With the goal of breaking down some of the most important concepts to provide a better understanding of the basics — and a jumping off point for exploring how far the power of location may take us — we introduce the next installment of our GeoMarketing 101 series: what marketers need to know about the future of search.
How Search Has Changed
Early in the smartphone era, “search” still meant something relatively simple for marketers: A consumer would type a query into a search engine (usually Google), and the results page would display a list of relevant website results as blue links. The goal for businesses, then, was to show up in this list of results through paid (search ads) or unpaid (SEO tactics like ranking for specific keywords, etc) means.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is still of critical importance for marketers — especially for local businesses, who live and die by their ability to be discovered online by consumers in the area: In fact, approximately 80 percent of US internet users prefer to turn to a search engine to find or look up information about local businesses.
But search has changed since these (relatively recent) days in which a query would result in a list of webpages. Today, “search is intelligent — and when you search for things, you get direct, structured answers,” said Howard Lerman, CEO at Yext in a keynote earlier this year. (full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here).
Essentially, if a consumer searches for “new car,” they don’t simply see links — they see the knowledge card, with prices, configurations, features of cars for sale, and more, all seamlessly. Similarly, if someone Googles groceries or banks, they get maps back; Google now assumes someone is looking for a place if they search for something present in the physical world.
This evolution in how search results are displayed is only one half of the puzzle. The other major change on the horizon is how people are reaching this information, period: 20 percent of searches within the Google app are by voice, and the volume of voice searches is growing across the board — particularly those facilitated by intelligent assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. In this year’s 2016 Internet Trends report, venture capitalist analyst Mary Meeker cited Google Trends statistics that keywords associated with “voice-related commands” have risen 35x since 2008, when Apple and Google first unveiled their respective speech-activated controls, and continue to climb.
One more key “future of search” statistic for marketers to take into account: By 2020, an estimated 50 percent of searches will come from images and voice.
The Evolution Of SEO
So, how can marketers drive foot traffic in the age of intelligent search — and be prepared for what’s coming next?
As we’ve written in the past, brick-and-mortar retailers might begin with three ways to think about being present in the key moments when people are searching for something to do or buy, as presented by Lerman and Google’s Biran Kalaria at Retail Week Live:
Think about the entities fundamental to your business. “You need to be in the knowledge graph,” Lerman said. This means that a restaurant, for example, needs to list its menu and locations — so that that Google will then know its menu items and the eatery will shows up in the results if a consumer searches for “pancakes.” Similarly, for a bank, the fundamental entities might be branches and ATM locations. It’s about being listed comprehensively and accurately in all of the relevant categories so as to be discoverable; and, of course, the SEO basics of listing correct address, name, and phone number still matter.
Think about ‘deep knowledge.’ Consider all of the attributes that drive intelligent search. It’s not enough to show up in a search for “Tesco;” a supermarket needs to show up if a consumer makes a voice search for “groceries,” for example. Think about all the paths that consumers take when searching on mobile, with voice search, and more in order to show up in “unbranded” situations.
Think about where your consumers are in terms of services and platforms. Do they search on Google? Do they use Snapchat, or are they more likely to be on Instagram — or both? Alexa? Are they using Uber? Businesses today need to push their information to all of these digital services; it’s not enough to just put it on the web.
Going beyond this, how can marketers think about the near future, in which intelligent assistants may be responsible for providing even more answers to consumers — and in which image search matters, too?
“Brands [need to get their] underlying data layer ready for consumption by these devices,” J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherian told GeoMarketing in a conversation at Cannes Lions. “It’s like the new SEO. The question is, how do you build into your product and services such as the voice assistance sees you as the best option? That’s something we think brands should be thinking about right now.”
In the near future, “could there be paid recommendation? Could you, as a brand, pay to have a voice assistant recommend your brand? Especially when there isn’t that bond already formed [with a particular brand],” Cherian suggested.
In the meantime, though, physical businesses can focus on, as Cherian said, readying their underlying data layer — making sure that they’re up to date on all SEO best practices, ensuring correct and current listings, and utilizing effective visuals — so that they’re discoverable whether searches are made by text, voice, or image.
“Just like mobile didn’t kill the desktop, apps didn’t kill the browser, the mix of visual, voice, and text will combine in ways that are natural extensions of user behavior,” said Bing Ads’ Purna Virji. “We’ll use those tools depending on the specific need and situation at the moment.”
Read more about the future of search: