Search is always personal. The stuff we type as we search, in its totality, encapsulates our interests, hobbies and knowledge. It reveals our nationality, the language we are most comfortable in (if we speak more than one), our location (with some caveats) and, even, our socioeconomic position. Use that to filter particular search queries through and each search also begins to reveal intent.
This makes the results we get back more relevant to us and increases our satisfaction with search as a service. The fly in this pristine ointment however is privacy. When it comes to privacy concerns in our laptops and desktops we tend to be coy about how much we want to reveal about ourselves. Plus, desktops and even laptops can be used by family members, colleagues and friends further muddying the personalization of search.
All of this stops when it comes to our increasingly misnamed smartphones. Our personal devices are reserved for our exclusive use. What’s more, because a lot of our interactions take place through apps (Google Maps, Waze, Driving, Gmail, Google Now and Google Assistant to name but a few). This fragmentation of search reveals deep aspects of who we are and what we do, each of which is intrinsic to the app we use. Disabling settings there due to privacy concerns is not always an option if we want to make use of an app’s functionality.
Google has used this opportunity to change the way mobile search appears by adding a personalized feed there. The feed draws from the device’s (and Google’s) accrued knowledge of who we are and what we usually look for to provide a stream of information that we find useful and relevant.
The Effects Of A Google Search Feed
There are a few obvious effects of such change: A. Search becomes more than just a search interface to be used when we want to know something. It now becomes a pro-active news and information interface that takes us one step closer to Larry Page’s vision of the perfect search engine that:
… would really understand whatever your need is. It would understand everything in the world deeply, give you back kind of exactly what you need.
B. The personalization makes the search interface something that we now may use for more than just search. A feed that keeps us abreast of the things we need to know, coupled to a search interface where we can use Voice or type search queries to further enhance what we see of the world, becomes a powerful lens.
C. From a brand point of view it changes the marketing game. Brands that can’t keep themselves in the spotlight by engaging in newsworthy, relevant activities may begin to appear less and less in search.
D. Machine learning most probably plays a role here which means entities are also in play. This creates a pure semantic search environment where content may surface serendipitously based upon machine learning-mined personal signals. Despite the hyper-personalization of search that Google's redesign of the mobile search interface suggests, serendipitous discovery and the broadening of the search window is not compromised. Great content that truly resonates with its audience stands a good chance of discovery, this way.
The Bottom Line
Search is changing. With changes in search, search-user behavior will also change. That will lead to fresh changes in search, some of which may filter to desktop search, especially when that involves being logged into your Google account.
For marketers and brands it leads to a seeming contradiction: focus on the basics of core identity, brand values, consistency in tone & voice (if you have an hour to invest tone & voice are covered in this Google+ video, below), authenticity and quality at each customer touch point.
The contradiction arises out of the need to be ever more innovative in the online delivery of all this. Not just articles and text but also images, GIFs, videos, podcasts, interviews and press releases. If that sounds like marketers and brands now need to be publishers, writers, photographers, broadcasters, videographers and regular people who connect with their audience in a down-to-earth way you shouldn’t be surprised. I highlighted the need back in 2013 with Google Semantic Search.
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