Beyond search engine marketing (SEM) tactics, search in 2016 is poised to help prove how truly interconnected and omni-channel marketing has become. And three specific trends stand to make the biggest impact on search in the year ahead.
Between location search, deep linking mobile apps and advanced search on social media platforms, these topics will help cement SEM's place at the figurative grown up table as far as digital marketing channels go. They will also serve to shed light on how SEM can best help push online marketers' strategies to the next level.
1. Location, location, location
In November, Google released the full version of its Search Quality Rating Guidelines and one of the additions was adding local search. Couple that with the release of the Google My Business API – which allows for creating and editing locations in Google My Business to be used in ads, as well as appearing in search and Maps after verification – it seems clear that Google is betting big on local search.
From a practical standpoint, what can marketers do to take advantage of local search?
For one, make sure their websites are at least mobile friendly. If design decisions need to be made, at this point it's best to take the side of a mobile-first design. Mobile has now outpaced the desktop in Google search overall and local search. This means for local search, and really all search at this point, marketers need to think about the mobile experience, from the website to paid search landing pages and even email, ahead of anything else.
2. Deep linking mobile apps
What does deep linking mobile app content mean for marketers in terms of search?
Beyond a search tactic, deep linking mobile apps is more a development that will impact SEM, and even mobile advertising, strategies. So far mobile app developers haven’t shown a lot of interest in deep links with mobile content – according to URX a mere 28% of the top 100 apps have deep linking tags – but, Google and Apple are making it more attractive for developers to name, expose and index deep links to app content, and additional pressure is coming from investors.
"Deep linking adoption got a massive boost when Google and Apple made it more enticing for all apps to name, expose, and index deep links," Bitly Chief Product Officer Matt Thompson wrote in a guest post for VentureBeat. "At I/O this past May, Google announced Now on Tap and unveiled ways for locations inside of apps to surface in search results via App Indexing. Apple announced Spotlight for iOS, and it’s expected that 70% of all iOS devices will have the new deep linking capabilities within five months of the planned fall 2015 rollout."
When deep-linked app content is indexed, it will begin showing up in search results. So, for one, marketers should make sure their own apps’ deep links are indexed for that very reason. And because so much of mobile marketing is still in relatively early stages, mobile app deep linking is worth keeping a close eye on.
3. Taking the traditional 'E' out of SEM
Navigating the web is still mostly going to happen via major search engines like Google and Bing, but developments, especially on social media platforms, have made some changes in how people find things and even make purchases. One example of this is buyable buttons on many social platforms that allow people to find and buy something they like on Pinterest or Instagram. Rather than take any steps from heading to an e-commerce website or conducting a search to find a merchant's site, consumers can make purchases right away using "shoppable" buttons.
And social media platforms are bolstering their advanced search capabilities. In fact Facebook released its own search engine – a relatively quiet move that beefed up its existing search bar – in an effort to keep users on its platform, allowing them to find and share articles all within the Facebook ecosystem. And its engine can serve up search results that Google doesn’t even have access to – Facebook’s two trillion posts that have been indexed and are searchable. Users can search for a topic and get served with news stories on the topic, what their friends are posting and commenting on about that topic, and even what strangers have to add to the discussion.
With social platforms building out their search offerings, beyond the scope of the major search engines, adds a layer of complexity to SEM that stands to affect brands and marketers looking to dabble in location-based campaigns. Still, similar to deep-linking mobile app content, these new developments in search provide brand new search vistas full of opportunity for marketers.
And as Thompson wrote in his post for VentureBeat, "Given the increasing need to trace the customer journey in and out of apps and solving problems such as sustaining app engagement, locking in LTV (lifetime value) users and making the app’s value clear, there’s a huge opportunity for the deep linking industry."