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Will search engines fall to AI?
The search engine’s BFF.
Lately, there’s been a rumble pretty much everywhere about artificial intelligence, digital personal assistants, the Internet of Things, wearables and apps for everything. I’ve even written about what the rise of digital assistants means to search. There are some who claim that these new technologies will render search obsolete, passed over for the convenience and joy of an always-available digital world. I think they are wrong.
The search engine addiction
Instead of looking at a search engine as an ad platform, we need to remember what it actually does for people. We tell search engines things that we don’t tell our significant others or our best friends. Think about that context for a minute. I might search for “how to tell your husband you’re pregnant” or “is that my baby kicking or gas,” or once the baby is born, “how to lose the baby weight.” Okay, maybe even “how does a name impact a child’s development.” Is there any other ad platform that has this kind of intimacy with its audience?
People have come to rely on search and the infrastructure that it enables for everything. The infrastructure that search engines provide actually powers much of the technology that calls itself “new”: artificial intelligence draws on the deep machine learning from search engines, as do digital personal assistants, the Internet of Things, many apps and wearables. In most cases, those technological developments wouldn’t be possible without the wisdom of search engines.
With the power of search engines on any device at our fingertips, the world is our oyster; we don’t ever have to be without the answer we’re looking for. Again, is there any other ad platform that has this kind of relationship with its audience? The searcher reaches for her phone to intentionally interact with this ad platform. True, she may not be looking for ads, but since the ads can be a direct answer to what she’s looking for, they’ll certainly get her attention.
It’s not inaccurate to say that search engines and their infrastructure have become indispensable to people. But it would be more accurate to say that getting things done faster and more easily, being able to access any information in the world, finding what you want immediately and doing it all from any device has become something of an addiction for people.
We can’t go out with friends without someone pulling out their phone to “check on that.” We are delighted by being able to know how tall or old the actors are in the movies we watch — luckily, our tablet is always nearby for that quick and obviously satisfying search. Which is exactly why search engines thrive: They satisfy.
Why this matters to marketers
First, your audience is addicted to the search engine. They don’t see it as an ad platform the way you do — they see it as the reason they won the argument, the reason they don’t need to worry about birth defects, the way they ended up in Costa Rica on a rainforest canopy tour. Because of this, your audience will always come back to the search engine. Every day, often several times.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without using a search engine? Even as new technology disrupts the landscape, we are comforted by the constancy of the search engine — and we will use it to understand new technology as it emerges.
Second, deeply emotional things happen when the search engine and your audience cross paths. In some ways, it seems insane that advertising exists in the same space. It’s also a very, very lucky opportunity for marketers.
Third, the search engine and its infrastructure are just getting warmed up. We’re still wearing our training wheels. Already, both Bing and Google are creating experiences on the search results page, in apps and in the desktop space — experiences that delight and surprise users. And this is just the beginning. All developments from here forward will only pull your audience deeper into their search engine addiction.
As paid search marketing follows a course toward a more robust delivery, a more seamless interaction and a more delightful experience, our audiences/consumers/shoppers will continue to rely on us for everything they need, including the things they cannot talk to anyone else about. We have an addiction to enable by providing amazing experiences to our audiences, and we’re taking this very seriously. Will AI take over? No. Will it become our closest partner and search’s best friend? Yes, I think so.