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Search just ain’t what it used to be. Search engines used to be about helping customers find information. But new products like Google Now, Google Glass, and the redesigned Google Maps are beginning to flip the script, moving to an environment where information finds your customers instead. And “OK, Google,” unveiled at Google’s I/O developer conference offers a glimpse into another yet another interface your customers will use to interact with search. Coupled with the upcoming release of Penguin 2.0, these represent significant changes in the world of search. But what will this mean for your business? Let’s take a look.

The significant changes coming to the search landscape will likely change the way your customers find you. Here’s why:

  1. Fewer search results. Thanks to Penguin forcing spammy sites out of the index, Google Now offering relevant details before your customers even search, and OK Google reading the “best” answer, your customers will receive fewer different links on each query. Note how much screen real estate the search engine results pages have already surrendered to maps, addresses, Google+ posts, paid ads, images, videos and all the other aspects of Google’s Universal Search results. Add the smaller screen sizes afforded by mobile devices limit the usable number of results. This trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
  2. Increasing numbers of “search engines.” Forget Bing or Yahoo. Google’s biggest competitive threat comes from consumers using non-traditional search engines, primarily in the form of mobile apps, to accomplish their tasks. Tools like Yelp and TripAdvisor, Apple’s Maps and Siri, location-based services like Foursquare, social apps like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and vertical-focused apps like Hipmunk, Spotify, and Kindle offer consumers myriad ways to find the information they seek. And all without ever using Google.
  3. The era of “peak search.” In an address to a group of travel marketers, Google’s UK head of travel Dan Robb, said this:

    “…travel sector searches are still in double digit growth although it has slowed but all the growth currently being seen is from mobile and tablet.” [Emphasis mine]

    Now, desktop search volumes continue to grow across many verticals, but not all, as Robb’s comment illustrates (and, to be fair, the growth of mobile and tablet is significant). The fact remains that Google will look to ensure paid search, its largest source of revenue, grows regardless of the direction search volume takes.

Of course, it’s impossible to predict who’ll “win” as time goes on. Too many variables exist to say definitively which service or services will capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers. For instance, despite the challenges outlined previously, Google’s continued innovations in search and its increasing market share with its mobile Android operating system position the search giant well for the future.

What’s more important is how well you’re positioned for the future. And it’s not too soon to start planning for that.

  1. Build your email list and social connections. Bypass any intermediary and talk directly with your customers.
  2. Explore alternative marketing channels. Evaluate channels in use by your customers and seek ways to help them accomplish their goals in those channels.
  3. Learn from market leaders. A number of outstanding companies are using mobile to deepen their relationship with customers. Watch for best practices and look for opportunities to apply them to your business.

Search engine marketing faces enormous changes in the coming months and years. But by focusing on your customers’ needs and how they find, browse, shop, and buy, you’ll position yourself for continued success no matter how they choose to find you.

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About Tim Peter

Tim Peter helps companies put the web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs that have delivered billions of dollars in revenues. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

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