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Google Search at 20: all grown up and ready to take on the world

Just like most smart and confident 20-year-olds, Google has big plans for the future. The company’s executives announced some of them at a special anniversary event and in a series of posts that indicate how Google sees the future of search.

Google tied the announcements to three major “shifts” in online user behavior when it comes to search:

  • From answers to journeys: Google is introducing new features, such as Activity Cards and improved ones, such as Collections, in an effort to make our multi-step, multi-device, multi-day search “journeys” easier.
    • Activity Cards will remind users of recently visited sites and searches performed, so they can pick up where they left off in search. Users will be able to edit the cards, which will be available for select queries initially.
    • Users will be able to build their own Collections by saving pages to their Collections from Activity Cards.
  • From queries to curation: Google plans to surface relevant information related to the users’ interests, even when they don’t have a specific query in mind. The tool for this “query-less” search is not new, but the rebranded, AI-fortified Google Feed, which the company introduced a year ago. Now called Discover, it is able to stay one step ahead and help “you come across the things you haven't even started looking for.” In one of the examples provided by Google, if users are interested in travel, it might show an article with the best places to eat or sights to see. Travel articles published three months ago might be surfaced because they are now timely for that user.
  • From text to visuals: With support from a completely redesigned Google Images, Google Search is taking a page out of Instagram, Snaptchat and Pinterest’s playbooks to help us find information through imagery and videos. From incorporating open-sourced AMP stories and detailed previews of relevant videos, to rejiggering the way sources are ranked in Google Images so users can quickly pinpoint the most relevant images, the search giant is truly pushing its AI capabilities to the limits in the name of better user experience.

As one perceptive analyst noted, taken together, the changes Google Search has made in the last 20 years are turning it from the (original) Search Engine to a Content Provider and now, a Search Sherpa.

What might all that mean to online marketers?

As another analyst notes, all this structured content and pre-emptive or suggested queries are likely to generate additional search sessions, while creating potential new contextual ad inventory for marketers. Another likely effect is that the prepackaged content will push conventional “blue links” further down the page, especially on mobile devices.

Being able to target people based on the topics they click on or follow would be a super powerful tool for advertisers, agrees Wordstream. As these shift-enabling features become more and more common in the typical browser and not just on Google’s own apps, such opportunities are likely to grow.