Five years ago, in 2018, humanity was generating 2.5 trillion megabytes of data every single day. Today, that number is 329 trillion megabytes. Given that this data, mercifully, is electronic, it is no wonder that electronic search is changing to keep pace. Gone are the days when a typed text query in a box via a website from Google (and a handful of other search engines) yielding SERPs of web links was the exclusive way to find information online.
Technological and behavioral changes are changing the way we search the massively growing amount of the world’s information.
The majority of search now occurs on mobile devices, which has accelerated the use of voice-based search. Home devices that are always ready to answer our spoken queries are increasingly widely used and provide a single spoken answer in response. Younger generations, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are also searching more and more via social media channels. Currently, about 31% of these consumers choose to conduct their information searches on their preferred social channels. This is confirmed to me purely anecdotally, of course, by my two Millennial sons who will search Reddit, Facebook and YouTube before using a traditional search engine. Other people (about 10%) prefer to use AI chatbots for search, which is likely to grow in future. Augmented reality (AR), which has remained a tease for so long, slowly but surely is seeking to demonstrate its value in search, particularly in shopping where the majority prefers AR experiences.
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Of course, traditional search engines like Google still dominate search but are scrambling to stay ahead—investing heavily in generative AI, AR, video (and other rich media) as well as other technologies. As an example, Google has already used AI to improve its search algorithm and a recent patent filing suggests other advances coming to the dominant search engine.
So, what is the future of search?
To this observer, it seems there is a short-term and long-term evolution coming in search. In the short term, I suspect we will see modality expansion in both inputs and outputs, driven by technologies like AR, generative AI, Vision AI and Google Lens. As a result, marketers who have been focused on SEO and SEM will need to expand to image optimization and double down on providing fresh, high-quality content across all modalities (including especially video). I also believe there will be a rise in more and more boutique search offerings that provide content of higher quality and value in specific topic areas in the ilk of Tegus and OnDeck.
In the long term, it seems to me that the future of search is not search at all but something that might be described as “curated discovery”—where relevant information is presented to each of us based on who we are, what we are interested in and what is going on around us without us having to go looking. Again, from a marketing perspective, what wins in the long run always is (and will remain) high-quality content.