Since the dawn of the internet, businesses have been collecting data about our online habits. These organisations have a huge amount of information about us, but Google knows more about you than most.
Every search you ever made tells a story about what you were doing and what you were thinking at a specific moment in your life. A few of those searches put together starts to put a narrative together and with a bit more analysis Google could probably write an epic about your life over the last 15 or 20 years.
Google can’t paint a very accurate picture of who you are from these searches. It can speculate about your interests and the secrets you would never tell another human being. Yep, you just poured your heart and soul out to a faceless corporation.
And it’s not just about the searches you’ve made, it’s about how you’ve engaged with the SERPs that have resulted from those queries and it’s not even just about Google! You’ve used YouTube to watch countless videos of cats being hilarious. You’ve let Google track your every movement through Google Maps. And you’ve let Google track everything you’ve ever done on the ubiquitous website visitor tracking package, Google Analytics.
Google has now come up with a fun idea about what it can do with everything it has learned about you over the years, as well as everything it has estimated about you. Now it’s going to deliver you a personalised information feed. It’s going to predict exactly what you want possibly before you even know you want it!
To begin with, this will appear in Google’s app but it won’t be long before this is heading for browser-based search results.
This is the big G’s version of Facebook News Feed, but better. Fewer friends and more data should give much better results.
There will be everything from links to news stories (utilising very on-trend cards-based UX), YouTube videos, sports, recipes as well as a whole host of other types of content based on what Google predicts you’re most interested in seeing there and then.
The rollout will begin with the inclusion of the feed under the search box in the Google app, then they’ll integrate it with the launcher on Pixel and once they’ve learned as much as they can from how it’s used there, they will add it to Google’s search pages.
You might be scratching your head and wondering if this is all sounding familiar. If it is, then that’s because Google has played with various feeds in the past. You may – or may not! – remember Google Now. Google Now used your interests and information from your calendar and inbox to try to determine what to show you.
But although this may feel like Google Now, it’s what’s under the hood that counts. For example, the new system can work out what your new or casual interests are and what you’ve been interested in for a long time.
So we’re all going to live in an even bigger filter bubble right? Wrong! According to Google the new algorithm will fact check and provide various perspectives and viewpoints. This will ensure you don’t have another moment where you’re woken by a drunken Nigel Farage declaring the UK’s independence day when you were as confident as the leading Brexit politicians that the UK would remain in the EU.
As discussed the feed won’t purely be based on your search history. Every day Google tells me how long it will take me to get to the office in Manchester. Somehow, and I’ve never told it this, it seems to know that I get a certain bus for part of my journey and drive part of the way. I guess we’ll see a lot more of that.
So if you’re going on holiday it’s likely that Google’s going to tell you what the weather will be like at your destination, any local news that may be relevant and show you some information about things you could be interested in when you get there. I love exploring castles so hopefully, it would show me some good ones!
But it’s not all going to be plain sailing. Both for the public in general, for business as a whole and for the SEOs who are trying to get their client’s websites to rank.
Your search history is bound to be full of the odd bit of information that you wouldn’t want to be all over your computer at work for example. I’ve been a freemason for around a decade but it’s not something that I advertise, especially professionally due to a certain amount of stigma surrounding it. However as I learn more about Freemasonry and study its various rituals and symbolic meanings; as Google will often have to give me directions to various Masonic halls and as I’m mentioned on various Masonic websites, it’s really easy for Google to work out that I’m a freemason and serve content accordingly. This can be a problem is my colleagues are sat over my shoulder at the time. More than once, remarketing has outed me. Imagine if you had some kind of illness that you didn’t want your work colleague to know about, or if you were going through a particularly difficult patch in your marriage.
As a seasoned user of Google Chrome, you might think just use incognito mode, but many IT departments are becoming wise to this and block Incognito mode altogether to ensure they are protected from the activities of their team.
All is not lost though. You will be able to unfollow certain topics and the algorithm will automatically block some content from being served – think racism, porn etc. They’ll also be careful when it comes to certain sensitive interests (although how they define sensitive is yet to be seen).
There’s also going to be the nuclear option. You will be able to opt-out of the Google Feed altogether. However, I’d suggest you don’t. This is part of the new internet paradigm – the changing way we find content online. Google has big plans for this feature and it’s clear they see it as a big part of their future offering.
Don’t think for a minute that this isn’t a big change either. Many people will see the change and not really recognise its size or magnitude. But it is big. Google created one of the most basic UX designs imaginable when they developed Google.com back in 1996. But now they are going to move away from simplicity in favour of more information, based on data.
They did have a practice with Google+ of course. But the thing about Google+ and the reason I believe it failed is that Google is a search engine first and foremost. It’s about finding information. This goes right back to their basic function. They are helping people find information – but the genius is they are helping people find that information before they’ve even asked. This has to be a good thing.
Of course, this move is about Google protecting its monopoly in the search market. If it doesn’t do this, another tech company could spring up with some kind of artificial intelligence that delivers content based on predictions. If that were to happen Google would be done for. In the same way, Google displaced all those other search engines when it came out with the world beating Pagerank all those years ago.
You’ve only got to look at the other tech giants to see this is a trend. Amazon, Facebook, Uber etc, each one of them has a form of artificial intelligence in their systems.
Of course, this does sound alarm bells for one of Google’s core features, and their major revenue stream. And it should also make us as marketers and business owners questions what the future holds as well. Because what happens to Google’s Adwords when we don’t pay for ads based on specific keywords. Bear in mind here that Google generates 99.9% of its income from search, display and video advertising. That’s a massive shift!
And the thing is, this artificial intelligence, that predicts what you want and when you want it, is slowly starting to decrease people’s need for search engines. And that’s a trend that we’re going to see growing over the next few years.
I honestly believe that in the coming decade we’ll get to the point where there will be no need for Google search in the way we know it today because artificial intelligence will have automated the experience and requirements.
Without a doubt, there will still be a requirement for search. In the same way, there is a requirement for books in a library. But before you know it, Search will become a secondary source. And this has serious implications for businesses and search marketers as well because we’ll have to SEO for a completely different kind of usage.
If you’re thinking I’m wrong and that search will last forever you only have to look at the makeup of Google itself. It’s not long ago that Google formed a new parent company: Alphabet. They didn’t call it Google. They called it something different because they know eventually search and the advertising revenues will decline. Before that happens Alphabets role is to diversify and get ready for searchageddon.
Time will tell what this new feed means for businesses and how we need to react in order to get our websites featured. But the key point is this. Google’s move towards this feed means the demise of Google search as we know it is happening. We need to be ready for it.