Tag Archives: future of search


4 Tips That Will Prepare You for the Future of Search & SEO by @clarkboyd

The future of search will be fragmented. Here’s how you can set yourself up for short- and long-term success.

The post 4 Tips That Will Prepare You for the Future of Search & SEO by @clarkboyd appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

SearchCap: Google Fred confirmation, mobile-first index status & future of search

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Google Fred confirmation, mobile-first index status & future of search appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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How AI will shape the future of search

Artificial intelligence is changing the way users access information online. Columnist Justin Freid discusses where the trends are heading and what this might mean for search marketers.

The post How AI will shape the future of search appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Which Google algorithm changes impacted marketers most in 2016 – and what can we expect from 2017?

Between the long-awaited rollout of Penguin 4.0, a strengthening of Google’s mobile-friendly ranking signal and the ‘Possum’ algorithm update impacting local search, 2016 was an interesting year for Google algorithm changes.

And with an upcoming move to a mobile-first search index already on the cards, as well as a penalty for intrusive mobile interstitials coming into effect on the 10th, 2017 promises to be just as eventful.

Looking back at 2016, which algorithm changes were the most impactful for marketers in the industry? And how can brands best prepare themselves for what might be around the corner? I spoke to Sastry Rachakonda and Ajay Rama of digital marketing agency iQuanti, along with Search Engine Watch’s regular mobile columnist Andy Favell, to get their thoughts on what’s to come in the search industry.

The most impactful algorithm updates of 2016

“Mobile-first indexing is probably the most significant change that happened this year,” said Rachakonda, who is the CEO of iQuanti, a data-driven digital marketing agency, “since companies were creating unique mobile content that was not the same as their desktop content. They did that for user experience. There were smaller snippets that were design friendly, but weren’t relevant and optimal for the search query.”

But while Google’s shift to emphasise mobile search even more heavily – which has included a much fuller rollout of Accelerated Mobile Pages into organic search results – was probably its most noteworthy update overall, Rachakonda believes that a different update was actually more impactful from a brand perspective: Possum.

‘Possum’ is the name given to a major update to local search on Google which came into effect on 1st September 2016, and which is thought to be the most significant algorithm update to local search since Pigeon in 2014. The name was coined by Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System, who thought it was fitting as after the update, many business owners thought that their Google My Business listings were gone, when in fact they were only filtered – hence, ‘playing possum’.

The apparently ‘dead’ Google My Business listings gave the Possum algorithm update its name. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The update seemed mostly aimed at improving the quality of the local search results and removing spammy listings, which meant that some businesses who had engaged in less-than-kosher practices in order to rank found themselves demoted.

“Possum has been the most impactful update for brands by far,” said Rachakonda. “One of our Fortune 500 clients in the insurance industry saw a 7% drop in keyword rankings, which resulted in a 13% loss of month-on-month traffic. We believe this was due to some outdated tactics their previous agency used to get them ranked, which clearly Google wasn’t fond of.”

While some businesses saw their traffic drop off as a result of Possum, others were seeing a remarkable recovery thanks to Penguin 4.0, which deployed after much anticipation in late September. The original Penguin update in 2012 targeted and devalued inorganic links, such as links which had been bought or placed solely to improve rankings, which led to significant losses in traffic for businesses who had engaged in those practices.

As Chuck Price explained in an article for Search Engine Watch in December 2015, “After Penguin, bad links became ‘toxic’, requiring a link audit and removal or disavow of spammy links. Even then, a Penguin refresh was usually required before one could see any signs of recovery.”

But thanks to the Penguin 4.0 update in 2016, these refreshes now take place in real-time, leading to significant recovery for brands who had already taken action to remove and disavow the bad links. Marcela De Vivo took a look at how this recovery works in practice, and what site owners can do to improve their situation if they haven’t already done so.

What’s on the cards for 2017?

As I mentioned in my introduction, at least two updates in 2017 are already certain, both of them relevant to mobile search. One, Google’s penalty for mobile sites with annoying interstitials, is due to go live tomorrow, and our search news roundup last Friday featured some new clarifications from Google about what kind of interstitials will be affected by the penalty.

