The future of search is something that few people outside of Google can predict with any real authority, yet it’s an incredibly important topic for digital marketers.

How much will social signals dictate what we see in search results? What impact will Google+ have in the long term? And will we always rely on keywords as the basis of search?

It’s impossible to address all the possible connotations in just 20 minutes, but Distilled’s Will Critchlow gave it a go during his talk at our Future of Digital Marketing event last Thursday.

One of the main themes was the move from indexing to understanding, whereby Google actually understands the context and sentiment behind a query.

A great example of this is the numerous searches you can perform for movies based on a vague plot summary.

Similarly, the increased use of different features and cards in the Knowledge Graph means that the UI now actually refines search queries and answers our questions, so we don’t even need to click through to webpages.

Critchlow suggested that this is possibly a surreptitious way of conditioning users to look to the right-hand sidebar

Voice search

These developments then make voice search more intuitive, as users can almost have a conversation with Google.

Voice search is already available on Chrome and Android, and Critchlow predicted that the awkwardness associated with voice search would likely disappear soon.

Who wants to take out their phone and talk into it? That’s weird, right? Well no, it isn’t actually.

New query model

As Google’s plethora of products become more integral to our daily lives it’s becoming more difficult to not be signed in to its ecosystem.

Critchlow suggested that Chrome Sync is just the beginning and that Google will soon begin using Android to sync cookies across devices.

This is part of the emergence of a new query model that is weighted to deliver results based on implicit signals rather than the explicit keywords.

Query scale

For example, the explicit query might be ‘London tube stations’ but Google will deliver the result based on various implicit criteria such as the user’s location, their normal commute and the time of day.

And as search results become more relevant and accurate users are beginning to trust Google to make decisions on their behalf. So while on business in the US instead of searching for ‘places to eat breakfast in Boston’ we just search for breakfast and let Google do the rest.

Queryless search?

As Google moves towards relying more on implicit signals does this mean search queries will eventually become redundant?

Google Now is already a step in that direction as it learns from user behaviour and delivers information that it deems to be relevant before we’ve even asked for it.

It also helps explain the ‘not provided’ search data, as the implicit suggestion is that Google wants marketers and site owners to become less obsessed with keywords as in the future they’ll be less important in the search query and results.

So for example, the query ‘best restaurant’ is more about the concept of something being the best rather than just having ‘best’ on the webpage.

However…

While it’s inevitable that changes are afoot in how search works, Critchlow said that it’s still important to remember the basics.

Search is still an incredibly powerful tool and it isn’t going away any time soon – both desktop and mobile search are growing year-on-year and continue to drive conversions.

So despite the fact that Google says you need to build webpages for people rather than search engines, site owners still need to make sure their technical SEO is also in good order if they want to achieve high rankings.