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What is search exactly?

By February 11, 2016 No Comments

A new study claims that our brain is 10 times more capable of storing information than previously thought. This means that we could store all the information that is on the internet in our brains. I find this mind-blowing, but I wouldn’t expect people to start taking advantage of that. Why would they? Anyone can search.

The amount of information on the web is overwhelming and there are more than 5 billion web pages. This makes the search function crucial in everyone’s lives, it means people can access this incredible amount of information. Through this formula – huge amount of information + ever improving search engines – anyone can find information about anything and make more informed choices. This changed the amount of information that people consume and also the choice process itself. No one simply goes to a restaurant anymore, we go to the best nachos restaurant. Improved search engines make it more likely for us to make the right decision, but also increase the fear of missing out.  

How people search

This has been said a lot lately in the SEO industry, and I agree: search is much more than Google, search is how we use the internet. As a consequence of that, the way people search is gradually changing.

  • Queries are becoming longer;
  • People tend to ask questions more than searching for statements (we don’t merely look out for help anymore, we look for concrete answers);
  •  People now have the instinct to ask search engines questions they don’t know the answer to, and they attribute the success of the search process to themselves rather than search engine, as if humans and search engines are a single entity;
  • According to this study, when people know they will have access to the information, they tend to remember how and where to find it instead of recalling the information itself. 

All this data points in the same direction: search is becoming something very natural to us. In that sense, the need to go to a specific search engine to find whatever we’re looking for seems very limitative. Maybe that’s why the search experience is changing and expanding.

Where they search

  • According to this research, 35% of people said that the Amazon search function was the starting point for their gift searches and Amazon’s custom search capabilities are the main attraction for shoppers (rather than low prices). Price always plays an important part but convenience and a smooth search experience seem to prevail;
  • Facebook has 1.5 billion searches per day and the results will tell in real time if your friends have engaged with what you’re searching, this is a very powerful attribute;
Facebook search

Searching for Camden Passage on Facebook

  • The dominance of mobile on search is old news, but according to this study 1 in 5 people use voice search in their mobile and younger people seem to adhere more; this means that people will use more natural language when searching and this naturally impacts content that brands create: the more human the language, the better;
  • Visual search is also changing, slowly but it is changing. There’s still a lot to catch up on, but AI and visual search are being combined to provide a more in store like experience in online shopping (source).

With all this in mind, yes Google still dominates search but this process is becoming more omnipresent, holistic and intuitive.

How does that relate to my brand?

If search is how people use the internet, this impacts any brand hugely. Some things to have in mind are:

Discoverability

People can come to your brand through multiple search engines so think beyond Google, identify what other search engines might drive traffic to your brand and how can you optimise your presence there. Different search engines require different optimisation strategies. A restaurant can be searched, for example, on Google, Facebook, Yelp, Tripadvisor, Zomato. Two questions will help define what to do:

  • How will it rank there?
    What makes a page rank on different search engines will vary, but just like it happens on Google, there are best practices for every channel. Think about how engagement happens on a particular channel, and that will shed some light on how to rank there. On Facebook, reviews, likes and check-in’s from friends seem to impact what shows up in the results page; on TripAdvisor, the number of people mentioning a brand and how they review it seem to have a lot of impact. Understand how people use a particular search engine, do some tests to see what ranks and optimise your strategy from there.
  • What will people see?
    This is about making your brand presence there the more planned possible. Different channels carry different user intents, have that in mind when creating your brand profile. Someone searching on Yelp must be planning to eat out soon, take advantage of that, like Woodlands is doing here by making it easier for people to book a table:
Yelp Restaurants

Search for ‘vegetarian restaurant’ on Yelp

Think about engagement, take advantage of the tools available and create the best content for each channel.

Relevance

If there are more touch points and people come to you through multiple search engines, this means you can collect more data and build a bigger picture of what people look for and their motivations.

 

This data can also help you with the how and what:  

  • How: what language people use there and what should your tone of voice be? The more similar your language is to how people speak, the more likely you are to rank. Like Rand Fishkin says here, you have to match the keywords that people use instead of solely focusing on topics;
  • What will make your presence useful for people instead of simply be present for the sake of it? 

Consistency

You’ve identified the search engines that can drive people to you and you’ve optimised for them, now it’s time to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. They don’t know as much about your brand as you do nor give it as much attention, and people don’t think about different search engines separately, everything is part of the same experience. Optimise for all channels but give people a consistent experience across all of them. Have in mind people’s intent, but also have in mind the purpose of your brand.

With the attention span becoming shorter and the amount of information that we’re exposed to growing, consistency help people create a more clear image of your brand and feel more familiar with it too. Besides, people’s expectancy of the information comes from pre existing knowledge and experience. People are amazingly good at switching off when they’re not that interested or when they have no references about you. Everything you do is part of a single experience.

A last note

Search is how people access the web and find the information they’re looking for, it’s almost like an internet basic necessity, and it’s becoming more intuitive and holistic. Understanding how people search will give brands insights about online touch points and how to provide a more integrated presence across all channels, and will provide valuable data that can help on awareness, engagement and conversion.

About Ana Verissimo

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