At Grow With Inbound 2020, Vice President of Huble Digital USA Dan Golden hosted a deep-dive into how search is changing, what’s next, and how you can apply these tips and insights to your portfolio of brands.
Decoding Google’s evolution to predict the future of search
Google is not just a search engine — but that wasn’t always the case.
In its infancy, Google was little more than a page of blue links designed to whisk users off to other websites. What’s fundamentally changed is that the search giant is no longer focused on driving traffic away from its platform — Google has become a destination, and one that is geared towards keeping traffic on its pages and platforms through a constantly evolving ecosystem.
Today, the information that Google presents users is more structured, informative and valuable, giving marketers a whole lot more real estate to work with for their brands.
To illustrate Google’s attempt to monetise all of the destinations in its ecosystem, Dan highlighted Google Discover (which is built into the Google app). Much like Facebook and LinkedIn, Discover appears as a customised newsfeed, which Google describes as “your new mobile homepage where you can not only search, but also discover useful, relevant information and inspiration from across the web for the topics you care about most”. Dan hastened to add that if you’re ever curious about what data Google has on you and your preferences, check out Discover and the newsfeed it curates for you!
Adding to this, Dan highlighted another interesting development — Google is now favouring native ads, which are more in-line with the organic results we’re used to seeing. When you consider the breadth of Google’s properties — Shopping, YouTube and Discover, among others — this move will shape the future of search, as well as how marketers look to Google for brand opportunity.
Google’s evolving features and exciting introductions
As Google grows its ecosystem, they’re developing their existing features and introducing some new innovations to ensure users stay put. Dan highlighted the following developments:
Quick answers: This ever-expanding FAQ feature pulls the majority of content from websites to provide quick answers without users having to click away.
Immersive commerce: With Google Shopping, Google is expanding their eCommerce offering and enabling retailers to get product information out through channels like Gmail. Similar to social media ads, Google Shopping ads are now more responsive and allow marketers to pick an objective instead of creating separate Display campaigns for affiliated platforms such as YouTube.
Google-hosted transactions: Dan predicts that Google will eventually make more revenue off of monetising transaction fees than advertising. Google-hosted transactions are a step in this direction and a direct play against Amazon. The move makes perfect sense as Google wants more transactions happening on their platforms to reduce friction, capitalise on consumer trust, and drive expansion through revenue.
Marriage of audience and search intent: Search is starting to feel like Display, where the audience is almost as important as the keywords. For B2B marketers, there are now a number of ways to pinpoint prospects accurately. These include custom audiences, customer match, similar audiences or conquesting using customer intent audiences to go after competitors.
The new digital ecosystem in real-world settings
The evolution of search has real-world implications. Devices such as smart speakers, smart screens for microinteractions, and voice assistants in cars are all contributing to the ‘world beyond screens’.
Take wearable fitness tech for instance, where the ‘battle for the body’ — as Dan coins it — is going to be happening on our persons, as we’re exercising or going about our daily routine. Innovative heads will prevail here, with Dan emphasising that brands who are quick to act, with direct responses and answers to this growing trend will be the ones that emerge as leaders.
But as this new technology entrenches itself, don’t lose sight of your customers and what's best for them. Dan recommends marketers ask themselves the following questions to focus strategies and intent:
What can you automate for your customers?
What inefficient interactions can be enabled with new technology?
What experiences can you deliver both with screens and without screens?
The growing use of voice-activated search
The real game-changer here is not the search itself, but the answers that it provides, and from where. According to Dan, the good news for marketers is that 60% of answers to desktop searches aren’t from giants like Wikipedia, but rather from smaller domains. For marketers, this means there’s ample opportunity to outflank the giants in service of promoting their brands.
Voice Commerce is also on the rise, but as of now it’s only used for low-friction purchases like groceries and cleaning supplies. That said, Dan believes it will influence high value purchases in the not-so-distant future.
Again, it comes down to knowing your customer. It’s highly unlikely somebody is going to go out and buy Alexa and connect to your account just because you asked them to. Your question should be what you can do for your loyal customers now — think customer experience, not customer acquisition.
Before going after that new and shiny device or technology, Dan advises asking yourself these questions to ensure your products and services remain customer-centric:
What are the most used features/actions?
What can you automate with ease?
What are your loyal customers asking for?
What can you do to promote repeat purchases?
What do call centres or front offices waste precious time on?
Before you strategise, you need to figure out what people are talking about. Thankfully, a number of resources are available to help you answer those questions, such as Answer The Public or BuzzSumo. Dan suggests consulting with your call centre reps and analysing chat bot data for additional insights to base your efforts on.
Focus on the customer, always
Search is evolving at a rapid rate and it’s up to us as marketers to keep abreast of new trends and technology to better service our clients. But while the future of search remains in flux, one critical aspect holds true:
Whatever you can do to reduce friction and help customers buy where they want to buy is your priority.