Think With Google: The Search Trends That Defined 2017

Voice search grew, customers wanted the "best" of everything, and featured snippets mattered more than ever. Here's what marketers need to know.

Between an uptick in mobile searches and the mainstreaming of intelligent assistants, voice dominated the search conversation this year. But it isn’t enough for brands to simply build an Alexa skill or think about a “voice strategy” if discoverability in general isn’t priority number one.

Marketers need to be present at the moments when consumers are ready to know, go, do or buy something — and to be there to answer questions, whether by text or by voice.

So, what do they need to know about the evolution of search this year? Below, takeaways based on Think With Google’s top search trends of 2017:

Mobile searches for best have grown 80 percent since 2015 — and drastically this year in particular 

What does this mean for marketers? First, brands of all stripes must take into account that today’s “well-advised” consumers are doing research for just about everything — not just weighty topics or big purchases. For example, searches for “best toothbrush” have reportedly grown over 100 percent on mobile in the past two years.

Second, and even more importantly, there is an inherent location-specific quality to these requests: Searching for the “best pub” or even “best toothpaste” means that someone wants to go somewhere or buy something in the physical world. TWG’s research bears this out: Compared to just a year ago, smartphone users are reportedly significantly more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.

As we’ve written previously, if a consumer searches for “new car” today, they no longer simply see links — they see the knowledge card, with prices, configurations, features of cars for sale, and more, all seamlessly. Similarly, if someone Googles groceries or banks, they get maps back; Google now assumes someone is looking for a place if they search for something present in the physical world. As such, marketers need to manage both their standard listings and location information but also to prioritize ranking in unbranded situations — such as for searches for “best pancakes” rather than “Denny’s.”

Image search is growing

In searches made within the Google app, users now see a badge in the bottom lefthand corner of an image. This badge categorizes the image, as well as provides text to clarify what action(s) someone can take.

This update isn’t among the biggest of the year, but it’s a move that sees Google furthering the utility and ubiquity of visual discovery.

What does this mean for marketers? Well, most already know that search is critically important — 80 percent of US internet users prefer to turn to a search engine to find or look up information about local businesses — and with Google continuing to further its commitment, image search is the next frontier. Online content should include relevant, high-quality, tagged images — ideally alongside other content like recipes or product information that Google may index for.

And statistics indicated that the time to prepare is now: By 2020, an estimated 50 percent of searches will come from images and voice.

Featured snippets matter more

Google recently made a subtle but significant search update, expanding Featured Snippets and improving the functionality of Knowledge Panels, a move aimed at enhancing discovery and better answering queries while still keeping users on the search engine results page (SERPs).

As we wrote at that time, “this update means that the ability to generate traffic from Google may continue to decrease,” said Casey Markee, SEO analyst and founder of MediaWyse. “The expansion of on-page related searches, knowledge graph information and relevant featured answers is just the latest evolution in Google’s desire to keep users on the SERP page itself and eliminate actual click-thrus to sites in the index.”

So, what can marketers do to improve their chances of getting discovered in the world of intelligent search, where blue webpage links are effectively passé?

“Google has also chosen to provide little actual optimization advice for users looking to target featured snippets. But we can make best guesses based on our own experience and results in the wild,” Markee said. “For site owners and SEOs, it really is about having the ‘best answer.’ If you see a featured answer you’d like to steal look at the following: what format is it in — list, table, paragraph — how many words, where is the snippet located on the page? And then try to copy as much of that data as possible in your competing attempt.

“Google has said that structured data has no effect on Featured Snippet but to get a featured answer you need to answer the question concisely and provide both the question and answer on the page. Next, provide a relevant image in the snippet that is close to the Q&A content. Further, make sure to use HTML formatting where possible — for tables, bullet lists, et cetera.”

Additionally, it’s simply another reminder that marketers need to think about the all of the entities fundamental to their business that can help them rank in the knowledge graph. This means that a restaurant, for example, needs to list its menu and locations — so that that Google will then know its menu items and the eatery will shows up in the results in that aforementioned search for “best pancakes.” Similarly, for a bank, the fundamental entities might be branches and ATM locations. In the new world of search, it’s all about being listed comprehensively and accurately in all of the relevant categories so as to be as discoverable as possible.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.