Google’s new Search features: what Marketers need to know

17/10/2018

Tech giant Google recently turned 20. What started as a simple university assignment, has now grown into a multi-billion institution. To celebrate, Google announced 10 new Search features. It’s rumoured that Google makes changes to its search algorithm nearly 2000 times a year, so why should you care about these 10 new ones? In a nutshell, the new Google Search will change the way people discover and interact with brands and content, and it’s one of the biggest changes since the introduction of voice search in 2011. It also bridges the gap between search and social, by bringing content at the forefront in the shape of more “human” features such as Stories (already made popular by SnapChat and Instagram) and Collections (inspired by Pinterest).

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What are the new features?

Discover

This is basically Google’s news feed rebranded. It will appear by default under the search bar, on mobile browsers and will be tailored to your interests - based on search history -  and will be highly customisable. Discover will privilege highly relevant content over highly SEO engineered ones. Another feature that will please the multilingual crowd is that your content can be in multiple languages.

Why does this matter? It will now be on the Google homepage on all mobile browsers. It works to better display relevant information and help users understand context. This is good news, especially for Search professionals who have been advocating content strategy and content optimisation as well as arguing that the role of Search should not be confined to lower funnel and last click conversion.

 

Stories

For its second significant feature, Google got inspired by its rivals Facebook and Snap. Google “Stories” will soon be part of your search and video results. Stories are based on AMP standard and will create an auto-advancing carousel of videos, showing just the relevant section of each video, based on what is relevant to you. Google is currently testing the feature with a few publishers, and the format will be like the one made popular by Social media, which are short video formats.

Why does this matter?

With this move, Google is making Search more visual and still more mobile first, sending a strong message to the industry: the old days of keyword optimisation are behind us.

 

Google images revamped

As well as adding Google to the image search, the new ranking algorithm will add more in-depth “web content” to search. Google image on mobile will now also be linked to Google Lens, making your image search more intuitive, relevant and interactive.

Why does this matter?

What the new algorithm brings to Google images, is a more relevant, intuitive, tailored and personalised experience, which is a shift from the current chronological order.

 

Activity Card

This is a welcomed new feature for anyone who's forgotten past keyword queries or forgets to bookmark a link. Activity Cards will help you save previous searches, connect the dots between themes, easily click back to your last search and anticipate your next search. This is not only a great feature for students and researchers, it’s also a strong sign that Google fully understands how people search and acknowledges that a search experience is not built around one keyword query.

Why does this matter?

Google has hinted that if Activity Cards are widely adopted, it will refine its algorithm, making it easier to find more advanced knowledge as you continue your search. This again sends a strong signal that Google is more than a tool to be considered one session at a time, and will change the way Search marketers think of the search journey.

 

Collection

This new Search feature will let you pin content and create a collection from the articles you bookmarked. You can add content from an activity card directly to Collections, and Google algorithm will help you explore content related to your collection. This latest feature is like Instagram's Explore page. These changes will be in effect by the end of fall.

 

The shift from Answers to Journeys

Twenty years ago, Google was a tool used to find simple answers to a query. It fitted for what was then a linear journey, but today, journeys are neither linear nor straightforward, and Google has shifted its focus to make Search more current.

Why does this matter?

By adding Semantics to Search, Google is asking marketers to become more aware of the entire journey and to build a contextually relevant experience rather than countless pages optimised to keywords and queries. It's also a reflection that a Search journey does not always start with Google, and one search query can be part of a bigger project such as finding your ideal home or planning the holiday of a lifetime.

Our lives are made of more than a single Search; Google anchors its position as a start to every journey and its commitment to making every journey a little bit easier.

Queries will not disappear overnight, they are needed, but with this shift, Google addresses the growth of the Search Engine becoming an ecosystem of its own. The changes will increase engagement and retention, as people will come back to where they left their last journey. Cynics may also see this shift as a way for Google to increase the value of their ads both from an inventory and an effectiveness perspective. However, by bringing more relevant content, Google will also be able to deliver more relevant advertising ads, even outside of the YouTube environment.

 

The shift to a query-less way of getting information

Google will always be one step ahead of you when deciding what to search for next. With Discover, Google will predict what content is relevant to you based on your interests and your search history, but also the context in which you consume media. Your Discover feed will now feature what to read next and will help you find answers to questions you haven’t asked yet. With the Topic layer in the Knowledge Graph, Google even goes further by tailoring the content served to your level of expertise, all of which is powered by advanced AI. 

Why does this matter?

There is a big opportunity for a brand to build a Data-Driven Content strategy and make the most out of Discover. By better understanding the moment of consumption, and better understanding audiences, brands will have a chance to create content that sticks better with their current and future consumer, making content an integral part of their media strategy.

 

The shift to a more visual way of finding information

Google has made fantastic advancement in connecting images to video and to other entities. As such, Google can not only match your query to the title of a video but also to the exact time in the video when your query is answered. Making search more visual is overdue, as the way people consume content shifted from text to other visual assets a couple of years ago. 

Why does this matter?

One must wonder whether this shift to visual and the power of Google AI, will make viewability a redundant concept. In effect, if Google is finding within the video the moments that matter to you, what will happen to KPIs such as VCR or engagement? Smart advertisers are already pioneering attentive media as opposed to viewable media. Thus, the new Google changes may speed up the adoption of attention over viewability -  where we will measure the resonance of the message as opposed to mere seconds in view.

 

Search Engine Marketing transformed

The new features are showing a real transformation in the Search engine and in the role Google Search wants to play in the customer journey. With their new features, Google is telling the world that they are more than a product search engine.

By making Search more human and more relevant, Google is looking at conquering a territory that was up till now reserved to Social Media. Forcing brands and marketers to think about Search has a key component to an integrated communication strategy. It means moving Search away from low funnel activities and bringing human connection to the forefront of Search strategies.

The new search features unveiled by Google are a shift in the way search engines are built and in the way we use them for information and advertising purposes. The days of SEM being the art of gaining Search traffic by tricking the Google algorithm are now gone. In its place the art of understanding people, data and content. The focus from Google is now on creating search journeys and relevant experiences, where every search learns from the one before, becoming smarter with each engagement points.

If we now want to succeed in Search, we will need to have an intimate understanding of what the user is searching for, what is the context in which they were searching, the reason why they made the search and what they will need to search next (without even asking). Search is finally staking its rightful place across the consumer path.

Developing a Search strategy will not be a keyword game anymore, it will need to be integrated into your data-driven marketing strategy, where an audience will matter more than technology and where understanding the moment of consumption is going to drive better relevance.

 

Aurelia Noel is Global Digital Partner at Carat.

 

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