Do You See What She Sees? Google’s Maile Ohye Gives us a Glimpse at Search in 2017

Change is afoot! Are you ready?


After having our minds properly melted by all the phenomenal presentations during Day One of State of Search , Google’s own Maile Ohye capped it off with a killer keynote on what we can expect from Google Search in 2017. It was a rather exclusive presentation, hence the Google Overlords have decreed that Maile’s slide deck shan’t be shared — but fret not! That’s why we’re rolling out a wrap-up post loaded with embedded tweets; to make sure you’re getting the hot new info you’re looking for. We gotchu covered, fam.

So what did Maile cover that we can’t share in the full glory of the slides? Truth be told, her presentation shared a lot of DNA with Danny Sullivan’s opening keynote about the current state of search (pun obviously intended) and what we’ll be looking at moving forward. Each of the keynote speakers presented on topics such as entities, mobile, bots, and home assistants. It was fascinating to see the presentation-overlap from someone who has dedicated his professional life to writing about search, and the Googler who pioneered Webmaster Tools (aka Search Console). But where Danny focused on staying curious about search to stay agile, Maile focused on user experience and how we, as marketers, can shape our efforts to meet our audience/customers right where they are.

The SEO journey of yesteryear is, in many ways, dramatically different to now. While old school SEO tactics can still earn you some wins, the way people search today has shifted on a fundamental level. Mobile search traffic has surpassed desktop traffic worldwide — and nearly 1/3 of all mobile searches are local searches. And to add a cherry on top of this triple-tier change, location-related mobile searches are growing 50% faster than all mobile searches. Yeah, go ahead and wrap your head around that for a moment.

This is why Google is switching to a mobile first index — which Jennifer Slegg covered extensively in her presentation which also included  Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) — but thinking even further ahead, Maile said Google is shifting from a mobile first world to an AI-first world. We see this in the way more and more cars are supporting Android Auto (over 200 models from 50 different brands), enabling you to say “OK Google” and have instant access to features on your phone, integrated directly into your vehicle. We see it in the rise of customizable smart watches, and the rise of Amazon Echo and Google Home, all of which give you the ability to search in new and innovative ways.

We are getting to the point where we can have more complex and nuanced conversations with our devices, thanks to semantic search. In fact, 20% of queries are voice queries, and the Google app understands speech in 55 languages (it’s some kind of über polyglot). And if you’re not one for voice chat, automated bots are becoming increasingly popular, particularly for service-based brands. Maile even admired the way you can loop Bing’s Cortana into a text conversation to find more information about whatever you’re talking about.

All of this is to say the way we search is so much more than typing in a little box on Google’s home page. And it’s absolutely necessary for marketers to understand this, because we have to figure out how to get ahead of the curve and provide the info our customers are searching for. Search engines are just the vessel. We have to fill them with content.

Of course, not all content is created equal, and as we move into the mobile first paradigm, we have to make sure everything we create loads as quickly as possible. Did you know 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes more than 3 seconds to load? It doesn’t matter if you have the best information on the web, people don’t have the time or patience to wait for your site to load. They can find the information somewhere else that’s faster — but if you really want to set yourself apart from the pack, you should also think about the greater user experience. Customers want a fast, seamless experience, yes. But they also want increased utility; they want content that’s entertaining, value-affirming, personalized, secure, and/or informative.

This is why AMP is such a huge deal, because it loads lightning fast and can help you deliver exactly what your customers want. It’s also becoming the norm, as there are now 600 million AMP pages in Google’s index, from 700,000 domains, across 230 countries, in 1,000 languages. As I mentioned before, Jennifer Slegg spoke extensively on the topic, but Maile had some extra little tidbits to share.

For example, 99% of AMP page loads are faster than 8 seconds, and there’s an under 1 second median load time for all AMP pages loaded from Google Search. Given the fact that LTE has slowed by 50% in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016, this is near-miraculous news to both searchers and marketers. Maile also highlighted some incredible case studies about the marketing power of AMP — like how one study saw a 23% increase in mobile search users who returned within 7 days of viewing an AMP page — but we’ll save you some time and link to it right here so you can read it at your leisure.

Maile also covered Progressive Web Apps (PWA), which have the ability to work offline, send push notifications, and even add an icon to the mobile device’s home screen, all without requiring the customer to go to the app store. PWAs are not as widely used as AMP (only 50,000 domains), but one retailer saw a 26% average increase in spend by members who visited via push, and 72% more time was spent on the site per visit from members who visited via push notifications. Of course, not every brand will benefit from PWAs, and you need an HTTPS site in order to use them, but it’s something to take note of as we’re moving into a new year of changing search protocols.

So what does this all mean for you and your brand? It means you need to be adaptable and flexible. It means you need to do your research to see where your customers are. Building personas is absolutely critical for any digital marketing strategy, because it allows you to understand how your customers think and feel and act — you know, practice a little empathy.

Just be sure you’re not accidentally creating a persona for yourself!

It was an amazing keynote, and I think Matt Decuir summed up exactly how we all felt.

Don’t miss out on this kind of awesome next year – register now for State of Search 2017!

That’s right, tickets are already on sale for next year, and they’re at the lowest price they’ll ever be. Register today to make sure you’re in the audience for the next mind-blowing session.

Writer, blogger, SEO guy. Timothy volunteers his writing skillz for DFWSEM / State of Search. He also writes about movies and shows and nerdy stuff. To read this wicked-fresh content, and learn more about all things SEO / nerd-culture, you can follow him on Twitter – @timothuney