The Future Of Search Has No Keywords

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 Jared Belsky, CEO at 360i.

Since the first clicks on Lycos, AltaVista and in the mid-1990s, search has been about keywords. Brands, clients and platforms like Google were built on this model and continue to thrive on it. In Google auctions, for example, brands bid on keywords such as “red sleeping bag” when they want to sell a red sleeping bag to someone who, well, searches for a red sleeping bag.

In reality, there are three problems with this model. First, the person may simply want to research but not buy. Second, the retailer has no idea how valuable the searcher is. And third, the searcher is anonymized, so client data is mostly useless.

Though this model is less than ideal, search by keyword remains the most ROI-positive medium in just about all media-mix models, so few advertisers have anything to complain about. Google is also doing well, and the mousetrap is anything but broken.

So why address these concerns? Because the time for the next great evolution of search is upon us, and there is too much revenue and opportunity left on the floor. There are three tsunami-like forces that will turn search on its head.

People will get in the way of profit

We have reached a point where people alone are no longer fast or efficient enough to help brands master the search auction. Overreliance on people hinders brands, agencies and and clients. The idea that we can write search copy that is comprehensive enough to predict all possible ranges of human search intent is just silly.

In the future of search copy, algorithms will craft perfectly assembled advertising copy from a series of brand statements from a website or feed. The computing power required to do this already exists and is likely to be made available to mass audiences very soon. Humans are not equipped to create keyword lists or make essential AI predictions.

Voice technology will become ubiquitous

Whether or not half of all searches will originate through voice inquiry by the end of 2019, as comScore predicts, the sheer volume of devices containing microphones and internet capability make voice search an ever-present option.

When people search by typing, they use keywords; when they search by speaking, they use more nuanced direction. Voice technology turns keywords into meaningful language, providing better context for a user’s intent. Since most electronic devices will be voice-enabled, Google and Amazon will have oceans of natural language data to process and intricate learning algorithms to deliver the most relevant content and connections.

The ubiquity of voice-enabled devices in our lives will eliminate the perception that this technology is limited to smart speakers; we will experience it on our homes, with wearables and in our cars. Marketers learning to communicate successfully in this environment will need to consider additional factors such as access to structured data or data that has been organized into a database, making it easier to process and analyze.

But rest assured that Amazon, Google and others are investing heavily to support brands in this wild frontier. Getting in on the ground floor of conversational skills is vital, even if it feels clunky today.

Everything will become universal

For the past decade, search, display and video assets have been managed individually by channel specialists, but we are quickly heading into a world where these components are automated by artificial intelligence and distributed to their intended audiences based on key performance indicators.

While this may feel radical because of our admittedly myopic need as digital marketers to control the details, the truth is that channels never mattered to the consumer. Without these guardrails in place, users will have unlimited access to the information, products and services they want.

I’m not talking about omnichannel, but rather “post-channel.” Audience will trump all, and a channel will be a mere variable among the billions of others that factor into connecting consumers with brands. Google has given us a glimpse with its Universal App campaigns designed to help small business promote their apps across Google properties – and I feel almost certain that Universal App campaigns will come to dominate advertising on Google in the near future.

What should we do about all of this? For the time being, the best things that agency or brand leaders can do are to be aware of these trends, determine if they are equipped with the right people with the right skill sets for the future and don’t anger computers.

The future of search will be awesome. Rest in peace, keywords. You had a great run.

Follow Jared Belsky (@jabelsky), 360i (@360i) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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