Google has been getting more personalized little by little for years now, but it's happening much more rapidly these days, and not only is it getting more personalized, it's getting more conversational, in the sense that it's just telling you what you want to know (or at least trying to) without having to point you to third-party sites quite so much.
This presents both pros and cons for businesses, but which there are more of is debatable. What do you think? Is the direction Google is moving in better or worse for businesses? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Google is adding some new Google Now-like functionality to Google Search. Users will be able to ask Google for specific, personal information, and the search engine will retrieve it from across the various services the user uses, like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google+.
"Ever had trouble checking your flight’s status on the go because it meant digging through your email for the flight number?" asks product manager Roy Livne. "Or wanted to just quickly see whether your package would arrive on time, without having to look up the tracking info first? You’ve told us it would be much easier if you could skip the fuss and just ask Google."
Users will be able to ask Google for information on flights, reservations, purchases, plans and photos, and get them right from the search interface. You can ask Google if your flight as time, or say "my reservations" or my hotel" to get info on your plans, including hotel/restaurant names and addresses.
"With one tap, you can get driving or public transit directions straight there, saving you lots of steps," Livne notes.
You can say, "my purchases" and see the status of current orders, or ask "What are my plans for tomorrow?" to see upcoming flights, hotels, restaurant reservations, events, etc.
You can also say something like "show me my photos from Thailand" to see photos from your Google+ account, which will be all the more useful if you've enabled instant upload. It will even recognize something like "my photos of sunsets".
Google actually added this kind of personalized photo search back in May.
The new stuff will be rolling out to all U.S. users in English on the desktop, tablet and smartphones, with Voice Search.
This all expands on the conversational search features Google launched a few months ago, but it's also a just part of an ongoing trend we've seen with Google over the last couple years.
The search engine (originally designed to surface content from across the web) is continually becoming more of a personal assistant. Google has been personalizing results to some extent for years, but the company really started pushing personalization with "Search Plus Your World" launched early last year. As we recently reported, by the way, Google is no longer labeling the personalized results the way it used to.
Other personalization efforts have come in the forms of the field trial that let users opt in to include content from Gmail, Calendar, and Drive in their search results, and Google Now, which utilizes your personal information from across Google services and presents it to your when it thinks it might be of use.
Again, more personal assistant than search engine.
But Google Now, when it came out, was somewhat separate from search. Google appears to be doing everything it can these days to keep you in the Google universe, rather than truly searching the web. Searching the web (organic search) is almost a secondary thing at this point. Just an added service that Google provides when it doesn't really know what you're looking for.
The good news about all of this personalization and "quick answers" from the business perspective is that businesses have new avenues to get in front of users in Google search that basically sidestep past SEO strategies. With Google integrating Gmail into search, for example, businesses may be able to get emailed information in front of users when they're simply searching. There's no reason not to assume that Google won't continue to expand on these features.
It's already getting harder to get in front of Gmail users thanks to Google's recent Gmail redesign, and additional integration into search could be a blessing in disguise. Search ads have always been attractive to businesses because they get messages in front of users right when they're searching for that particular need. Increased Gmail integration into Google search could provide a similar effect for email marketing messages. Of course, this really comes down to Google's implementation.
Activity on Google+ is also more likely to find its way into search. You get the idea.
The point is that the more Google integrates its various services into search, the more businesses will be able to get out of these services. Rather than trying to outrank competitors with SEO tactics, businesses could end up better off by simply being better at working the greater Google universe. As Google continues to integrate its various offerings in different ways, businesses should also look to integrate these offerings into their strategies.
Google just launched some new business features (and an API) for Google+ this week, for example. This might be a good place to start looking at possibilities.
And don't forget that authorship, which may already be playing a significant role in Google rankings these days, is directly tied to Google+.
Do you see Google's increased focus on personalization and direct answer-providing as a positive evolution for businesses or is it just going to make things harder? Tell us what you think.