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.
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.
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:
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:
There’s a wonderful series of recommendations based on your interests (to be more specific, your search history):
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:
Which lead to the suggestion that I might like to search for 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.