The other is Google’s move to a mobile-first search index, a major shift which reflects the fact that the majority of Google search queries are now coming from mobile devices. While we don’t yet have a date for this change, Google confirmed in October that the change would take place within the next few months, which means that Google’s primary index could switch to mobile any day now, and brands would do well to prepare themselves. I asked Andy Favell, Search Engine Watch’s resident mobile specialist, what advice he would give to brands who want to be prepared.

“Google has done an excellent job of focusing companies’ minds on the importance of having a mobile-friendly website. The stick approach – the fear of harming the search ranking – has worked wonders for driving adoption of mobile or mobile-friendly sites.

“However, companies should have been focusing on the carrot – building websites that would appeal to some of the billions of mobile web users out there. The beauty of mobile first is that a mobile-friendly site is often a much better desktop site. That is still true today.

“Rather than worrying about trying to make Google happy, brands should concentrate on the mobile users, consider who they are, their context, and what they want, and provide that the best possible way – i.e. intuitive, fast-loading, good UX and usability. Businesses that do this will get more traffic, more happy users and more conversions.

“That’s not just good for business, it’s good for your search ranking also. Because Google wants what’s best for the search user.”

Which Google algorithm changes impacted marketers most in 2016 – and what can we expect from 2017?

Brands will need to prepare themselves for mobile search becoming Google’s primary index some time soon in 2017.

Those are the changes we know about so far. But what do those in the industry think is coming for search in 2017? Ajay Rama, Senior Vice President of Product at iQuanti, believes that the mobile-first index will take up most of SEO mindshare over the coming year, but he also has a number of predictions for how voice search – which has become a huge part of the search landscape since 2015 – may evolve and change things.

“As voice search starts becoming mainstream, we might see the beginning of a SERPless search – search without a SERP page,” predicts Rama. “We could see early tests in this space where we will see Google Assistant and search being seamlessly integrated into an interactive search experience. Assistant interacts with the user to ask the right questions and take him to the target page or a desired action, instead of showing a SERP page with various options. In this new experience, ads would have to be reinvented all over.”

Given that Google’s innovations of the past few years, from semantic search to Quick Answers, have increasingly been geared towards understanding users’ exact intentions with the aim of finding a single, ideal result or piece of information to satisfy their query, it’s not hard to imagine this happening. Rama also foresees a much more extensive rollout of Google’s voice-controlled Assistant to go along with this.

“Google Assistant will become part of Android, and will be available on all Android devices. Talking to the device in local languages becomes mainstream, and Google Assistant will lead this space. Their machines will learn all accents and all languages, and will soon become a leader in the voice devices, especially in non-English speaking nations.”

Which Google algorithm changes impacted marketers most in 2016 – and what can we expect from 2017?

Can you imagine Google search without the SERP? With the expansion of voice search, it could become a reality.

While it’s hard to imagine that all of these developments will take place in 2017 alone, there’s definitely a possibility that we’ll see them begin. Google Assistant is already reported to be learning Hindi as a second language, and more languages could well follow if the uptake of Hindi is a success. However, Google Assistant is fairly late to the game compared to established voice assistants like Siri and Cortana who have been around much longer, and have had more time to refine their technology. So is it still possible for Google to pull ahead in this race?

With this change in the way we search comes a change in the way we market, as well; and if the search results page is to disappear one day, advertising will have no choice but to colonise whatever takes its place. We’re already seeing a shift towards an ‘always-on’, always-connected culture with devices like the Amazon Echo constantly listening out for voice commands. Rama believes that Internet of Things-connected devices could easily start to ‘spy’ on their owners, collecting data for the purposes of marketing – “Advertisers would love to get into living room and dinner table discussions.”

This might seem like sobering food for thought, or a whole new world of possibilities, depending on your perspective. Either way, it will be extremely interesting to see whether search continues to develop along the path it seems to be taking now – or whether it veers off in other, even more unexpected directions.

The new wave of visual search: what it can do, and what might be possible

Visual search on the web has been around for some time.

In 2008, TinEye became the first image search engine to use image identification technology, and in 2010, the Google Goggles app allowed users to search the physical world with their phone cameras.

