Search will by no means be dead or dying by 2020, as predicted by Advertising Age’s David Berkowitz. Nor will it be dead 10 or 20 years following that.
Berkowitz outlines several interconnecting trends that he believes could lead to a future in which there is a decline in the need to search. Fast forward to its current teenage years and Google (and other search engines to a lesser extent) are perhaps the most integral element of the internet today.
Search engines allow not only for websites to be found, but also for users to find exactly what they want; whether it’s information, entertainment, a person or a service. Which type of content is most important depends on whether you’re the company/content provider or the user.
The huge advances and development of the internet and ‘new media’ - and search within it, in recent years - show the potential for further technological growth. This highligts in particular, the speed at which it can evolve and render past technologies redundant. This speed of change and development is perhaps one reason why such bold predictions are no longer easily dismissed.
Pre-digital media marketing
Products and service offerings before the internet (granted some companies still don’t fully utilise the potential, even now) were developed quite insularly.
Messaging was pushed on people: companies provided a service in the hope that they could convince a sub-sect of consumers they needed and desired these offerings. With this model, consumers had no real option of engagement; they either bought in to the product or message, or didn’t. Advertising campaigns were rolled out en masse, in the hope that some of it would stick and resonate. That model has worked for a long time and continues to work even now - to varying degrees.
Research was of course conducted; advertising wasn’t and isn’t completely wild and without reason, but there certainly was resonance to John Wanamaker’s statement: "I know that half of my advertising doesn’t work. The problem is I don’t know which half."
Data driven marketing
Thanks to the masses of data available on user behaviour online, marketing can be much more targeted and effective. You can now see which elements of your campaigns do, and don’t work, perhaps more so from search than most marketing channels.
This data allows not only for companies to better target their messaging, but also allows for (or even forces them) them to engage their consumers - whether they like to or not. Much of that data is only available thanks to the way people search; the way they engage. This data will continually be required to ensure people are served the results and services they seek.
Pushing and pulling
The way people search has changed over the years, and so too has the way search engines work and deliver results, meaning users get exactly what they’re looking for. The point here though, is that the way people search and the way search engines deliver results constantly needs to change too. It’s because search keeps changing that means that it simply cannot die. It will continue to evolve.
Berkowitz makes the point that predictive recommendations could be made "…if technology can predict when people will be in the market for such products". This is a very big if. Again, someone may well be in the market for something, but equally may also simply be browsing or seeking information. If they are not be in the market at that timethey might not appreciate the potential bombardment of a pushed prediction or promise of a bargain.
Many consumers do engage with brands (on Facebook, Twitter, etc), but very much on their own terms. Engagement doesn’t equal a free pass for a company to push a message, service or a promotion. It’s why traditional advertising is (and has for a long time been) on a decline and why banner ads and pop-ups yield such low return, whether increasingly relevant or not.
The case for companies of all sizes and sectors to viably push a message or offer is strong, and it’s that that make its success (on the predicted scale) difficult to foresee. Users may say yes to the occasional offer, but like now with social media messaging from companies, people can often ignore them following their initial interaction.
The potential for the message(s) and recommendations to overwhelm is significant. It could also be the factor that leads users back to pulling the information for themselves, in their own time.
For pull to work, you need to be sure you can be found. While people may go some way to find what they’re looking for, there has to be work done to ensure you’re where your users expect you to be. You will doubtless require a social media presence, maybe a local search presence, and probably a dedicated website, too. You must then use the ever-evolving data gathered from these sources to form the basis of your presence to reflect exactly where your consumers are, and where they expect you to be.
Your website for example will require work in order to be search compliant (ie, optimised for search engine visibility). Your social media profiles will require updates, information and avenues for people to engage. Your local search presence must be clear and accurate.
Push marketing will remain an important and necessary part of the pot - consider new companies, products and offerings - how else would people know of their existence without push messaging of some sort?
Predictive recommendation may well provide additional value, but it will be a step in the evolution of search and not the path that leads to its death.