It’s a question that’s always on our minds: Where is search going?
At SMX East Monday, several panelists took to the stage to provide their thoughts on the subject and offer some insights into what they are currently seeing. The panelists included Eli Goodman, comScore; Rebecca Lieb, Conglomotron; Dave Schwartz, Criteo; and Ben Spiegel, MMI Agency.
While there were three main themes that stood out, what I found interesting was that nobody was in absolute agreement on exactly what the next big thing will be. That’s great! After all, we can’t predict exactly what is going to happen in search, and in this multi-platform world, there are a lot of ways search could go.
However, it was fascinating to hear some of the data provided by Eli Goodman at the beginning of the session. Take, for example, some of these statistics:
- There is still 25 percent of the US population over the age of 13 that doesn’t have a smartphone and 60 percent that doesn’t have a tablet.
- Total digital media usage has grown 49 percent, with mobile apps having grown 90 percent (June 2013 vs. June 2015).
- Mobile search accounts for ~30 percent of all search activity (Q4 2014), with smartphones driving a greater share (20 percent) than tablets.
- 80 percent of time spent on the internet (via mobile) is spent on three apps.
The takeaway from this?
Mobile growth is still happening, and there is a huge opportunity for marketers. Which leads us to the three main themes of the session:
- Mobile Apps
- Attribution Challenges
- Voice Search
The Growth Of Mobile Apps
According to Goodman, people are spending more time with digital media than ever before, and much of this is due to mobile apps.
Mobile apps give users another vertical for search — and for Google, this is a big deal. People are going directly to these apps to find information versus searching on Google.
Dave Schwartz gave the excellent examples of Pinterest and Houzz. These are two apps where people go to look for things they can use in both everyday life and life events. These apps offer users significantly more than a search engine result can.
Does this mean trouble for Google?
Not really. As Goodman pointed out, Google controls what apps are shown in search results and which apps traffic is being driven to.
I also thought Spiegel had an insightful point around discovery. Apps aren’t necessarily great for discovery and that top-of-the-funnel buyer. People need to have an idea of what they are looking for before searching on an app (excluding the Google search app, of course).
The Challenge Of Attribution
The rise of mobile apps has presented a challenge that isn’t necessarily new to marketers: attribution.
The panel gave a couple great examples of this, including the fact that someone could go to Google, search a product, access the product through their Amazon mobile app, and buy it. To which channel do we attribute that sale?
Rebecca Lieb also pointed out that 90 percent of purchases are still made in a store. And while someone may discover a product online, in many cases the actual sale occurs in the store.
Lieb gave an impressive example of how Home Depot is trying to bridge the gap. She noted that Home Depot allows you to make an online shopping list, and when you walk into the store, it gives you a map and information on where each item is within the store. This is a cool way of connecting how your customers are interacting with you online and offline.
Voice Of The Future
One of the biggest talking points was around voice search and the rise of personal assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Now).
While everyone was in agreement that voice search isn’t there yet, it is something that’s growing and may play a prominent role in the future of search — primarily in that voice search will be integrated into our lives beyond just phones.
While we already have things like Amazon Echo, it doesn’t seem crazy to think that we’ll be using voice search on our TV, our appliances, our cars and more. As Schwartz pointed out, voice is an interface, and it’s what’s under that interface that matters (e.g., personalization, knowledge graph).
The problem is, the technology needs to be more sophisticated before we see the true impact of voice search. As Spiegel pointed out, we currently have to talk to our phone, then see if it’s the right result, click on something, put in information and so on. Until a seamless conversation can occur, we likely won’t see massive growth numbers.
Mobile apps, attribution and voice search were the main themes, but of course, the topic of where Yahoo and Bing fit in was brought up. The biggest takeaway was the split of Yahoo/Bing (i.e., Gemini) and how that may end up hurting each company in the long run.
According to the panelists, the key to success in this age is information — and by splitting up their database into two parts, the two companies are each losing a lot of info. On top of that, Google is continuing to grow its database, especially in mobile, where (as we saw above) a lot more opportunity exists.
What will that mean for Yahoo and Bing? Everyone seemed hopeful that the companies will figure out a way to grow.
Overall, it was a great panel, and I’m excited to see how these things play out both in the near future and down the road.