But in the last couple of years, visual search has come into new prominence, with companies like Pinterest and Bing developing into serious contenders in the visual search space, and search engines like Splash conceptualising new ways to search the web visually.

We now have an impressive range of visual search methods available to us: we can search with images, with part of an image, with our cameras, with paint on a digital canvas. And combined with applications in ecommerce, and recent advances in augmented reality, visual search is a powerful tool with huge potential.

So what can it do currently, and where might it develop in the future?

Then and now: The evolution of visual search

Although the technology behind image search has come on in leaps and bounds in the past few years, it’s as a result of developments that have taken place over a much longer time period.

Image search on the web was around even before the launch of reverse image search engine TinEye in 2008. But TinEye claims that it was the first such search engine to use image identification technology rather than keywords, watermarks or metadata. In 2011, Google introduced its own version of the technology, which allowed users to perform reverse image searches on Google.

Both reverse image searches were able to identify famous landmarks, find other versions of the same image elsewhere on the web, and locate ‘visually similar’ images with similar composition of shapes and colour. Neither used facial recognition technology, and TinEye was (and still is) unable to recognise outlines of objects.

A screenshot of Google reverse image search in 2011. The search is for an image of some sandy yellow peaks and valleys with a blue backdrop. The results page says 'Best guess for this image: death valley national park zabriskie point'. The top two results are a Wikipedia page and a Tripadvisor page for Zabriskie Point, with a grid of visually similar images below.

Google reverse image search in 2011. Source: Search Engine Land

Meanwhile, Google Goggles allowed users of Android smartphones (and later in 2010, iPhones and iPads) to identify labels and landmarks in the physical world, as well as identifying product labels and barcodes that would allow users to search online for similar products. This was probably the first iteration of what seems to be a natural marriage between visual search and ecommerce, something I’ll explore a bit more later on.

The Google Goggles app is still around on Android, although the technology hasn’t advanced all that much in the last few years (tellingly, it was removed as a feature from Google Mobile for iOS due to being “of no clear use to too many people”), and it tends to pale in comparison to a more modern ‘object search’ app like CamFind.

A mobile screenshot of a Google Goggles search. The screen shows a small bottle of Carex antibacterial hand gel with skin conditioners. A green square surrounds the product label, and a text string at the bottom of the screen reads: with skin DRYING tioners Carex

You tried, Goggles.

CamFind is a visual search and image recognition mobile app that was launched in 2013, and while it doesn’t appear to be able to solve Sudoku puzzles for you, it does have an impressive rate of accuracy.

Back when Google Glass was still a thing, Image Searcher, the startup behind CamFind, developed a version of the app to bring accurate visual search to Google Glass, activated by the command “OK Glass, what do you see?” This is the kind of futuristic application of visual search that many people imagined for a technology like Google Glass, and could have had great potential if Google Glass had caught on.

A mobile screenshot showing a successful CamFind object search. At the top is an image of a black keyboard. Below it is the word 'found'. Then reading downwards in a column are the words 'Black Lenovo corded keyboard'.

The CamFind mobile app has an impressive accuracy rate, even down to identifying the brand of an object.

When the ‘pinboard’-style social network Pinterest launched in 2012, it was a bit of a dark horse, gaining huge popularity with a demographic of young-to-middle-aged women but remaining obscure in most conventional tech circles. Even those who recognised its potential as a social network probably wouldn’t have guessed that it would also shape up into a force to be reckoned with in visual search.

But for Pinterest, accurate visual search just makes sense, as it allows Pinterest to serve relevant Pin recommendations to users who might be looking for something visually similar (say, the perfect copper lamp to light their living room) or hone in on the specific part of a Pinned image that interests them.

In 2014, Pinterest acquired VisualGraph, a two-person startup which was cofounded by one of Google’s first computer vision engineers, bringing the company’s visual search know-how into the fold. In the same year, it introduced and began refining a function that allowed users to highlight a specific part of a Pin and find other Pins that are visually similar to the highlighted area – two years ahead of Bing, who only introduced that functionality to its mobile image search in July 2016.

