Search is undergoing a quiet revolution and many marketers are unaware of how search is evolving and the new opportunities which will start to open up for brands to engage with consumers through Search. The changes starting to emerge around voice as an interface, the growth of answers and predictive search will become a playground of opportunity for nimble brands.
The changing face of Google search
What the Google search results look like now is radically different to what they looked like 10 years ago. Google was the start of our online journeys, a sort of online directory, listing the websites we wanted to visit but it is now becoming where we go to for answers; the start and end of our online journeys.
The rise 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 showing direct answers being as high as 40%:
The opportunity for brands in answers
The move to answers sits somewhat uncomfortably with the current AdWords model. As the answer space within the search results take more prominence, click-through rates on traditional text ads will reduce. Some suggest that AdWords revenue will fall as Google continues to power answers primarily through organic results rather than allowing answers to feature paid content. But we are already beginning to see Google testing ads within Knowledge graph panels, and I’m sure we’ll see more of this in the coming years.
So for brands, Google’s shift to answers within the search results is an exciting development as ad opportunities start opening up. Ad opportunities will be different to classic text ads with low CTRs, as ad spaces within the knowledge graph will be much more valuable as knowledge graph panels have much higher prominence so we can expect engagement to be much higher.
The best examples to look at now to capture a glimpse of this 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’ll 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 became even clearer that voice will become a primary way of interacting with Google in the future. In 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that 20 per cent of mobile queries are voice searches.
The opportunity for brands in voice
Currently there aren’t any advertising opportunities open in voice search, but given the volume of searches starting to go through voice, opportunities will start opening up. And when opportunities do open up for brands to surface their content through voice search this will be a premium space for brands to play in as it much less cluttered than the traditional search engine results pages.
And it’s not difficult to imagine how this might unfold:
User: “OK Google, book one room in the Marriott County Hall hotel in London on 1 March”
Google Assistant: “OK you have 2 choices available: Kayak.com at £360 or Marriott.com at £270”
The growth of predictive search
Google is providing answers to consumers through the platform and device the consumers choose. As Google learns more about us, it is 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 help us with things before we need to search for them.
Exciting opportunities in predictive search
There are amazing possibilities here for brands when Google starts opening up advertising to brands that Google knows users are interested in hearing from. There are already small examples of how this is starting to play out with Google Shopping Price Drop notifications:
This could become an incredibly interesting place for brands to play in the future, when this is eventually opened up, particularly when layered in 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 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 to encourage me to book. I think quite close to this sort of scenario becoming a reality and when it does, it will radically change how we think about search, is it really “search” anymore?
Voice search, answers and predictive search, are without doubt changing the face of Search. Currently there are few opportunities for brands to be more present in these areas through paid advertising, but as these areas open up, which they inevitably will, the value of Search as a communications channel will grow significantly and brands that move first in this space will reap the reward.