Lost amidst the mayhem of last week’s news cycles was a small story that had far larger implications than the amount of attention it received. Google and Apple signed a historic deal that pushes Google results sets onto even more devices than ever before. Google search results will replace search results generated by Bing on versions of the personal assistant Siri found on Apple’s iPhones powered by iOS. Though financial figures behind the agreement were not revealed, a previous agreement between the two companies to provide Google search results on other iOS devices is thought to be worth billions per year.
Two important signals stem from this agreement. The first is the rise of the digital personal assistant (PDA). The second is the unmistakable importance of mobile search for both Google and Apple. It is honestly hard to determine which is the more important of the two.
Digital personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri aren’t new, exactly. In fact, Siri has been a functioning component of Apple iOS devices for nearly six years, introduced in beta on the Apple iPhone4S on October 4, 2011. Since then, Microsoft introduced its personal assistant Cortana in April 2014, Amazon introduced Echo in January 2016, and Google introduced Home just about a year ago in November 2016. What is new about PDAs is how powerful and accurate they’ve become.
Personal digital assistants have actually been around since the late 1990s, predating the smart-phone by nearly a decade. The differences between the previous generation of PDAs and today’s are processing power, storage space, and most importantly, the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Today’s PDA is capable of making scheduling decisions, replying to simple information requests, and arranging travel itineraries. A modern PDA is also capable of selecting and displaying (or vocalizing) the top search result and making that the sole recommendation offered for any given vocal query. The effect this could have on organic search results is obvious. If, driven by vocal responses, personal digital assistant devices only offer one result, the concept of Top10 or first page of organic search flies out the window.
Sometime in the middle of 2015, search requests originating on a mobile device eclipsed those originating on a desktop computer. With more than half the number of searches being conducted using a mobile device, the average type of query and intent of query began to change. Search users began using voice search in order to avoid having to type their query using the virtual keyboards of mobile devices. We speak quite differently than we write and thus the nature of queries is altering as more and more people vocalize their search rather than type it.
Similarly, the reason people conduct a search using a mobile device is often different from the reason a person conducts a search using a desktop computer. Mobile searches are often punctuated with words like, “buy”, “store”, or “shopping”. The intent of these searches is obviously to find a consumer good at a nearby shop, or to locate the shop itself. Google has reported a dramatic increase in these types of searches.
When both the nature and intent of search activity starts to change, Google starts to change results sets in order to best meet what it believes its users want from their searches. That’s why we see more localized and shopping related search results in Google’s results sets. The inclusion of Google search on Siri enabled devices running iOS likely means we’ll be seeing and even greater number of localized and shopping related search results in the coming months.
For small businesses reliant on Google search results this might have a negative effect on the bottom line though it will likely be some time before all of Google search results sets conform to those delivered by modern PDAs. Google is looking to provide the very best answer to any given query so webmasters and business owners are urged to think in terms of questions when phrasing their content. Ask yourself what or how a person looking for information about your business or products would phrase a question about those products and answer it as you might a verbally phrased question. Provide in depth explanation with links to pages in your site that compliment the answers offered. It is smart to use schema mark-up language as phrased at the website schema.org to better information Google or Bing about the content on and intent of your website. Then test and retest query results you might expect to find your website under.
How Google displays search results in the future is going to change a number of times. Remember, they are reinventing themselves in real-time to meet the rapidly changing needs of information consumers. They know that how they display or transmit search results might require improvement over time but, if Google is anything, it is a data driven decision making machine. The search results will change to best suit the needs of search users and of Google advertisers over time. Until then, this type of information is a form of preparedness.