Bing has pipped Pinterest to the post by introducing visual searching with a smartphone camera to its native iOS app (I can’t comment on how accurate it is, as the Bing iOS app is only available in the US), something that Pinterest is still working on launching. But it’s clear that the two companies are at the vanguard of visual search technology, and it’s worth paying attention to both to see what developments they announce next.

A gif showing Pinterest's visual search in action on a smartphone, detecting objects around a room and bringing up related pins at the bottom of the screen.

Meanwhile, Google is yet to offer any advance on Google Goggles for more accurate searching in the physical world, but you can bet that Google isn’t going to let Pinterest and Bing stay ahead of it for too long. In July, Google announced the acquisition of French startup Moodstocks, which specialises in machine learning-based image recognition technology for smartphones.

And at Google I/O in May, Google’s Engineering Director Erik Kay revealed some pretty impressive image recognition capabilities for Google’s new messaging app, Allo.

“Allo even offers smart replies when people send photos to you. This works because in addition to understanding text, Allo builds on Google’s computer vision capabilities to understand of the content and the context of images. In this case, Allo understood that the picture was of a dog, that it was a cute dog, and even the breed of the dog. In our internal testing, we found that Allo is 90% accurate in determining whether a dog deserves the ”cute dog” response.”

Visual search and ecommerce: A natural partnership

How many times have you been out and about and wished you could find out where that person bought their cool shoes, or their awesome bag, without the awkwardness of having to approach a stranger and ask?

What if you could just use your phone camera to secretly take a snap (though that’s still potentially quite awkward if you get caught, let’s be honest) and shop for visually similar search results online?

Ecommerce is a natural application for visual search, something which almost all companies behind visual search have realised, and made an integral part of their offering. CamFind, for example, will take you straight to shopping results for any object that you search, creating a seamless link between seeing an item and being able to buy it (or something like it) online.

A mobile screenshot from the app CamFind. At the top is a picture of a small bottle of Carex anti-bacterial hand gel, rotated 90 degrees to the left. Text at the top reads 'Carex Moisture Plus Hand Gel'. Below this are web results and related images for Carex Moisture Plus Hand Gel.

Pinterest’s advances in visual search also serve the ecommerce side of the platform, by helping users to isolate products that they might be interested in and smoothly browse similar items. An ‘object search’ function for its mobile app would also be designed to help people find items similar to ones they like in the physical world on Pinterest, with a view to buying them.

With the myriad possibilities that visual search holds for ecommerce, it’s no surprise that Amazon has also thrown its hat into the ring. In 2014, it integrated a shopping-by-camera functionality into its main iOS app (and has since released the function on Android), and also launched Firefly, a visual recognition and search app for the Amazon Fire Phone.

Even after the Fire Phone flopped, Amazon refused to give up on Firefly, and introduced the app to the more affordable Kindle Fire HD. The visual search function on its mobile app works best with books, DVDs and recognisably branded objects, but it otherwise has a good rate of accuracy.

A screenshot of Amazon's visual search for its mobile app in action. The main part of the screen shows the cover of a book, The Master Switch by Tim Wu. A collection of bright blue points clings to the title and author, and a tick icon shows that the app has successfully identified the book.

Amazon’s visual search in action.

Other companies operating in the cross-section of visual search and ecommerce which have emerged in the past few years include Slyce, whose slogan is “Give your customer’s camera a buy button”, and Catchoom, which creates image recognition and augmented reality tools for retail, publishing and other sectors.

Although searching the physical world has yet to cross over into the mainstream (most people I’ve talked to about it aren’t even aware that the technology exists), that could easily change as the technology becomes more accurate and increasingly widespread.

But ecommerce is only one possible application for visual search. What other uses and innovations could we see spring up around visual search in the future?

The future of visual search?

Aside from the fairly obvious prediction that visual search will become more accurate and more widespread as time goes on, I can imagine various possibilities for visual search going forward, some of which already exist on a small scale.

The visual recognition technology which powers visual search has huge potential to serve as an accessibility aid. Image Searcher, the company behind CamFind, also has an app called TapTapSee which uses visual recognition and voiceover technology to identify objects for visually impaired and blind mobile users. Another app, Talking Goggles, performs the same function using Google Goggles’ object identification technology.

