2015 Wrap up and thoughts on the future of search

There have been a couple of discussions about what’s gone on in the digital / search marketing landscape this year in the agency I work at, and since I got a little carried away on the train home I figured I might as well flesh it out and post my thoughts here too.

I think that the biggest thing I’ve noticed this year has been a big change in the attitude people are taking to the way search and buy products online, people now want things ‘here and now’. Obviously mobile has been the big ‘new’ thing for a while and behaviour on that has always been different, but I think we’re starting to see an even bigger split in the way people are searching and buying on mobile. Local SEO isn’t that new but the number of new features and amount of information that appears above the mobile SERPS is just massive now, as is the increase in search volume for these local terms.

There’s also been a change in the way people want the products that they buy online. With the huge uptake of things like Amazon Prime, next day delivery is becoming much more popular and having the information about delivery easily accessible is really important – some of the user journey work our Analytics team has really highlighted this! I think this is all because people are finally getting used to having all the information on the internet available to them instantly, so why wouldn’t they expect the things they buy to arrive as fast as possible too? Even the stats from Black Friday support this – footfall in stores is down but sales online are way up. People are getting used to the convenience that buying online offers them – they don’t need to go into stores anymore, so why bother?

That brings me quite nicely onto my next point, about technology becoming more integrated and people knowing more about the possibilites and potential drawbacks and problems associated with this. People are getting smarter about our industry, especially regarding ads across all platforms. Tools like adblockers, No Script and Ghostery aren’t new, but people are becoming more aware that they are being tracked across multiple platforms and device even if they don’t realise what information is available to us.

With quite a few high-profile sites being hacked recently as well, data privacy is starting to be something that users are at least thinking about, and I think this is something that big brands have been far too slow to get so far. The EU mandated cookies message and having a HTTPS symbol aren’t enough anymore, people need more concrete assurance that a brand can be trusted with their information. That’s obviously true for information such as names, bank details or addresses, but I think it holds for other things too. For example, when I was doing some Christmas shopping recently one site prompted me to sign up for an account after making a purchase, which is fine. What wasn’t fine however, was that they then asked me for a bunch of additional information after having already got my name, address & payment details, including my gender! There certainly have been some big improvements on this front, but I don’t think that anyone is there yet and the first brand to work it out and tell everyone about it is going to have some major successes of the back of it.

Maybe we’re starting to see a shift back to a state where the users are back in control of their data and brands are only able to use what people give them express permission to have? This would further indicate that marketing has moved away from ‘who can shout the loudest’ and towards ‘who can tell users what they want to hear, when they want to hear it’. The approach definitely shouldn’t be ‘who can take the most of their user’s data without consent and sell it on’ although I fear that some brands will do this! Brands will need to use the information that they are given to speak to their customers as individual people, and not a group of magical money producing robots.

One of the big topics that we’ve been talking about is┬áSERPS becoming more interactive in an effort to keep users in the search engine’s ecosystem, but in my opinion┬áthis is happening in more places than just search engines now. Facebook have been constantly adding to the features that allow users to engage but still stay on the site such as signing up for events and passing the information back to a website. It’s also apparent on sites like Steam, which has moved away from just selling games and now hosts mods and other user created content as well. With the SERPS becoming more interactive and engaging should brands embrace this and help Google whilst possibly losing traffic through to their site or attempt to bypass the SERPs altogether?

I’m also interested in the rise of VR, although having had the opportunity to play with an Oculus Rift last week I think it’s a while off everyday use just yet! More specifically, I want to see how Microsoft will handle it considering how aggressively they’ve been pushing Bing / Cortana out to the Windows desktop.

Exciting times! As always, it’s going to be the brands able to change and adapt quickly who’ll be able to get in on the changing market first and we need to make sure that our clients are those brands and vice versa.