Existential Questions About the Future of Search

Much to the dismay of anyone who ever wrote an article titled “SEO Is Dead,” SEO will probably never die. But, SEO will more than likely change as search keeps evolving to better meet technological advancements and user behavior.

Over the last seven years we’ve seen major changes to search such as universal search, personalized search, real-time search, and auto-complete (Google Instant), just to name a few, as well as major algorithms changes such as Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and now Pigeon. This trend of changes and updates will continue in the future, and for each change, the marketing community, and SEOs specifically, will find ways to help businesses optimize the ways they are found online.

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This pendulum will probably continue to swing forever in one way or another, but while Google hasn’t changed its primary interface much over the years, new technologies are emerging that change the way that people actually search and use search. These technologies will change the face of search and consequently the practices of optimizing our online presence to be better found by our target buyers.

Just last week, Google released an infographic on how people use Voice Search. This is only one example of how people are starting to use new technologies to help them find answers to their most burning questions. And, isn’t that the primary purpose of search? To answer questions, or at least to surface the sources of those answers?

google-voice-search-infographic

But, search as a method for finding answers has also evolved to be more fragmented and specialized. Do people still use Google for every question they have or do they now have specialized search destinations for more specific queries? Amazon for searching products, Shazam or Spotify for finding music, IMDB for movies (also an Amazon subsidiary), Kayak for travel, Twitter for real-time news and updates, Facebook for news about your friends and family, and Yelp for information about restaurants. The fragmentation of the search functionality will probably continue until another wave of disruptive technologies emerges that will consolidate these functions, bundle them, and serve them more easily. Will that be the mobile/voice search (Siri, Cortana, and OK Google) or will another technology or product revolutionize the way we find answers?

The other gateway to information consumption is discovery. It’s an area in which companies like Amazon have made a fortune on and technologies like social media platforms have revolutionized. Does the future hold new and innovative ways to continue to discover information? Or, maybe it will introduce another way to consume, gather, and decipher information?

Lastly, the information age has introduced a massive amount of data that we can’t even begin to sort through and process. Additionally, as Nate Silver describes in the introduction to his book The Signal and the Noise, this increased access to information can do more harm than good. The more information that is available, the easier it is for people to cherry-pick information that supports their pre-existing positions, or to perceive patterns where there are none. Perhaps, future innovations will solve the problem of data overload. Will search evolve to become not just a means to surface the most relevant data but also the most accurate data? Can accuracy be measured and programmed? Who will determine what “answer” is more right or correct on controversial questions like political subjects, religion, or even science’s unanswered questions? Would authority be determined by the accuracy of the information the source provides or just its popularity? Would technology companies and their sophisticated algorithms become the educators of the masses and hold the power of all knowledge?

As both technology and human behavior look for the shortest route to get answers, will people really trust these search and discovery solutions to give them what they want? And if they do, can we as marketers tap into the logic, algorithm, and process that makes them surface one solution, product, or company over another?

The Future of Search

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Image source: http://petitinvention.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/future-of-mobile-search-for-diet/

I don’t have any answers to these questions. All I have are more questions. More specifically, as a marketer, I have questions about the future of my role as a marketer. So, let’s take a journey into the future, to the not-so-distant future only six years from now. The year is 2020 and search, social, mobile, and local have all morphed and changed in ways we can’t even imagine now. As a marketer, I would still have several questions I would need SEOs, SMOs, and any other optimization professional to help me answer:

  1. How does my target audience search for answers?
  2. How can my target audience find me online?
  3. How can I reach my audience at the right time to make an impression?
  4. How can I seamlessly become part of their buying journey?
  5. How can I amplify my message, my brand, and my position to reach more people?
  6. How can I spend less money on advertisement and get more back?
  7. Who/what determines how and where I show up on search? Can I impact it?
  8. How do I measure the success of my search campaigns? Do I know how people found me/my product?

There are probably more questions and, no doubt, more technical questions I can’t predict now, but the fundamental questions above will stay true regardless of the technology used and the behavior it will create.

What I know is that in the next few years we are going to experience more technological changes that will continue to change our lives and the way we search, find, and choose our products. Are you ready?

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