As part of The Drum's most recent Search supplement, a cross-section of experts from the search marketing industry give their predictions for the space in the year ahead.
With the introduction of Hummingbird in September online marketers have been abuzz with conjecture on how it will affect site rankings and what it will mean as semantic search evolves to saturate organic search results. In reality semantic search has been merging into users search results over the past two years. Google has been tweaking it’s algorithm to increasingly use semantic and conversational cues to associate related results moving to more user friendly search results with less focus on the ‘primary keyword’.
Search engine marketers must provide the algorithm with the ability to tap into content using both topics and concepts. 2014 will see the intelligent online marketer look at strategies that integrate the breadth of signals Google is looking to. Where do the natural relationships lie in our strategies providing indicators that the content on a client’s social media page or external PR piece strengthens the topic response to the user’s query? As mobile, wearables and voice modelling become a growing reality, semantic search provides the marketer with the tools to bring a user one step closer to a fully integrated and personalised environment that they are far more likely to convert in.
With 69 per cent of UK consumers now accessing the internet through multiple devices, rising to 86 per cent amongst 25-34 year olds (according to ComScore), in 2014 the biggest challenge will be getting a multi-screen strategy in place. As advertisers refine the user experience across mobile and tablet and more advertisers buy ads through Google’s Enhanced Campaigns, we expect conversion rates and CPCs to rise.
The greatest opportunity for paid search marketers in 2014 will be the use of additional data sources to optimise campaigns. In 2014 we expect to see search bids being modified based on even richer customer data like insurance companies boosting bids when they know someone’s renewal is approaching and bid down when they have just renewed. Furthermore, many offline contextual factors will be integrated, for example, if it’s raining searchers are more likely to buy a take-away. There are many use cases, but ultimately in the future, bids will be customised according to demographics, interests and offline contextual factors.
For consumers, it’s a safe bet to say that Google is going to become even more aggressive in blurring the lines between organic and paid search. For marketers, it’s about being agile and always looking to how things will be six to 12 months ahead. Whilst it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all this change, they key is to focus on content and authority.
The convergence between online and offline media is only going to be accelerated with the advent of services like Sky’s AdSmart. This is a really exciting opportunity for online to properly step up to the plate and have an equal voice in the broader media plan. The challenge will be around creating strategies based on the clients unique products and business challenges, and attributing value back in a fair and timely manner.
I’m comfortable that any developments will offer far more opportunities than they do challenges. We have long positioned our strategy around three content centric pillars - ensuring our clients websites have a clear onsite focus that answers a user’s query, creating link worthy content and making sure that this is in front of the right people, and finally, moving attribution and reporting from keyword to content centric to reflect our approach.
Keyword search strategies are dead. Google no longer provides natural search keyword data and has introduced new ways to target users with paid advertising that reduces the significance of the user search query. So, brands need to move on from keywords and make their audience their priority.
In order to understand their audience’s intentions, brands need to look beyond what people are searching for and listen more intently to signals such as location, device and the user’s previous browsing and purchase behaviour. To do this effectively, they will need to invest in collating and analysing audience data. It’ll be worth the time and money. It will give them the knowledge they need to access their audience across the web and create innovative content that their audience will happily share. Search is set to continue to become increasingly complex but by focusing on their audience brands will be always be on target.
Google seems to finally be getting to where Ask Jeeves marketed itself as being over a decade ago (and the USS enterprise was in the 60s).
This isn’t life imitating art however, it’s a natural progression – the logical next step in ordering data.
As The Google algorithm continues to respond more accurately to the nuances of human language, searching will become more natural to the user and more problematic to companies employing ‘ SEO tactics’.
The real winners in 2014 will be site owners that configure their on page content to capture these longer search queries and align their mobile strategy to benefit from the boost this will give to mobile search.
For the user, semantic search will continue to evolve as a lifestyle assistant – it’s easy to think of Google Now as a voice activated PA in your pocket.
Search in 2014 will be an exciting time. As consumers we can expect to see searching get easier and more prevalent. Predictive search will reduce how much work we need to do, and increase how much useful information we get. It’ll be given to us in the most helpful formats: phones, glasses, watches, etc.
As marketers we can expect our jobs to get more difficult, but results have the potential to get better than ever before. We’re not just bidding on keywords any more, we’re dealing with interacting audiences. Keywords, locations, browsing history, device and time of day already play a part. As more signals become part of the mix we’ll need to do much deeper analysis, but we’ll be able to put our efforts and budgets into the most lucrative areas.
The biggest challenge I see for marketers in 2014 is to integrate skills into a multi-channel strategy. Semantic search has evolved hugely during the last 12-18 months and the common theme is focused on providing the best user experience possible. The required skill-sets to do this are becoming much broader than search, spreading across digital and offline channels too.
As a result, the biggest opportunity is to make marketing more consumer-led and integrated:
This feature was first published in The Drum's Search supplement on 13 December, and is available to purchase here.