The Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection describes the process as one in which an organism changes over time and develops new physical or behavioural traits that provide it with an edge in its environment; with the  advantage eventually becoming the norm. Change is constant; and that rings just as true for the evolution of technology as it does with the evolution of life…

We can see this reflected in the development of search; the first search engines used on desktop computers provided users with a tool capable of quickly navigating through the oceans of information online. Since its inception in the late nineties, search has played a revolutionary role in marketing strategies and has become a fundamental part of modern media, as well as all our daily lives. Whether speaking to our smart assistant or typing in search queries via mobiles, tablets or laptops, search is second nature for today’s consumers. When they want to know, do or buy something, whether they are making big life changes or looking for the best local lunch options, everything starts with a search.

The industry is aligning itself with these digitally savvy consumers reliant on search. In fact, the latest report from the IAB US shows that digital ad spending continues to rise, reaching $40.1bn in the first half of 2017, a 23% year on year increase and an all-time high. Search ultimately remains a powerhouse of digital ad spend, at 47%, and percentage growth is still being measured in double digits. As the industry continues to invest in digital and search more specifically, we can only expect its evolution to pick up pace.  

But all evolutionary tales feature an inflection point where a species takes a great jump forward or starts heading towards an evolutionary dead end (think Neanderthal man versus Homo Sapiens). I am excited that search is at such a jumping off point and is about to accelerate into a brave new world of seamless consumer assistance and brand opportunities. Such leaps are brought about by a rapidly changing environment and forces exerted by others that share the environment. Two technologies that have hugely influenced the trajectory of search’s evolution are the emergence of natural language processing and a surge in mobile smartphone usage.

Mobile usage

Due to the ubiquity of smartphones, consumers are now researching, planning and purchasing on mobile and brands must focus on improving the entire mobile experience. Basic hygiene factors such as fast website loading times should be prioritised, especially since customers often leave a slow loading website after just three seconds. Customer attitudes to apps are also changing, with only the most valuable, useful apps being downloaded. Consumers now desire the information presented to them in app format and progressive web apps offer the speed they expect for search responses with app functionality.

Going together with mobile tech is the development of natural language processing. The virtual assistants that are beginning to be embedded in objects from cars to fridges (many on show at CES) will be able to understand requests for help and respond in a faster, more human, manner. In a recent Google study 75% of consumers said that they search even more now they can use voice search, with 51% stating that they use voice and text search interchangeably.

Further research shows that 83% of consumers agree that voice capabilities will make it easier to search for things, while 89% believe that voice will enable users to find things more quickly. Ultimately, the emergence of voice assistants brings the opportunity to enhance the entire customer experience, bringing a more human element in how brands interact with customers.

Voice search

Moving to voice search is a natural progression. After all, humans have been speaking for a while longer than we’ve been typing – we can speak on average 150 words per minute compared to only being able to type around 40 words per minute. But if we change the way we ask questions then consequently the way we provide answers must also evolve. Modern consumers increasingly just want the one relevant result that can help them rather than endless pages of search results. We have seen the beginning of this change with the introduction of Google’s “answer boxes” that aim to give users succinct, accurate answers.  

With Comscore anticipating that 50% of all searches by 2020 will be by done by voice, brands will have to consider how they can take advantage of this evolution and move from being a result to the result. Brands are going to have to consider not only what questions consumers will be asking, but also how they will be asking them.  They will have to ensure that they not only market themselves to the consumer but take SEO to the next level and market themselves to search engines as the answer to their target audiences’ questions.

Responses displayed via a screen are an obvious way for brands to be involved in voice search, so expect to see speakers featuring assistants with smart displays playing a pivotal role in this development of search. We are working with hardware partners like LG and Lenovo on numerous such projects.

The next step in the evolution of search will ultimately allow both consumers and businesses to better interact and benefit on a deeper level than ever before.