Technical

How Google Search may look on mobile in the future

by on 9th April 2015

A few weeks ago, one of our junior team asked me to host a training session to explain Schema markup.

Specifically, what Schema is, and why we implement it. It was an extremely on-point question, and one that I enjoyed answering.

Around the same time, I was contacted for an opinion on Google’s Mobile update announcement. Except for this brief comment I hadn’t really written much at all about the update.

The Future of Mobile Is Search

This post isn’t about optimising your site for organic search results on mobile devices. Obviously, we’ve prepared for it, just like every other agency probably has.

The list of guides is almost endless. Here’s our complete guide to mobile search and SEO, for example.

There’s been so much chatter about everything mobile there are even news stories attempting to calm that chatter down and put the discussion on potential impact into perspective.

This post is about the glaring possibility that Google organic search on a mobile device as we know it will one day cease to exist, and in its place, something that looks much like Google Now will appear in the browser. I can’t help but think April 21st will be the beginning of that journey.

Mobile Search Signals

Let’s get back to the start of my article. As I mentioned, I’d been working on a presentation to describe the context behind Schema and structured data to SEOs. At the time, I happened to be in the Café next to Greenwich Picturehouse.

Here’s what Google Now decided to show me:

movie-recomendations

Location is an obvious implicit signal to mobile search, and with it, Google can make suggestions based on the fact that I’m located next to the cinema. So, it suggested a card with films showing that day.

You might not have come across location history on Google Maps. Take a look as a signed in Google user and you’re in for a historic tour of your movements over the past 30 days. Our location is being tracked all the time, unless of course you’ve disabled the feature:

my-location-5-days

There’s a wonderful series of recommendations based on your interests (to be more specific, your search history):

i-like-f1

Google Now “knows” I like F1 (as I’m sure most of you do too).

The app obviously understands my cross device, cross app search behavior too. I took this screenshot the morning after I’d watched the Spectre trailer in the YouTube app on my Smart TV:

youtube-browse-history

Which lead to the suggestion that I might like to search for Daniel Craig:

daniel-craig

As users, we emit many signals for search engines to use to optimise our search experience. For example:

  • Query (explicit) eg: “nearest tube station to Jamie’s Italian in Greenwich”
  • Location (implicit) eg: “Trafalgar Road, Greenwich, London”
  • Device eg: “Android, Lollipop”
  • Activity (eg, walking, running, driving)
  • App usage / apps installed
  • Browse history
  • Search history (from all chrome devices not just the phone)

Once again, let’s go back to the start of my article.

A few weeks ago, one of our junior team asked me to host a training session to explain Schema markup. Specifically, what it is, and why we implement it. It was an extremely on-point question, and one that I enjoyed answering.

Focusing Only On “Mobile SEO” and Avoiding the Bigger Picture is a Mistake

The use of Schema, or more generally, structured markup (think: JSON-LD for the future) is absolutely critical to Google Now and its ability to pull a large majority of card results into the wrapper.

You can see the clear relationship between the 2015 film query “Spectre” and the actor “Daniel Craig” by replicating the same search in desktop:

spectre-results-desktop

So take structured data, and combined with the explicit and implicit signals created by the user and device, Google is far more able to deliver a meaningful mobile search experience.

The reasoning for the title of this post is this:

Google Search on Mobile Devices will Look Like Google Now

That’s the theory, to me it makes a great deal of sense.

Why do I think this matters? Like I said, it’s just a theory (and a few others in the more mobile focused side of the marketing industry), but I think that Google Search in a browser on a mobile device will end up looking a great deal like Google Now does today.

Why?

Commercial Motivation

Commercially, Google needs to explore creative and new ways to expand their mobile ad market share.

Let’s talk money for a moment. Google’s facing a shrinking average mobile CPC (down 3% year on year) and a shrinking mobile ad market share overall (losing to Facebook an estimated 5% year on year). Simply put, Google’s paid search revenues don’t perform as well as they do on Desktop, and I’m guessing it’s pretty clear as to why that may be the case:

more-paid-ads-above-the-fold-in-desktop

A Better User Experience that Competes

With Facebook being the dominant factor in challenging their mobile superiority, it’s likely that simply creating an enhanced search experience for mobile isn’t going to be enough of a solution. To compete, better personalisation, hyper-localised recommendations are what’s needed in a radical rethink of mobile search.

New Points of Entry = More App Diversity and Revenue Opportunities

Remember when Google Product Search became Google Shopping and became a paid inclusion service? That’s a very good example of a business first establishing, then monetizing a feed based service. This could be something Google explores again by opening up new API services for app developers.

By creating new points of entry for app developers to insert their data, they’re creating an interesting opportunity to generate (ad) revenue from app data and potentially Gmail Mark-up too.

