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How search has evolved

Naguib Toihiri, SEO Department lead, RBBi on search engine to search experience optimization

Opinion

How search has evolved

Naguib Toihiri, SEO Department lead, RBBi on the evolution of search engine to search experience optimization

By the time you finish reading this sentence, Google will have processed around a quarter of a million search queries. We use search engines for everything from job searches to shopping to booking a holiday. It’s become an indispensable part of everyday life.

A brief history

Rewind to the mid-90’s and the landscape for search looked very different. Several engines had established themselves as key players in this new space – Yahoo, Alta Vista, Ask, Lycos. Google was actually a little late to the party. So why did Google, far from being an early pioneer in this space, become the mammoth it is today? And when exactly did Google become a verb?

A key contributor to Google’s early success was its user-centric approach. As search engine use became more and more of a staple in everyday life, the leading search engines also evolved to meet users’ needs. And those needs and expectations have changed drastically over time.

Back in the 1990’s search queries were typically fairly static. Two or three-word phrases. A key change in the 2000’s was that people started searching with more specificity. For example, ‘apple pie recipe’ as a query became ‘low-fat apple pie recipe’ or ‘easy apple pie recipe’. Search engines became intelligent enough to give you tailored results for each query.

Nowadays search engines are no longer a simple index of websites, they are sophisticated answer engines. And in today’s information led society, immediate gratification is expected. Search for how tall the Burj Khalifa is and you’ll find that you don’t even need to visit a website to find your answer with Google giving you the answer directly on the search results page.

Google knows your neighborhood

Local search is a term you may have heard bandied around over recent years. If you’re wondering what that is, it basically describes Google’s move to customize your experience depending on where you are in the world, or even where you are in a city. If you search for ‘pizza delivery’ from your apartment in Dubai Marina, you will see results based on the surrounding area. Far more useful than getting results from Downtown, or even further afield such as Abu Dhabi.

Google has also added many new features over the years to help you decide which pizza restaurant to choose. Not only will you be presented with a host of tasty pizza delivery services, you’ll see where they are located and ratings from other pizza lovers in your locale. Search results pages now include maps, social media profiles, videos, reviews, directions and a host of other elements too.

So, what’s next?

The next big change to search experience? It’s already here. Voice search. While still in relative infancy, digital household assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home) are going to spearhead this movement even further. Google is already reporting that 20 percent of searches via its mobile app and Android devices are now voice queries.

This is another key change in the behavior of how we seek and discover information, and one that is only going to make it more important for brands to ensure that their website answers the key questions their customers want to know. How to do this? Put yourself in your user’s shoes. What do your customers want to know? Are you answering those questions?

Evolution towards SEO 2.0

What does this mean for brands? The main takeaway is that you are no longer optimising for search engine bots, but towards the experience of your customers. SEO has evolved from Search Engine Optimization to Search Experience Optimization, with real human beings at the core of all activity.

If the tactics you are employing on your site will enhance your visitor’s experience then you’re on the right track. This is everything from improving your website loading times to writing new content that will provide value to your customers. You also need a more holistic approach to your customers’ search experience. If traditional SEO was about following a checklist and optimizing a website, Search Experience Optimization is about enhancing the user journey online through all digital touch points, such as providing the right working hours of your local business on Google Maps, boosting the ranking of your mobile app through App Store Optimization, and getting more views on YouTube through video optimization.

Another key consideration for 2017 is that Google is now transitioning to a mobile first index. In Saudi Arabia, Google reports that over 70 percent of searches for local information are done via a mobile device. If your site is notmobile-friendlyy in KSA, you will suffer because the experience you are offering to your users is not optimal.

Finally, make use of the wealth of data available to you. There are a host of free tools which can tell you a great deal of information about your website visitors. Are you seeing new customers coming from China? Look at how you can tap into that potential and adapt your digital strategy accordingly.

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