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What’s Next in Search?

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What’s Next in Search?

Editor’s Note: This is a section of our completely redone SEO Guide. Enjoy!

The nature of SEO is changing more rapidly in the last year than it has for the last five. The search engine game is evolving to accommodate new and exciting technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The rise of these technologies is altering the way people are accessing the internet, and that means businesses will need to evolve their strategies or face being left behind.

0711-future-of-SEO-01This is a titillating time to be an SEO, and if it’s not then you’re doing it wrong.

From desktops to laptops, and mobile devices to wearables, there’s a continuous stream of newer, more inviting devices consumers can use to access the internet, and sites must strive to stay visible on them.

As SEOs, we have to consider the WWW is not what we’re dealing with anymore; we have the social graph, open graph to think about. Tim Berners-Lee coined the term Giant Global Graph (GGG), but for the record, I’d like to update that to GINORMOUS global graph.

The immediate future of SEO lies in the mobile web and with local search.

The explosive growth of smartphone usage indicates that the world is rapidly shifting its focus to the mobile internet, as evidenced by Google’s recent revelation that more than 100 billion searches per month are now being made via mobile devices.

Using smartphones and tablets, consumers now have the world’s information at their fingertips, wherever they go. That translates into more people accessing the world’s information than ever before, whether they’re walking around the shopping mall looking for a specific product, booking a cab, searching for a great restaurant and in many other situations. People are always on the hunt for something, and they inevitably end up asking their smartphone where to find it.

The Rise of Mobile SEO

The mobile web has grown so much that it’s now arguably even more important than the “real” web itself. But while many businesses are seeing the shift to mobile and realize this is where the future lies, many more are neglecting the importance of optimizing their marketing for the smaller screen.

As marketers, we have to think beyond platforms, moving towards Nth screen; the merging of people, places and things around screens. Marketing can be anywhere. Devices are connected, and where there’s connection there’s search.

Mobile Search is Different

The first thing businesses need to realize about mobile SEO is it’s a whole different ball game from the “old” SEO they used to know. For one thing, only about half of all mobile searches actually happen on search engines like Google, with the rest taking place on branded websites and in branded apps.

Mobile search also looks very different for results of searches that take place on desktop or laptop computers. Thanks to Google’s latest Hummingbird algorithm, the world’s biggest search engine now prioritizes what it calls “mobile-friendly” websites over those not optimized for mobile devices. The immediate impact of this algorithm change was that numerous unoptimized websites no longer appear in Google’s search results when a query is made using a mobile device. Indeed, some 62 percent of organic searches now display different results on smartphones versus desktops, and it’s likely this trend will only increase as others race to make their sites mobile-friendly.

“Mobile Search” is “Local Search”

If you’re not yet convinced of the need to optimize for mobile search, consider that a significant majority of mobile searches are in fact “local searches”. Proximity means income for retailers. Consumers are on the go, looking for products and services near them.

Recent data from Google suggests that almost half of all consumers who carry out a local search using their smartphone end up visiting a local store within 24 hours of that search. This trend shows us that consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to search for products in local stores, before they rush out to buy them. And that means more often than not, they’re not purchasing the items they find online.

Another unique aspect of local search is that consumers are demanding results tailored to their specific location. For example, Google’s research also reveals that more than half of consumers would like to use an address or phone number displayed in an online advertisement, and they expect that ad to be fully customized with both a city and a ZIP code. In addition, some two-thirds of consumers actively use the “Get Directions” or “Call” buttons they see displayed on a mobile ad or website.

Voice Search is Now En Vogue

The rise of mobile search can be directly linked to the emergence of a new phenomenon we believe will have a massive impact on the way businesses will need to optimize their websites in future.

Voice search is rapidly growing in popularity as text to speech technologies improve, with research indicating that fifty percent of consumers are using voice search more frequently now than they did 12 months ago. Last year, voice search rose from “statistical zero” to account for more than 10 percent of all searches globally, according to Timothy Tuttle of the voice interface specialist MindMeld. That amounts to a staggering 50 billion voice searches per month. Further proof of voice search’s importance comes from Google, which confirmed at its 2016 I/O conference that 20 percent of all searches now have voice intent, while Microsoft’s Bing said in May 2016 that 25 percent of searches in Windows 10’s taskbar were voice searches.

The reason behind the explosive growth of voice search isn’t hard to figure out. These days, with digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana becoming increasingly more capable and reliable, it’s easier to just pick up your phone and ask it a question rather than take the time to type a full query, particularly if you happen to be out and about. Digital assistants are overwhelmingly the medium through which consumers interact with voice search and carry out natural language queries, so it makes sense that they, too, are on the rise as companies compete for a larger share of this rapidly expanding market.

These digital assistants have come a long way. Thanks to advances in machine learning and AI, the capabilities of Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are much more robust than their earlier iterations. These technologies are able to interpret and respond to much longer, multi-part and very specific queries, something they were unable to do just 12 months ago.

