Google’s rolling out something new. Can you believe it? They’re always coming up with something, those crazy kids on Mountain View.
Google’s latest mobile search changes are worth taking note of for anyone who relies on mobile traffic to bring in leads and customers. It’s unlikely that these changes will negatively affect your business—but it’s still important to be aware of what’s going on, and how it might affect your digital marketing strategy.
There are also some seeming curveballs like “Multisearch near me” that could actually present new opportunities for businesses to be discovered via SEO. So, while you can probably safely ignore these changes to mobile search, it may be worth taking a closer look at how these changes will work, and how you can make the most of them for your business.
Mobile Search this Fall
Here’s a rundown of what you can expect in the coming months:
1. Advanced Search Entry Shortcuts (iOS only)
There’s more than one way to search a query, and in the Google app for iOS, there are now shortcut buttons immediately under the search bar. These will make it easier for users to do useful things like search for songs by humming into the mic, and reverse image search profile photos from dating apps to make sure they’re not catfishes.
In other words, they’re going to start showing tappable shortcut buttons right under the search bar to do things like:
- Shop for Products (In Your Screenshots)
- Translate Text (With Camera)
- Identify Song (By Listening)
- Solve Homework (With Camera)
This is a change that has actually already been rolled out in the latest version of Google for iOS.
2. “Multisearch Near Me”
Google Lens already offers the ability to search for things by taking pictures or uploading images. And earlier this year, Google unveiled its “Multisearch,” which lets you take a picture or image of something and add text to ask a question. Kind of like how in real life, you might point at an object and then ask a question about it. Or, you know, type the question into Google.
“Multisearch near me” is an expansion of this machine-learning powered image recognition feature. It will allow users to take a picture of something (for example: a slice of pizza) and then find pizza shops near them instantly. I’m sure someone will come up with a use for this at some point, but for now, it seems like a great way to find things that are already in front of you.
I suppose this could be useful in a language barrier situation. You could point your camera at a sign in a foreign language and get results back in your native language. Or you could use it to find products in a store that you don’t know the name of. But we’ll have to wait some months for this feature to launch in languages other than English.
If this feature does catch on, however, there could be new opportunities to optimize your web presence and be discovered in mobile search.
Imagine that you’re a company that sells hard-to-find parts, and someone takes a picture of a part that they need to replace. Your company’s site shows up near the top of the results, because you sell that part, the consumer sees that it’s the same part—and viola. You have a new customer.
At the moment, other than specific situations like this, its utility for mobile search users and businesses seems limited. (Beyond the couple of weeks when everyone will be doing it on their phone just because they can.)
3. New AI-Powered Search Bar Results
As Google says, “Sometimes you don’t know what angle you want to explore until you see it.”
This one is all about making searches feel more “natural.” With this change, Google will start showing you more precisely-related searches that you can quickly tap on before you finish typing.
Let’s say you’re looking for a recipe for banana bread. You might start to type in something like, “banana bread recipe.” And before you finish typing, Google fills up the rest of the screen with a list of queries like:
- banana bread recipe easy
- banana bread recipe healthy
- banana bread recipe moist
- banana bread recipe without baking soda
- banana bread recipe 1 banana
- banana bread recipe 2 banana
- banana bread recipe 3 banana
This way, you can easily explore different angles of your original query that you may or may not have thought of—if you want to. You can always just ignore the “new search experience” and finish typing out your query as usual.
File this one under “nice to have.”
4. AI Search Refinement Buttons
This serves a very similar function to the one we just talked about, so I’ll keep it brief.
With this change, you’ll start seeing tappable buttons directly under the search bar (but above the new list of suggested search queries) that let you quickly refine your query as you’re typing. So with the banana bread example above, as you type “banana bread” you might see 3 to 6 buttons pop up that say things like:
- recipe easy
- recipe healthy
(Note: I know I said I’d be brief—so if you’re not interested in the fact that this seems awfully similar in function to the previous change, feel free to skip down to #5.)
In practice, it seems like these buttons will often include things that are also in the list of suggested search queries.
In Google’s own animation demonstrating this new feature, they use the example search “fort funston” and the search refinement buttons are labeled “weather” “beach” and “webcam.”
Meanwhile, the top 3 suggested queries are “fort funston weather” “fort funston webcam” and “fort funston tides.”
As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap here. But as far as UX goes, it’s always good to give people as many redundant ways to do the same thing as possible.
5. Combined Text, Image, & Video Search
From now on, you’re going to receive image and video search results mixed in with the standard text results without having to switch between the text, image, and video search tabs—if they’re relevant, that is.
This one is all about convenience. Previously, if you wanted to search for images or videos, you had to explicitly select the image or video tab. Now, you’ll just see a mixture of all three right from the start. Whether that’s convenient or not will depend on what you’re looking for.
This one is so dependent on the individual query that it’s hard to make a broad statement about whether it’s good or bad. In a lot of cases, it will probably be great. In others, it might be really annoying.
Google: “We’re also reimagining the way we display results to better reflect the ways people explore topics.”
Anytime there’s a “reimagining” to “better reflect the ways people explore” you know that monetization can’t be far behind, so we’ll just have to wait and see what that looks like.
6. Google Web Stories
This exciting new change has already infected the mobile search experience on my phone, but it might take some time to finish rolling out to everyone.
With Google Web Stories, you’ll start seeing “visually rich storytelling experiences” in the search results on your phone. These are basically like little magazine pages filled with images, videos, and text about a particular topic.
You can think of Web Stories as a cross between Google’s existing mobile search experience, Instagram Stories, and that one Snapchat tab with content like “Her Dog Ate the Most Ridiculous Thing”, “WILD Plane Ride Caught On Cam”, and “Drivers in Your State Born After 1900 Get A Big Surprise (Sponsored)”.
Oh, and they may include “content from creators on the open web,” so we’ll see how that goes.
Let’s say you’re looking up “Austin, Texas.” Along with your standard search results, you might also see visual stories and short videos from people in Austin, tips for visiting, things to do in the city, and so on.
This is all well and good, but it does raise some questions about how this will impact the search results for news stories and other timely content.
If I’m looking for the latest news about a breaking story in a city, do I really want to see a bunch of “visual stories” about the city that are unrelated to the news? If these stories are well-curated, then this could be a great way to get a quick overview of a city or topic. If not, it could just be another “reimagining of an experience” that no one asked for.
Time will tell, but I have faith that Google will figure it out. (Or at the very least, remove the feature if the backlash is too great.)
These are 6 of the biggest changes coming to Google mobile search in the coming months. Some of them are already here, some are partially rolled out, and others are on the way.
As always, we’ll have to wait and see exactly how they impact day-to-day searches—and local SEO and PPC. We’ll be monitoring this very closely, and will be sure to keep you updated with any developments.