The Alluring Future of Search (2018)

The Alluring Future of Search

The internet has become the cornerstone of our global culture, but it seems only a short while ago that some households didn’t have the internet at all, let alone the exciting mix of internet-enabled mobile devices available today.

As technology continues to improve, so too does the way in which we access and use the internet. The accuracy at which major players like Google anticipate our needs has swiftly become normal to just about everyone. Business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies heavily rely on search to reach new customers, and both are hungry for more growth by using it.

That’s the present. What about the future?

Tech influence

Since 2016, mobile search has officially eclipsed desktop search on Google. Statistics vary, but even at that point the platform claimed to see over 60% mobile usage.

What’s even more interesting is the breakdown by industry. The Hitwise Mobile Search Report found 72% of food & beverage searches to be mobile-based, with health and sports following at 68% and news & media at 62%.

Google’s very own Mobile Path to Purchase report throws telling statistics at us; consumers research products for over 15 hours a week on their smartphones and 69% expect businesses to be within five miles of their location. More than half demand the option to purchase within an hour. 93% then go on to buy. Big numbers indeed.

Trends such as these have been predicted for over a decade. With mobile now truly mainstream, attention is shifting to the next step in search: voice.

Research firm Gartner predicts that, by 2020, around 30% of all searches will be conducted without a screen. comScore says that 50% of all searches will be completed using voice instead of text. Families show signs of adapting too, with 2020 again estimated to hail a voice revolution – over 21 million smart speakers will be used in US households alone.

YouTube offers powerful search capabilities

Since being created by three former PayPal employees in 2005, YouTube has grown to a ubiquitous global platform that is part of daily life for billions around the world.

The skyrocketing statistics of YouTube tell an interesting story in our content preferences. Over three billion searches are performed a month on the site by over 1 billion unique visitors. A staggering 50% of all internet users are registered on YouTube and over 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute.

Its growth story is enviable; YouTube went from one 19-second clip of founder Jawed Karim at the zoo to its first one-million-view video in the space of six months .

Savvy publicised deals such as the agreement with news site NBC in June 2006 raised the site’s profile, and Google made the deal of a lifetime in acquiring YouTube for $1.65 billion in late 2006.

The profitable partnership program that followed ensured interest, with viral videos such as ‘Charlie bit my finger’ earning the family involved over $150,000 for a 59-second clip which, at the time of writing, had been watched over 861 million times.

What does the future hold for search?

Consumer preferences are changing: Already, research shows that 42% of mobile users prefer voice search because it’s quicker and more practical in everyday situations such as when driving. The novelty of voice search is also a draw, with 48% citing it being more fun to use than other methods; a notable statistic that speaks to the modern demand for engaging and memorable experiences. B2C brands are fast on the uptake, with high-profile examples including BMW’s investment in the creation of an ‘Intelligent Voice Assistant’.

Context can help dig deeper: Many other predictions about the future of search relate to the ease of searching and the extent to which things in the world are categorised. A key subject is the understanding of user intent.

Contextual search ­is the method of delivering better search results based on certain user variables such as location, time of day and even recent search history. The technology can help to bridge the gap between a generic search and a specific search result. As an example: I am a frequent user of a popular jogging app, but what if I’m staying in a city I’ve never visited before and want to find a jogging route? Contextual search could theoretically provide the information I need from a search query as simple as ‘running routes’.

As technology becomes more sophisticated so will contextual search, allowing marketers to target more effectively. Haifeng Wang, VP of Baidu (the 8th largest internet company by revenue), speaks more on this intriguing subject in this Quora post.

Business-to-business can benefit: This advancement in contextual understanding may have profound effects on the B2B marketing scene. Experts predict the path to purchase and research stages moving largely hands-free as professionals move towards increasingly efficient device-based voice searches.

In these cases, search engines that have a greater understanding of semantics and context may come to offer direct answers to queries, such as those provided by the voice programs Siri and Alexa.

There’s a problem, though. If B2B’s future involves voice, it must be reliable and sophisticated enough to offer increased productivity. We live in a data-driven world, and the ability for search to access the right information that is often siloed or restricted is a primary challenge.

If overcome, however, the rewards are great; businesses could use voice search to access real-time data on clients and services in a fluid, rapid and convenient way and the process of researching products and services could become easier than ever before.