Shocking: the future of search
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Shocking: the future of search

Changes bigger than the usual tweaks to the algorithm are on the way – could search become as ubiquitous as electricity in our everyday lives?

Search is about to undergo a revolution. James Murray, UK Search Advertising Lead at Microsoft, has compared it to electricity – something that is novel at first but eventually becomes ubiquitous. We no longer even think about flicking on a light when we need illumination; one day, search will always be there when we need answers.

And like electricity, those that aren’t keeping a careful eye on it could be in for a shock.

Many are already familiar with the changes that Google makes to its algorithm – hundreds of minor alterations per year, but also major updates like ‘mobilegeddon’. Such changes periodically cause difficulty for marketers and force businesses to employ new search engine optimisation strategies. However, bigger changes are afoot.

The next step for search is to go ‘beyond the box’. A lot of additional services, such as translation, are already available but these are becoming increasingly advanced.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Bing team is tackling the ‘discoverability problem’ – when somebody knows what to search for, the process is easy, but if they can’t think of the right question it becomes very difficult.

Microsoft’s solution is Cortana, which learns from the user’s activity and can make suggestions based on it. It is the first step towards user-friendly conversations with machines and an intelligent ‘digital personal assistant’ to act as a guide to the web.

This isn’t too futuristic, though. Bing is already able to interact in a more human manner – give it an idea of what you are looking for and it will be able to tailor future results. For example, you can follow up the question “Who is Barack Obama?” with “What is the name of his dog?” and the search engine will understand that you are referring to the President. A whole chain of queries can be asked in this manner.

Another big change to address the discoverability problem is image recognition. Technology now exists that allows people to use the camera on their phone to find out more about something in the real world. Imagine you want to get a puppy of your own, and see a particularly cute dog while walking in the park. You might not know how to search for the breed, but if you take a picture the search engine will tell you exactly what kind of dog it is.

The biggest change, though, is the drive to make search ubiquitous by creating unity between search, mobile and the web. It is rumoured that Google’s Project Hera is an attempt to do just that using the Chrome web browser and the Android mobile operating system. Though the changes being made are still a mystery, Android Police reported on a demonstration by Avni Shah, Google’s Director of Product Management for Chrome, where she showed the interactions that will become possible: when she searched for a restaurant, a link to an OpenTable page appeared. Clicking the link opened the OpenTable app to the booking page for the relevant restaurant.

What does all this mean for marketers? Regarding upgrades to existing services, take a look at this video of Skype Translate from WPC 2014 and imagine the possibilities for rapid communication and how this technology could eventually be applied to personalisation.

The new image recognition software will enable clever guerrilla marketing campaigns, and the sharing of search data between devices will make programmatic ever more precise.

These are just a few of the developments that are around the corner. Search companies are innovating all the time – and thanks to their continual progress, marketers will have lots of exciting opportunities to come up with their own original strategies and campaigns.

Rob Coston Reporter CPL
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