Over the past few years, online search has evolved from a mechanism to bring customers to your website into a powerful tool for researching your customer base’s needs.
This means that today’s online marketers shouldn’t be thinking about search only in terms of the impact it has on traffic to their websites – they should also be looking at it as one of the richest sources of customer data they have at their disposal.
Where else can you get such a detailed view of the trail that a consumer follows to a piece of online content?
This is rich data that tells you a compelling story about what your customers are looking for – it is the rawest form of ‘customer intent’ data you could hope to get your hands on.
Using this data, you can shape your content to meet the true needs of your users and improve not only the traffic you attract, but also to enhance the experience your search users have with your website. That can lead to better conversion rates once your clients are there.
Another way that search has evolved is that it is no longer linear, despite the fact many marketers think of it as such. The advent of features such as universal search and dynamic search mean that it isn’t just buying or optimising for the right keywords that matters any more. You should also seek to understand how these new features are shaping user behaviour.
With Google’s universal search, the results from multiple specialised searches will appear within the main Google Web search results instead of showing up as a separate box at the top of the search results page.
The Google Instant dynamic search, meanwhile, serves up search results to users as they are typing. The technology predicts what the user is searching for and displays results before he or she has even finished typing up the search term. The thinking is that the brain processes the results faster than the fingers can type.
That means users are getting the gratification of reaching the information they’re after quicker than ever before. Another factor that is changing the way that users think about search is the rise of the mobile Internet. Here, location matters, as does the timeliness of the information.
So what does this all imply as we design and improve websites?
Firstly, the user interface and usability still matter – you should be focusing on the experience that users have once they’re at your site, not just getting them there in the first place.
Secondly, we see the mobile world as a hint of what will come to pass right across the Internet. As information piles up on the global Web, geographic location and freshness will matter more and more. Rather than developing your content for devices and channels, design it to be fresh and high in quality.
The shift in the understanding of the role of search in your marketing strategy demands that you rethink your approach to search engine optimisation (SEO). No longer should you be a slave to SEO, but you should instead think about ways that you can use search data to build a better website and even a better business.