Here are 5 developments in search that we think you should be paying attention to in the coming year.
1. Google’s Mobile-first Index
Starting late March 2018, Google began rolling out mobile-first indexing. This means that instead of crawling, indexing and ranking only the desktop version of a page’s content, the mobile version of a page will be used instead for mobile search results.
As traffic continues to shift from computers to phones and tablets, Google is also taking measures to promote better user experiences and incentivizing webmasters to focus more on their pages’ usability on smaller screens.
“Mobile first” has been the mantra of digital marketers for some time now, and this change marks yet another milestone in the emergence of the platform. If your page is in the process of being migrated to the new index, Google should soon let you know via Search Console.
2. Brand reputation as a ranking signal
The role of brands as direct ranking signals has been hotly debated in SEO circles, but the fact remains that Google is always looking for new ways to distinguish trustworthy from untrustworthy information. The manual way to do this – of course – is to look at the source and its reputation. According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes, the company now uses brands in two different ways as ranking signals.
The first is by establishing a brand as an entity. Google will connect unlinked brand mentions to establish an entity and thus try to evaluate the brand’s authority and relevant fields. The second is by establishing the context and sentiment around an entity. Thus, the context in which a brand is mentioned affects your reputation.
As Google continues trying to provide higher quality search results in this age of fake news and misinformation, reputation will continue to matter — and thus brands will continue to matter.
3. Voice Search
While some predictions regarding the prevalence of voice search could be overly optimistic, voice recognition technology can only be expected to improve and grow. As the share of mobile traffic increases, more people are turning to voice-controlled personal assistant devices, such as Google Assistant or Siri, when searching for information.
In addition to the search queries themselves differing between devices, many of the signals used in a desktop or mobile settings don’t translate well into voice searches. And thus, evaluating the equivalent experiences, for example of a landing page, has to be quite different for voice results between the two.
Furthermore, when manually typing in a query, the user is immediately presented with many different suggested queries, whereas a voice-controlled search will return only the most relevant result for a single query. This is poised to intensify competition among websites looking for traffic.
4. Visual Search – more than a curiosity
Image recognition has traditionally been a tricky task to automate effectively. But through AI and machine learning, visual search is gradually becoming a reality.
Reverse image search was pioneered by the likes of TinEye. And now Google is developing their own visual search app, Google Lens, which was launched as a standalone app in June. Some of the listed features of Google Lens are more akin to augmented reality curiosities, such as plant and animal identification, but the most interesting developments will happen in the e-commerce applications of visual search.
A user looking for information on a specific product is likely to be eager for helpful results, and thus visual search results are a great opportunity for driving a conversion.
5. Amazon challenges Google in paid search
Users are looking for information not only via search engines, but also through other platforms. For example, YouTube is sometimes called the world’s second largest search engine because that is how many people use it. Video is often the optimal format for a particular piece of information. Similarly, Amazon is used increasingly to find information about retail products. In fact, 56% of US, UK, French and German users start their searches for products on Amazon instead of Google. When consumers turn to alternative platforms to find information, optimizing searches on those platforms also becomes increasingly relevant.
Amazon PPC is also challenging Google in advertising, as it has the advantage of engaging with users further down the purchase funnel. In the long-run, it will be interesting to see how Amazon challenges Google’s dominance.
Be sure to also read our blog about social media advertising trends for 2019 – it can be found here.