For example, a recent public demonstration of a new digital assistant called Viv (built by the creators of Siri) showed off its ability to respond accurately to complex questions such as “Was it raining in Seattle three Thursdays ago?”.

All of this means consumers no longer have to type blunt and sometimes disjointed queries into their phones. Now, all they have to do is pick up their phone and ask it “where can I find wide-fit, red women’s shoes for under $100?” and Siri, Cortana, or Google Now will instantly provide the answer they’re looking for. As such, the growth of voice search is sure to lead to many more natural language queries that provide much greater amounts of contextual information and data about the searcher’s true intent.

What’s Next for SEO?

Looking further, it seems clear the evolution of search has only just begun. Terms such as augmented reality and virtual reality may be buzzwords today, but they are technologies that SEOs need to take an interest in because very soon those same consumers we rely on to find what they are looking for on Google could be looking through a VR or AR headset to do so.

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”

— R. Buckminster Fuller

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is actually a fairly old technology in terms of the last decade. The now defunct Urbanspoon app allowed users to view where they were through their smartphone and overlaid information, including user reviews on the screen.

Research predicts that AR is going to soon influence almost every aspect of our lives, and the market could approach $600 billion in the near future.

While Augmented reality headsets like the Microsoft Hololens are still fairly new, this technology when widely adopted will pose a huge challenge to SEOs. No longer will users rely on results from raw results from a Google search but will simply look at their surrounding area for everything from where to eat, to where to buy anything they should want.

While creating a new paradigm for SEO, the results people find using AR will still have to come from somewhere, and there are still strong possibilities to influence those results.

Google+ Local Listings are a great example. Although Google is not currently offering AR search results it’s not a matter of if they do, but when they do, and those search results offer an opportunity to SEOs to target customers.

While Google created the Local Listings to lift data businesses created to serve to customers, many businesses remain unaware of the option, or even how best to utilize it. SEOs can assist in helping businesses with their listings, as they can in even a more traditional sense of using various methods to make sure their listings appear before those of their competitors.

Geolocation is the key to making sure potential customers are able to find your business, but the challenge ahead is to cater for a future where the search ecosystem is everywhere you look.

Virtual Reality

While augmented reality has been around for a while now, virtual reality is the market getting more attention and is predicted to be a massive industry in a matter of a few years.

0711-future-of-SEO-02Search is always changing, but once millions are immersed in a virtual reality world, online search will rapidly change across markets, audiences, and verticals. Retailers have already jumped on board.

According to some, VR will create an interesting twist when it comes to reviews of products and services. People will no longer simply read a review, but may well instead be presented with immersive 360 videos, complete with a written review as to why the particular product or service is recommended or not.

The question becomes, “How do SEOs tap into a new market that only a decade ago was hard to even imagine?”

It may be speculation, given we are only at the dawn of the new age of virtual reality, but the best way SEOs can tap into this new world today is by targeting its social angle.

One way is to develop a strategy for getting consumers to click on the content you want them to click on, and that means being a part of VR as it develops. This can range from participation in review sites (a rule that applies to both VR and AR) through making sure a business has its own presence in virtual reality. That may mean a virtual storefront where potential buyers can view the goods being offered for sale, or the ability to test, or “play with” the item being offered.

Naturally, as is the case with a website today, those experiences can not be second-rate, because although consumers do like bargains, perceptions of quality are influenced by the look and the experience. It is quite likely that in five years it will be unheard of for established businesses not to have a VR presence, such as today it is completely unheard of for businesses of any size not to have a website.

Savvy SEO professionals who play the VR game will set themselves up to reap the benefits of high sales for their, or their customer’s, products and services. According to a report issued by SuperData Research, consumer VR will be a $5.1 billion industry this year, up from just $660 million in 2015. It is not going away, and the earlier an SEO embraces the market, the better they will be placed.

Another aspect to consider with virtual reality is it can offer live experiences for sold out events, without the standard ticket fee. SEOs looking to market event access will have the world at their feet: imagine selling tickets to a mass music concert, and UFC event, or countless other experiences. While one person takes up one seat in real life, millions could potentially be sitting that seat virtually. We’re at the beginning stages of this with the live streaming industry; virtual reality is quickly catching up.

Like internet adoption in the home, which took 10 to 15 years, it may take a similar time for virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence to become ubiquitous, but it will. Change is always scary, even with things such as Google Panda updates, but the smart SEOs will learn all they can about these markets.

 

Image Credits

Featured Image: Deposit Photos |Wavebreakmedia
In-post Photos: Images by Anne Ahola Ward

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Anne Ahola Ward

Anne Ahola Ward

Anne Ahola Ward is a Futurist, O'Reilly Author and CEO of CircleClick Media, founded in 2009. She was a web ... [Read full bio]

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