Motoring team, has also noticed the decrease in shouting:

Good advertising is pushing more and more towards story-telling and emotional investment rather than just a bit of film splashing product and slogan everywhere. If “digital assistants,” voice recognition and natural language processing is going to increase and improve, then SERPS will really have to up their relevance too.

Leo Abraham, of the Property and Publishing team, is excited about the possibilities of new emerging technologies (and more pizza placements):

What about browsing via VR? With the advancements in VR, I.e. the close release date of the Oculus Rift and up and comer Microsoft’s HoloLens, it’s only a matter of time before Google or others invest in this, allowing browsing from these devices, we’ve seen it (although not terribly successfully) through games consoles and the like already.

When you look at this alongside Google’s main point of revenue (advertisement) there is a huge market to be dabbled in. Pushing forward full on adverts to users, consuming their entire visual field. Not only this, we’ll see an increase in adspace on pages, larger SERPs for standardised sized screens, which means more space for ads.

It all comes down to a point of disruption, which is what advertisement has always been. With both AR and VR, you’ll have ads targetted at lunch time for McDonalds, and again at dinner for Domino’s with “50% off” prompts, throwing oozing stuffed crust pizza’s right in your face.

I could go on, but I’ll let our CEO Paul Smith wrap this one up by breaking the situation right down to the fundamentals:

It’s a shift to marketing and away from advertising. It’s about nudging people not shouting at them and above all it is trying to stop people from needing to search because the right info is put in front of them. It is almost a challenge to dis-intermediate Google.

This is only one of the many reasons 4Ps isn’t just another London SEO agency. To discuss how content, search and technology are evolving together to meet new demands from brands and customers alike, 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.