Problem Solved: Identifying What Users Want at any Particular Moment

The future of search is contextual – the way we interact with search is evolving, and so much of Google’s investment in search technology is targeted to solve the problem of identifying what users want at a particular moment. I think Tom Anthony’s work on this concept is excellent, take a look at this presentation for more of a background on his view of the future of search.

Organic Mobile Results Already Look a Little Like Google Now

Google are testing card based search results in mobile organic search. I’ve caught the test once or twice in the UK but it seems to be more prevalent in the US. Take a look at Dr Pete’s Incredible Shrinking SERP post – the screenshot from a mobile result at the base of the post really reminds of a card based layout.

Further into The Future: Google as a Wrapper for Your Content

Looking far into the future, would an evolved version of Google’s search product skip our own sites, choosing to play back the content we’ve carefully packaged up as JSON-LD using their own presentation layer? Could we be moving towards a world where our content wins impressions in Google’s own design language rather than a session on our sites? Voice search queries get vocal responses – very, very far into the future could this format of search make visits to our own sites unnecessary?

As I said before, “mobile optimisation” is probably the thing that we should already have done. Understanding mobile search is our future, and I think Google is most likely to take us to a place where their search experience consists of componentry from Google Now mixed with fewer pure organic search listings.

Responses

  1. This is a great “thought inducing” post here Richard. I’m particularly interested in the myriad ways Google works to keep searchers on their own site instead of sending them to ours. That trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and we should all be thinking of ways to leverage that for business success instead of allowing it to decimate entire business models.

    Good stuff.

  2. Thanks dude – I think “thought inducing” is a great way to describe what I’ve been considering here. I really, really do think a lot of Google Now-ish features will surface into their search experience – though precisely predicting what’s going to happen is a different matter. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I’m just going to add one other point, that I think branded search in other vertical search engines (like, YouTube) is really vital if you’re hoping to get better suggestions for your own real estate on the Google Now app. You searched for, and watched a Builtvisible video on YouTube, it’s plainly obvious that a Builtvisible resource is more likely to be suggested to you when you return to Google Now (if there *is* a new resource to watch, or a post to read). So in this world of search i’m keen to advocate even more emphasis on effective, multi-channel brand marketing.

  4. The 3rd party app opening of Now is the indirect and inspired reason why Wear (and Glass v2) will become pervasive in longer term. And yet there’s so much, so much, legacy old media content that is exists digitally but is alas not structurally marked up. Opportunities abound more than ever.

  5. Great post Richard and interesting vision.
    Some months ago in a speech for Google in Italy I was asked about the Future of Mobile, and my answer was:
    “Content”…simple, clever, agile “Content”
    http://www.slideshare.net/andreapernici/lo-scenario-del-mobile-in-italia-e-il-suo-futuro

    A good content transcend everything and the great deal I’m studying since more than 10 years (starting from researching on the digital publishing industry) is about making something able to produce the perfect content for every single context, step, device or anything you want thinking about high level definition of it.

    But obviously this is more related to the first part of this post and not about the vision of what Google can be or can sell.

  6. Thanks Andrea I’ll take a look at your slidesha.re!

  7. I found this a very interesting article and had not realised just how much data was being harvested by these guys . Many thanks .

  8. It makes sense for Google to show results based on the location of the user. If I want to search a dental clinic in the area I live it’s much easier to search for dentist and to get the results I need without having to fill out the city, adress etc. Great thoughts!

  9. Thanks Andrea I’ll take a look at your slidesha!

  10. Hi Richard:

    Very well-written article and so timely! You did lots of research; got lots of valuable links. :)

    Best Regards
    Miraj Gazi

  11. Great post and interesting vision.

  12. I’m really learning a lot the future of SEO is now on mobile. I guess more people are using smartphones and tablets. Well I’m not an SEO expert and I really need to have more experience to get better. Thank you for your post.

  13. Richard, you’re on point regarding the importance of mobile search signals for Google. I see this being a more successful route for Google to take in terms of protecting and increasing their mobile advertising market share, rather than to force a head-on competition with Facebook in the social networking space. At the moment, Google Now is a more useful service for me than Google+ or its granddaddy Google Buzz has ever been.

    Where content was once king, today it’s context. Excited to see what else Google can do with its tech to organize my personal web life, uber messy as it is now.

  14. Thanks for the interesting post. It’s not always about SEO and optimization. Google is very interested in better user experience and how that can be enhanced. Google wants to show personalized and useful content to the users. So from SEO point of view it seems not valid.

  15. Resourceful article and very good insights about mobile search. A must-read and must-share!

  16. Great post Richard! Thanks for sharing

Comments are closed.

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