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.


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.

David Moth

Published 10 June, 2013 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (2)



There are some good insights here. It will indeed be interesting to see if "talking into your phone" or the voice search will continue being a bit awkward or if it will be integrated into society.

about 5 years ago


Dan Fell

Social signals will play a more important part, I remember Will talking at the A4U expo saying (roughly) that Google are definitely looking at them but whether they are using this to add any positive or negative impact on websites SERPs was another matter.

The question is will they wait for G+ to really get going? They are using business to drive it's growth which is a shrewd move and as users of android devices increase and web browsing moves even more heavily to mobile the time will come when it may be the prominent social platform we use.

Google Glass is a bit moronic though, I can't see how people will use that in any kind of volume, its like when hands free headsets came out and for a time we had a load of pompus idiots walking down the street talking to "themselves" and everyone thinking they were mental. That soon went away.

Will's theory about the right hand side of the search results is an interesting one. On the one hand it's really the only place that information can be displayed, on the other it could be Google' answer to getting more paid advertising revenue.

Google has two clear aims as I see it, 1 to give us the exact results we want, when we need them. 2 is to make loads a monay!

It's the balance they need to get right and maybe social signals and everything that encompasses will be their answer.

about 5 years ago

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