“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Hannu Verkasalo, founder and CEO at Verto Analytics.
In October, Google’s webmaster trends analyst said that the company would soon implement major changes to its search engine.
The search giant will effectively create two separate search indexes: one for desktop web and another one that is more frequently updated for mobile. These changes will reward mobile-friendly sites with a higher search ranking and produce more up-to-date search results for mobile device users.
For marketers and advertisers who have not yet adopted a mobile-centric philosophy, this serves as the final wake-up call. Major brands are starting to change the way they approach mobile consumers as mobile use on smartphones continues to dominate other personal devices, such as PCs and tablets.
While this shift is a culmination of changes that Google announced last year, the move further underscores the search engine’s mobile-first approach to the internet going forward. Google, so far, has not treated mobile significantly differently than desktop web. These changes will allow Google to keep mobile users happy and better capitalize on mobile’s unique characteristics.
Google’s mobile index announcement has the potential to radically change the way brands can and should target consumers and drive discoverability and traffic for themselves. It will also influence advertising and marketing strategies for apps and mobile websites and impact users’ search experiences as a whole.
Better Targeting For Consumers
Smartphones are a nearly pervasive device – consumers are rarely without them. A mobile-first search index will provide consumers with more relevant results and help brands target them through even more sophisticated and nuanced means.
Specifically, brands and advertisers will be able to more precisely target consumers due to better contextual search – locations, for example – and social-linked search, such as interactions and connections, at the point of interaction.
A More Personalized, User-Centric Search Experience
Google’s existing desktop browser is not as user-centric as its mobile user interfaces for search, including Google apps. The introduction of the mobile-first index will further widen the rift between the two search engines.
Consumers are increasingly turning to apps, such as voice-guided user interfaces, AI-powered personal assistants and messaging apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Google’s mobile search index will improve the user experience and help drive traffic to specific apps. It will also increase the ways in which brands can interact with consumers, such as improving discovery of companion apps. Also, a more user-centric approach will enable more effective referrals and re-engagement tactics.
Apps Will Continue To Dominate Mobile Web
Apps, as opposed to mobile web sites, are increasingly the norm across mobile devices, and this trend has been clear for many years. As the mobile world has evolved to be more app-centric, less content is on web sites. Consequently, good future search experiences will be based on mobile search and search within apps. Facebook has already done this for messaging and social apps, and Google’s more significant inroads will further accelerate the shift to an app-centric world.
New Opportunities For Brands And Advertisers
Will Google’s mobile shift accelerate the move to mobile app-based search? Or will Google improve its mobile web-based search experience with the new revisions?
Some digital brands and publishers aren’t waiting to find out. For example, Madison Square Garden and Macy’s have launched their own apps to offer more direct and personalized experiences for consumers. At the same time, Apple and Facebook have started embedding search into their own apps, and others are sure to follow.
Searching and indexing the app world and related content will be essential in the future, and brands and advertisers must ensure that their content is optimized for this new search paradigm. Brands will have the opportunity to capitalize on the personal, contextual nature of mobile and better use the built-in capabilities of mobile devices, such as payments and location-based services.
For example, Starbucks could use Google to inspire customers, based on their location, to launch the Starbucks app, place an order, confirm a pick-up time and location and pay for their drink – all facilitated by the new search experience.
The new changes toward mobile-centric search will also accelerate the growth of mobile advertising. Improved targeting and user experiences mean that mobile advertising could have a greater impact on how consumers move between apps, find recommendations, discover relevant content and make purchase decisions. At the same time, brands can improve their ROI through better conversions and more direct ways to guide consumers to their final destinations and decisions.
A mobile-first approach has already changed the ways that brands and advertisers interact with consumers. And other major digital players have started to follow suit. Facebook moved to an app-based development and user interaction mindset years ago. It’s about time that Google did the same for search.