Although these are purely recognition apps and not search engines as such, Image Searcher have used a great deal of the feedback they receive from the visually impaired community to integrate the same features into CamFind. It’s easy to imagine how the two concepts, if developed in tandem, could be used to provide a truly accessible visual search to visually impaired users in the future.

And if camera-based visual search were combined with recent advances in voice search and natural language processing, it’s possible to imagine a future in which the act of searching visually becomes virtually interface-free. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, demonstrated a very similar capability at Google I/O when he showed off Google’s new voice assistant, Google Assistant.

“For example, you can be in front of this structure in Chicago and ask Google, ”Who designed this?” You don’t need to say ”the bean” or ”the cloud gate.” We understand your context and we answer that the designer is Anish Kapoor.”

In this example, the unstated context for Pichai’s question “Who designed this?” is likely provided by location data, but it could just as easily be visual input, provided by a smartphone camera or an improved Google Glass-like device.

I mentioned something called Splash earlier on in this article. Splash, a search interface developed by photo community 500px, is a different type of visual search than any we’ve looked at so far. The interface is designed to allow users to visually search 500px’s image library using colour, digitally ‘splashing’ the paint onto a canvas.

As far as visual search engines go, Splash is more of a fun novelty than a practical search tool. You can only search for images in one of five categories – Landscape, People, Animals, Travel and City – so if you want a picture of something that doesn’t come under one of those, good luck to you. The search results also tend to respond more to which colours are on the canvas than to what you’re trying to depict with it.

A screenshot of Splash visual search in action. The canvas at the top shows a blurry, MS Paint-style depiction of a purple sky with a crescent moon and stars. The grid beneath it shows thumbnails of purple-hued images, showing beaches and mountains. None of them resembles the canvas.

Not really what I was after…

Even so, I like the different take that Splash gives on searching visually, and I think that the idea has a lot of interesting potential if it were developed and refined more. Other types of visual search that we’ve talked about so far depend on having a picture or an object to hand, but what if you wanted to search for something you knew how to draw, but didn’t have an example of to hand?

Another thing I would find incredibly useful in my work as a journalist (where I’m often called upon to source stock images) would be the ability to search for a visual concept.

Say I’m looking for a picture to represent ‘email ROI’ for a piece I’m writing. It would be really helpful if I could run a visual search for any images which combined visuals relating to email, and visuals relating to money, in some way. Maybe a keyword-based search could get close to what I need, but I think a visual search would be able to cast a wider, and more useful, net.

Finally, if developing visual search continues to be a priority for companies like Pinterest, Bing and Google, I think the most natural evolution of the technology would be to incorporate augmented reality. AR is already advancing into the mainstream – not just with Pokémon Go, but apps like Blippar which fuse AR with visual discovery and visual search to add an extra dimension to the world around us.

There’s clear potential for this to become a fully-fledged search phenomenon, say with text overlays providing information about objects you want to search for, and the ability to interact with items and purchase them, removing even more friction from ecommerce and enabling users to buy things in the moment of inspiration.

I don’t foresee visual search replacing the text-based variety altogether (or at least, not for a very long time). But does opens up a world of exciting new possibilities that will play a big part in whatever’s to come for search in the future.

Tom Anthony Talks About the Future of Search on #MarketingNerds

In this Marketing Nerds episode, Tom Anthony of Distilled talks about the future of search and how it can help SEOs understand where the industry is moving.

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The four pillars of the future of SEO

What does the future of search engine optimization have in store for us? Columnist Pratik Dholakiya looks at recent trends to explain the direction our industry is headed in.

The post The four pillars of the future of SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Search Marketing Is The Future, Right? by @annaleacrowe

The future of search has me in a constant spin cycle. Do you feel this way? Bing has 133 million monthly searches. Google hit over 100 billion. That’s a lot to take in.

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The Future Of Search Is Productivity Across Platforms

Columnist John Cosley of Bing Ads discusses the future of search in a multi-device, cross-platform world.

The post The Future Of Search Is Productivity Across Platforms appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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