In an online landscape which presents an increasingly fragmented customer journey, the future of search promises more voice and visual search than ever before. But what are the implications for brands and their SEO strategy?

It’s a testament to our collective curiosity that, of the 3.5 billion search queries that Google receives every day, 15% of them have never been searched before [1]. People are constantly discovering new interests and passions, and search engines are continually developing new tools to help us search in more meaningful and rewarding ways.

The challenge for brands in 2019 and beyond is making sure you contine to be discoverable at the point of search. But how can you do that when the way we search is changing so rapidly? To help understand how search will impact your customers’ journeys in 2019, we’ve pulled together the three biggest search trends for the year, plus some tips on making sure your brand is ready for what’s in store.

From answers to journeys

The experience of search used to be very different to what we have today. Until recently, a user would enter one or two keywords to return a one-off answer, likely returning the same results page as everyone else would get. However, this course of action wasn’t meeting ever evolving user needs.

People have moved further away from following a straightforward path from awareness through to making a purchase. Instead, they’re narrowing and broadening their consideration in a broad mix of channels, resulting in unique and unpredictable moments. This means no one customer journey is the same as the next [2].

Think back to the last time you searched for a new bit of tech. You might have discovered a new pair of headphones while browsing in an airport departure lounge, then taken your search to mobile to read reviews online. Maybe you watched some unboxing videos on YouTube. Then a few weeks later you might have searched for ‘headphone shop near me’ using Google Maps to complete your purchase. Or maybe you went straight to Amazon to get a better deal? Each search journey is as unique as the customer.

Google has made significant changes to reflect this behaviour, thanks mostly to advances in AI and natural language processing. As a result, search has become more personal, conversational and intuitive, with users being able to resume search journeys where they left off – across all devices. One such instance of this is the recent introduction of Activity Cards.

Cards now appear right at the top of the results page, even above sponsored listings. At this stage the cards are only appearing for selected searches. Specifically, so-called ‘long running tasks’ where Google deems them relevant. In terms of implications for brands, it will likely reward those that serve deep, valuable articles that bring everything you need to know about a broad topic together. This might be best described as help / hygiene content, or ‘cornerstone’ pieces, and will continue to be the backbone of a good content strategy.

From questions to ‘queryless information’

The unnerving phenomenon of ‘queryless information’ is one trend that’s likely to give users a bit of a shock the first time they encounter it. When we talk about queryless information, we’re talking about Google presenting relevant information to you… before you’ve even searched for it. A bit nuts, right? You might have noticed this with handy flight information the day before your trip, or prompts about the weather at your destination an hour before setting off.

Ecommerce expert Dan Barker recently posted about his experience with Google’s advanced AI when searching ‘Roscosmos’ (the Russian Space agency). Google had anticipated his next query and started surfacing the result before he had even completed typing it in.

queryless search

The impact of such advanced search capability for brands seems to be broadly positive. As long as information about your company is clear and visible for search engines (i.e. you have accessible and clean metadata), Google should be able to use that information to surface answers for users within the results page itself. The only potential drawback is that users may no longer find the need to visit your company’s website.

All this begs the question, which brands need to sit-up and take note? The best way to answer that question is to recognise that each technology fulfils very different use cases.

From text to visual and voice

A regularly cited industry prediction is that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be completed via either speech or image search. While this projection has come under scrutiny by some (Econsultancy), the rise of voice and visual shouldn’t be ignored.

The faint glow of an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home device has already become quite commonplace in the livingroom, and visual search is also almost second-nature. We’re very used to using text to search for images – Google Images alone holds 21.3% market share of the search engine mix – but the new Lens feature allows users to search for similar items and even search online stores using images taken on their camera.

Google Lens

All this begs the question, which brands need to sit-up and take note? The best way to answer that question is to recognise that each technology fulfils very different use cases.

Voice interfaces lend themselves to interacting with appliances, and situations in which the user’s hands are occupied. For example cooking, driving, or doing DIY. Alexa and Siri have helped many a baker out of a tight spot by setting a timer while their hands are covered in flour. If your brand can be genuinely helpful at these points, in the home or car, and in a meaningful way that’s true to your brand, then you should absolutely be investigating voice apps.

On the other hand, human beings are also inherently visual and so for anything which requires a strong visual aspect (such as shopping, browsing or reading) other forms of search using smart cameras or image recognition are a more natural fit. This has huge potential for consumer goods brands because it’s the most intuitive way a consumer can search for things they would like to buy, or things they would like to buy to go with things they already own. For now, being listed in Google Shopping is a good move for being search-ready for the Google Lens ‘Style Match’ feature.

The changing face of search

The world of search engines can sometimes feel like a dizzying place. But there is one constant that remains true: if it helps the user experience, Google will rank it highly in its search algorithm. For most, that still means having a mobile-friendly site, fast pageload speed, good accessibility and a robust content strategy. But for some brands, it also means investing in new search techniques, especially voice and visual, to remain relevant.

If you’re interested in learning more about search trends that may be affecting your brand, contact Joe Johnston on 0117 9270100 or joe.johnston@saintnicks.uk.com.