Search is undergoing a quiet revolution, but many marketers remain unaware of how the channel is evolving, and of the opportunities for brands that are opening up as voice, answers and predictive grow in importance.

The changing face of search

What the Google search results look like now is radically different to how they looked 10 years ago. Google was once just the start of our online journeys, a sort of online phone book that listed websites and connected us to them so we could find the information we needed. Now, for certain types of query, Google is both the beginning and end of our online journey - the place we go to ask questions, and increasingly a place where we find answers.

The emergence of answers

Since the introduction of the Knowledge Graph in 2012, there has been a steady rise in the number of search results yielding answers. Some studies show the proportion of search results returning direct answers is now as high as 40%:

 What Marketers should expect from the future of Search Source: Rich Answers in Google search results have almost doubled since 2015, StoneTemple  What Marketers should expect from the future of Search

For brands, Google’s shift to answers within the search results is an exciting development. The ad opportunities that arise from this will be different to classic text ads: ad spaces within the knowledge graph will be more prominent, so we can expect engagement to be much higher.

The best places to look now to catch a glimpse how this might play out are Google’s Hotel ads and Home Services ads. Advertisers on both results gain great exposure by being in top positions within the knowledge panels or answer space. These ads are so much better for the consumer than standard text ads, and they are much better for the advertiser too. I think we’re likely to see Google roll out more ads like these across more verticals.

The rise of voice search

We continued to see the rise of voice search in 2016, and with the launch of Google Assistant and Google Home, it has become even clearer that voice will be a primary means of interacting with Google in the future. To lend some context to that claim, in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai revealed that 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches.

Currently there aren’t any advertising opportunities in voice search, but given the volume of searches starting to go through voice, opportunities will surely start to appear. And when opportunities do emerge for brands to surface their content through voice search, this will likely be a premium space, similar to the top slots in traditional search ads.

It’s not difficult to imagine how this might unfold in practice:

User: “OK Google, book one room in the Marriott County Hall hotel in London on March 1st”
Google Assistant: “Ok you have 2 choices available: Kayak.com at £360 or Marriott.com at £270”

There are endless scenarios that you can imagine Google will explore, so it seems very likely that experiments will begin before too long with advertising content appearing in voice results.

The growth of predictive search

Google provides information to consumers across an increasingly wide range of platforms and devices. As Google learns more about us, it is even able to start giving us information we’re interested in before we look for it.

Google Now was first launched in 2012 and has come on a long way since then - it’s an incredibly powerful product. With the launch of Google Assistant in 2016, it’s clear that Google wants to provide us with information we need before we even start searching for it.

There are amazing possibilities here for brands when Google starts linking what it knows about the products and services users are interested in, with the brands looking to provide them. There are already small examples of how this is starting to play out with Google Shopping Price Drop notifications:

 What Marketers should expect from the future of Search

This could become an incredibly interesting place for brands to play in the future, particularly when layered with audience targeting. For example, if Google knows that every time I stay in London I like to stay at the Marriott County Hall, wouldn’t it be helpful for Google to suggest that I book that hotel when it sees a message in my Gmail account indicating that I have just booked a flight to London? Brands like Marriott and Kayak would no doubt be willing to pay to show me an ad on my Google Now page encouraging me to book. I think we’re quite close to this sort of scenario becoming a reality, and when it does, it will radically change how we think about search. In fact, we might not even think of it as search anymore!

Conclusion

Voice, answers and predictive are without doubt changing the face of Search. Currently there are few opportunities for brands to be present in these areas through paid advertising, but as these areas open up - and they inevitably will - the value of Search as a communications channel will grow significantly and brands that make the move early will reap the rewards.