Search Party: Google and the Evolution of SEO


Welcome to the search party, folks. It’s a bit crowded; everyone’s confused, and – oh, what’s that? Someone’s talking really loudly…

OH HEEEYYY Google – How yooouuu doing?

As marketers, we’re all grappling with the paradigm shift in search that’s happening. You’ve heard it all before: traditional SEO is dead, Panda update 28.4 is coming next week, Google’s going to take over the world, yaddy-yaddy-yaahh. Just the other day, my whiz of a colleague, Chris Horton, and I were talking about this crazy, always-changing definition of search that’s got us, frankly, in quite of a brain fart. But my guess (or hope) is that the rest of the digital world is, as well.

When I came onto the Synecore team, my knowledge of SEO was minimal at best. I had an outsider’s inclination that Google may be poised to invade my life even further than it already has, but my conversations with Horton have been enlightening and mind blowing, to say the least. On my first day, he told me something like this: I want you to learn traditional SEO; I want you to read the ebooks on it; I want you to do keyword research, but you know what? SEO is changing real fast.

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Like they say, you need to learn the tradition before you can break it.

So where is search going? How will the rise of mobile push the nature of search to evolve even further? Sit tight; I’m going to take you through the quick and dirty of my take on this conundrum and what businesses need to think about. You with me? Rad. Let’s get this search party started.

SEO to Search

It’s pretty widely known that Google’s changing its algorithms to combat poor quality content and minimize (and eventually eradicate) the use and effectiveness of keywords. There are several articles that discuss, analyze and dissect these changes; in this post, I want to muse on the broad future of search. Similar to the forward-thinking article by Guillaume Bouchard on Search Engine Watch, I’d like to look at this paradigm shift that Google is pioneering by forcing us to rethink what search in the digital sphere actually means.

In his piece, Bouchard says the following:

“I want to suggest that Google is straying from being solely a place to search – they’re evolving into an area you can explore.”

Woah. According to Bouchard, at least (and hey, I agree with him), Google is forcing us to think about what the term “search” fully encompasses. Searching via Google (or Bing or Yahoo, etc.) has, in the past, meant typing in a question or a topic and getting a list of articles that attempt to answer your specified question. You’d find your answer and then get out of the search engine and on with your life.

Eh, eh, kiddo. Are you really doing that anymore?

How many times have you “searched” for something and ended up following a path of digital bread crumbs, only to emerge from the online vortex an hour later, dazed and confused? And, tell me – was that on your smartphone? The rise of mobile is coming for us. According to eMarketer’s estimates, over 95% of US millennials will own a mobile phone by the end of 2013, and of that 95%, three quarters will have smartphones.

Google gets this switch to mobile, and they’re capitalizing on it. eMarketer reports that Google earned more than half of the $8.8 billion spent globally on mobile advertisements in 2012. And they’re not stopping. It is predicted that Google will increase their mobile advertisement sales by another 92% in 2013, raking in a pretty $8.85 billion; that number is expected to, once again, be half of the total mobile advertisements sold worldwide.

The ladies and gents over at Google know that digital is becoming more and more mobile, as we can see by their mobile ad sales, but their app development is also telling about the way they envision search developing – or are at least hoping to see it develop. Actually “hope” may be too light of a word. They are doing, in fact, everything in their power to continue to own “search” in the digital world. The latest update out of Google is Google Now. Google Now is set to start becoming the search engine that thinks for you. It synchs with your existing Google accounts and begins to track your preferences. It uses your personal data to begin making suggestions for you and gives you content before you even ask for it. After a while, you won’t need to search for anything – Google will simply tell you what you think you want to know, based on your past searches, interactions, etc.

Coupled with the recent Google algorithim updates, Google Now is giving us a glimpse into what search is going to look like in the future. In fact, is there really any real search going on? We need to think about what this proactive, suggestive “search” means for the consumer. It becomes a question of control – who has it and who doesn’t. Looking at the path Google’s forging, it doesn’t look too promising for the consumer.

The Takeaway

While it may be a threat to the consumer’s autonomy, marketers may see Google’s evolution of search as an opportunity. It seems as though the digital sphere is becoming more and more integrated with the physical, tangible world that we walk around in all day. Search will become a natural extension of the way we look for things in our daily lives. As updates like Google Now continue to feed into our lives, brands would be wise to align themselves with this exploratory nature of search. My take? Advertisements will seem less and less like ads, and more of a suggestion from a friend, making them less and less invasive and more integrated into the consumer’s – MY – life. That sounds pretty cool.

What do you all think of this search party? How will marketers help brands adapt to these changes to traditional SEO?

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