How has mobile changed the way people search?

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Personal devices bring us immediate answers to many questions that face us in our daily lives. With the touch of a button, or a voice-command, search has become a part of our always-connected lives.

2016 has finally been the tipping point for the volume of searches surpassing desktop. Epiphany’s paid search client data shows on average, that 45 per cent of search traffic is on mobile, compared to 39 per cent on desktop and 16 per cent on tablet devices, with an even bigger swing in certain sectors.

The simple fact is that more and more users are accessing sites via their mobiles and it hasn’t plateaued yet; in fact, as tablet usage flattens out, mobiles are just continuing to grow.

In an attempt to capitalise on this instant-answer market, digital assistants like Siri, Google Now and Cortana are always improving and set to become more popular. Whenever we have a question, we have a device that can provide an answer (or at least try).

Google’s desire to make the web more mobile-friendly is obvious. The search giant continues to roll out well-publicised mobile-focused algorithms and webmaster guidelines as well as launch projects like its open access accelerated mobile pages (AMP) to improve mobile site performance.

The transition for most websites to become ‘mobile-ready’ certainly hasn’t happened overnight and there are plenty of sites that haven’t achieved a truly user-friendly mobile experience. For brands that are defined by their online presence, how many can truly ignore the swap from desktop to mobile traffic?

Simply being ‘mobile-ready’ isn’t enough anymore.

Marketers need to understand the intent behind a customer’s search and ensure that the content served meets their expectations. It’s time to refine a mobile strategy across a range of metrics outside of purely being ‘mobile-ready’. Key areas such as content, promotion strategy, user experience, technical set-up (AMP etc.) and ultimately even products or services must be reviewed – to make sure the website is the best result for users on Google.

Mind your language

Google is also getting better at understanding language as consumers continue to ask complex, new, and natural language queries. With the launch of Hummingbird in 2013, Google made massive strides in understanding user intent through analysing queries at a higher level.

This was then further enhanced by the creation of RankBrain in 2015 with Google now using machine-learning to work out the intent of never seen before queries to ensure they serve relevant answers. This approach has been so successful that RankBrain plays a part in all searches in 2016.

And Google isn’t stopping there. A recently granted Google patent may see us using Google to do a whole lot more in the future. Patent 9,305,108 (semantic selection and purpose facilitation) discusses plans to allow mobile users to select entities on a webpage and be shown additional information through Google’s entity modelling.

Google’s goal is simple; be present everywhere a mobile user can be browsing, increasing trust and maximising the opportunity for revenue. Its new keyboard with search embedded for iOS takes us a huge further step in that direction for even more mobile users.

Data across sources such as SEO, PPC, display and site search, provides unprecedented insight into the complex world of customer journeys. Harnessing this information on how, where and why users are searching, will enable marketers to better understand their customers and, in turn, allow them to drive desired actions.

Meghan Burton is director of SEO at Epiphany.

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