Adapting To A New World Of Search

While aspects of digital marketing like email and display advertising are reaching maturity, search continues to change in major ways. The desktop search results page looks very different from what it was like even a few years ago. The amount of new content and searches continues to increase, and searches are becoming increasingly complex. Add to that the shift from desktop to mobile, and soon, virtual reality (VR). How can we handle all of these changes? Let’s try by getting our arms around the following:

The Changes in Search Interface

The Internet has always promised to extend past desktop computers, and the first stop is the mobile phone. What is the interface used to search content via mobile phones? Increasingly, it’s voice.

And while Siri, OK Google and Cortana are the big three today, others, like Hound and Amazon, are entering the picture.

Amazon may be out of the phone business, but it is pushing its Alexa product, which is set up to run via voice search. And despite some challenges, Alexa appears to be fulfilling the possibilities of voice search. So we can talk to our phones or speakers at home, but now that we can buy VR interfaces for $15, isn’t that where we really want voice search?



The beauty of search isn’t that we can look up the world’s largest rodent, but that we solve critical problems, like where to stay in Paris next summer. How much is this hotel per night? Is it available on July 27? What did TripAdvisor say?

Voice search coupled with VR is the best experience. But is VR search a near-term reality? Google must think so; it moved its head of search design into its VR division last year.

Altering Search Algorithms

What is changing with search algorithms? A great deal. Some are big changes, like Google launching its current algorithm, Hummingbird, in 2013, or the company’s announcement last month about its new machine learning tool, RankBrain. RankBrain is a big deal to Google, as demonstrated by the company’s interview with Bloomberg to promote the new functionality.

Google took the unique step of explaining that RankBrain is the third-most important signal in its algorithm (without disclosing one, two or four). RankBrain can process superlatives, time and complex combinations, as shown in the example, “Who was the U.S. president when the Angels won the World Series?” That query requires simultaneous processing of country, time, presidents, baseball and outcomes.

Other changes are small, with Google making more than 600 such changes each year. These small changes are the reason that search results can vary for the same search on different browsers or at different points in the day. Big or small, these changes show how hard search engines are working to create a better experience.  

Get Your House in Order

In an environment of constant change, what can a marketer do to keep up?

1. Follow fundamental search principles, such as using well-written title and description tags, keyword-based URLs, descriptive headers (e.g., h1s, h2s, etc.), updated/submitted XML sitemaps and simple/helpful robots.txt files.

2. Use SEO and Webmaster tools to identify issues associated with a site and search engines’ ability to crawl and index your content.

3. Consistently review analytics to monitor and understand organic search performance over time.

Build a Content Development Plan

Marketers should think like publishers and merchandisers and build a content development plan. It is challenging to constantly generate new content — marketers need a schedule and the necessary resources. Prioritized plans should focus on the most important content categories and spell out what new pages will be created each month. Markters can optimize the plan over time based on what works best in driving traffic, engagement and conversions.

The search experience is getting better every day, but it isn’t getting any easier for marketers. They must figure out where they are today, establish a strong foundation and build a plan for tomorrow. The choice is simple: They can either enter a new era of search from a position of strength, or try to adapt while simultaneously fixing what is broken.

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