Last week, we queried search-marketing executives about what they felt was the biggest development for 2016. We also asked them to look forward to what we should expect for 2017. What follows are their slightly edited responses.
Cross-Device Use, Voice Search and Intent
Being able to better understand cross-device use by individual users is important to stay ahead. As most households have multiple devices in play, users are shifting their behavior to specialized use of each device — e.g. browsing Christmas presents on a tablet while watching TV but deciding to use their credit card later in the evening on their laptop at the kitchen table. Understanding the kinds of ads and content that resonate at different moments to the same user will help proactively speak to these users at the right moments. To that end, cross-device attribution is becoming increasingly critical since so much browsing happens on mobile devices but so little conversion does.
There will be a continued increase in digital assistants and related products like Alexa/Echo, Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant/Home. Eventually (not likely in 2017) we’ll stop using search Web sites, except for specialized searches that require research. Once voice tools mature further, and these devices start to better understand intent, you will simply ask the machine to execute a search and it will return a short list of the most relevant results. With voice search on the rise, brands must adapt not only to how search input is evolving, but also to the broadening expectation of content from text and links to more dynamic and visual results in the form of video, social, and other emerging types of media.
Therefore, to prepare, we feel understanding intent is key to success. As Google continues to leverage AI and machine learning across its algorithm, brands need to start thinking about the right content across various devices to successfully be relevant in moments. Keywords are key to understanding intent and search is a part of every buyer journey. Search marketers need to harness this power by utilizing search to connect with users at all stages in the buyer journey. If you continue to think about search as only a direct response channel, i.e. focusing on branded terms or bidding down in mobile since the conversion rate is low, you will miss out on key opportunities to connect with your consumers. —Selina Eizik, CEO, Acronym
Google's mobile/desktop index "flip." While RankBrain is a big deal, the index flip means that mobile-first design and implementation has gone from art to requirement. Your site must offer a great mobile experience. Google says this won't impact the rankings much. Time will tell. But regardless, it's a philosophical change. Most companies still treat mobile as an afterthought: Use media queries, make everything narrower, and you're all set. They're going to need to provide a really great, intentional experience, rather than a trimmed-down desktop experience.—Ian Lurie, CEO, Portent
The removal of sponsored-search ads from the right-hand side of the result screen sets the stage for further adoption of tactics such as the use of trademark bidding to maximize ad real estate covered on a search results page and capture the most search traffic possible. When executed correctly, this practice can help optimize user experience by connecting consumers with third-party Web sites that provide the most up-to-date offers and insights about a specific brand.
The use of direct linking is also poised to grow as brands will increasingly reach out to search affiliates to supplement their internal or agency efforts. Since many search budgets are capped, affiliates can become a brand’s de facto “agency” via direct linking when internal search budgets aren’t sufficient to sustain a campaign directly. —George Yuhba, CJ Affiliate by Conversant, Network Performance Director
Audience Targeting Will Extend Capabilities
We anticipate the search landscape will benefit from another round of innovation. The most impactful, we estimate, will be the addition of audience targeting layered into search, extending capabilities beyond current retargeting features such as RLSA, moving towards the delivery of unique messaging to hand raisers higher in the purchase funnel. This type of precision will allow marketers to bid on financially restrictive upper-funnel keywords in a way that was previously unavailable. Additionally, we can expect further enhancements to mobile ad extensions, new product-listing ad formats and new ad formats designed specifically for voice search. —Chris Humber, Catalyst, Senior Partner, Head of Practice, Search
Build A Better
I think that Google is getting better and better and figuring out which Web sites users prefer. More and more in 2017, the focus should shift from finding ways to convince Google that your site is better than your competitors to actually being the better site. There has been lots of discussion on how to optimize a site for RankBrain. I think that very few people actually understand what RankBrain is (including me). What we do know is that Google is constantly working on improving how they understand a user's query and what kind of results they offer that user. If we continually focus on creating the best site possible, we'll continue to improve in Google's eyes. —Marie Haynes, Search Engine Marketing Consultant
We’ll see how those predictions pan out. Happy New Year.