The (Evolution Of) Search Is On

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.

Search is central to media plans, and there are compelling reasons why: It is extremely targeted, highly transparent, and very measurable. When using more “traditional” methods of search, the creative needs are also less demanding, as the medium is usually copy-heavy, with little need for visual aids aside from the occasional image extension.

But the landscape of search has changed dramatically with the rising popularity and functionality of search within TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. Even Google’s own data show 40% of Gen Z is using TikTok and Instagram over Google.

While TikTok’s search is a work in progress, it is a clear threat to Google and Bing, and a likely impetus for recent developments in AI.

With Bing bringing on ChatGPT and Google announcing the development of its chatbot Bard, users have more informal and conversational ways to search. And search engines are seeing a benefit, since these AI functionalities are able to feed additional data points to the algorithm, as well as enable voice and image search functions.



The implications for search marketing are evolving, too. Recent developments have introduced much more automation, like machine learning that can make better decisions than the traditional model where advertisers had more control. Google Ads launched Smart Bidding in 2016, providing the option to take full control of the bidding process based on campaign KPIs -- but in its infancy, it left much to be desired.

There are still wrinkles within machine learning and automation. While automated bidding purports to optimize multiple campaigns simultaneously across multiple markets, it can leave the purchaser with a maddening shortage of data and control if one of the markets doesn’t perform as well as another.

As search becomes multimodal, the market broadens, and there are more opportunities for brands to capitalize on where people are looking. This provides an opportunity for marketers to intercept people on their search journeys. As brands start exploring new places like TikTok, it stands to reason that other platforms are going to develop more advanced search functionalities. Already, we’ve seen Twitter launch a beta version of search keyword-based ads and Instagram adding promoted results in search.

Here’s what search marketers should know: 

  • AI and machine learning will continue to have a larger impact, allowing more automated optimizations and more ad opportunities.
  • Brands will increasingly look elsewhere with their search dollars as social media becomes an increasingly important source for information.
  • Investing in SEO, marketers should prepare to take a more holistic approach, providing more context around products or services, positioning them as answers that can be ranked for likely questions where their offerings would be relevant.
  • Ensuring your website has qualified, high-ranking content for relevant, high-volume queries and long-tailed keywords will also be vital.

It would be a stretch to suppose any of this threatens to make Google redundant, especially as it evolves with innovations like Bard, Google Lens, and voice search. While Google still remains the foundational hub of search, the phenomenon of search fragmentation will have growing impact as we see AI develop -- and the ways in which people seek information continue to evolve.

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