New year, new perspectives: Here are 4 search formats to optimise for in 2017

Babar Khan Javed
From mobile to growing your audience, here are 5 SEO trends for 2018

Sage advice for marketers: Unlearn the old ways now, in order to make significant gains in the long run

Two years ago, the Journal of Market Research published a paper titled Consumer Click Behavior at a Search Engine: The Role of Keyword Popularity co-authored by marketing academics from the Columbia Business School, the Robert H. Smith School of Business, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

The authors studied click behaviour on organic and sponsored links after a keyword search and discovered that keywords with lower search volume were associated with more clicks per search and a larger fraction of sponsored clicks. According to the authors, “this indicates that, compared with more popular keywords, consumers who search for less popular keywords expend more effort in their search for information and are closer to a purchase, which makes them more targetable for sponsored search advertising.”

This means that prospective readers and consumers were more likely to click through to a site when looking for an unpopular keyword than a popular one. The authors concluded that “advertisers might want to focus their sponsored search advertising efforts on less popular keywords and focus their search engine optimisation efforts on more popular keywords.”

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Understandably, these findings went completely against everything that search engine marketing and optimisation experts were purporting, with the data threatening to overturn search spending in a meaningfully detrimental way. With that, experiments were conducted to test its legitimacy, with mixed results, particularly in the divide between what is and what is not a phrase that implies intent to purchase.

And so, by 2016 Google introduced paid dominance for all transaction-related keywords as a part of its many conversion oriented adjustments in search. Other changes included the expansion of text ads, increased shopping ad formats and an updation of Penguin.

Other notable changes included the following:

Crowing content as king

Today, being featured as part of the answer box has become another SERP feature that is categorised as a must-have instead of a ‘nice to have’. Before machine learning reaches the point where image or video quality content can rank higher, advertisers and agencies with strong content teams should strive towards being seen as a search snippet.

Discarding sponsored right-side ads

This change led to performance marketers shifting their priorities towards researchers and writers. Researchers with credible data pertaining to the buyer decision journey and funnel were the basis for smarter targeting, while writers were relied on to create copy that would prompt the most relevant action in line with the research on purchase motivation.

What’s next?

Keeping in mind industry trends, advertisers and agencies should be paying special attention to four areas within search, namely mobile, voice, horizontal and vertical:

1. Mobile

Last year, Warc and the Mobile Marketing Association surveyed 132 marketing and advertising professionals from ten markets across the Middle East for the latest report titled The State of The Industry: Mobile Marketing in The Middle East. Eighty-three per cent of respondents claimed to have a formal mobile marketing strategy in place for search, with 20 per cent predicting that budgets on mobile would double in by Summer 2017.

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Indeed, Google is placing weightage and preference for sites that invest towards making themselves faster and more responsive. Google’s own reports suggest, rightfully so, that it’s an essential means to achieve high click through rates. When thinking about a mobile-first strategy, marketers must consider adding location data and mobile friendly information, whilst optimising sites for mobile friendly formats.

2. Voice

During his Google I/O keynote, Sundar Pichai announced that 20 per cent of queries on its mobile app and on Android devices are voice searches. While he said this in lieu of announcing Google Home — to compete with Amazon Echo — the fact that the virtual assistants market is heating up adds weight to this claim.

Similar moves have been made with Microsoft’s Cortana and others, as well. As the world transitions to a more hands-free format of search, marketers must invest in making sure they and their digital points of sale can be found is a world where machine’s will determine relevance of voice to text commands.

Also Read: 2017 will be big year for AR, but we are still not ready yet for voice search

Agencies that handle search marketing will need to invest in natural language processing technologies, as well. Instead of relying on search trends, they will need to conduct tests to predetermine the nature of incoming queries, planning for the best and the worst in both pre- and after-sales queries. Content should focus on the Sasha Strauss mantra of educating before selling.

3. Horizontal

Price comparison sites like SmartChoice have started to dilute brand equity in many markets, commoditising many big names to quantifiable numbers. Alas, the era of qualitative value appears to be diminishing at a gradual scale, with fewer consumer sets worried. Marketers that deal in commodities need to not only have a presence on such platforms, but also be quick to address, resolve and clarify any claims or concerns that may take up negative mindshare in a comparative setting.

4. Vertical

Marketplaces such as 800Flower and Amazon are fast emerging as a threat to Google’s search, with consumers bypassing Google to not just find products but also see reviews that validate their inclination to purchase online and offline. Often, such search formats are used to leverage a better price offline, especially during shopping festivals as evidenced by site traffic in the final week of 2016.

Marketers that ensure a presence of their brand in online marketplaces will come across consumers that are closer to the conversion end of the purchase funnel than at other digital points of sale.


The story is far from over, as virtual and augmented reality steadily emerge as the next era of hands free search and entertainment, prompting an era of gesture-based search and interactions in the near future. How marketers tackle that frontier remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: The marketer that is ready to unlearn the ‘now’ to learn the future will make significant gains in the longer run.


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