- Issue #6 February 2019 -
The future of search engine advertising
Search engine advertising is about providing the right content to your targeted audience at the right time. It is about providing the right answers to people’s queries in a personalised and digestible format.
As technology continues to improve, advertisers find it more and more easy to address people’s queries through search engine optimisation with the use of automated tools and plugins. But, as advances in technology makes it easier to optimise content, there is a corresponding surge in users’ expectation to have their queries answered in the most accurate, informative and authoritative manner, whilst keeping the interface and the content simple to use and understand respectively.
For marketers, this technological evolution allows them to deliver highly targeted and intelligent advertising messages based on personal and behavioural data of customers collected through their browsing, shopping and social media history and activities.
So what opportunities do search provide to marketers and businesses?
Real-time expectations, personalization and big data
People want information on the go and on any given topic. As marketers compete with one another to get their message (content) in front of the users by having their content rank on the first page of Google, Bing or other search engines, the expectation that any search will be adequately addressed will only grow.
It is fast becoming the norm for people to search any query into their device and expect to receive highly accurate answers based on the searchers’ location, preferences, demographic information and thousands of other data points. The advertising messages you see will be personalised based on months and years of behavioural trends, as well as online and offline activities.
Ads will be triggered based on the weather outside, the store you just walked past, or the birthday party you have coming up next weekend. And these ads won’t just pop up in search engines. They’ll be everywhere. In mobile apps, across your favorite websites and even on digital billboards.
The users’ digital footprints will almost inform the users as to their future intent without the user knowing it themselves. That in essence will be the future of search.
The BIG data used to deliver those highly targeted messages will comprise of more than just an email address and some recent web browsing history. The BIG data will in fact comprise of the most-minute personal details such as a person’s hobbies, dating history, the apps they use, the books they read, every online purchase ever made and the ads they click on. All this information will be aggregated to provide the most personalised and out of the box solutions to queries that people make on search engines.
Your smartphone, powered by Siri or Cortana, will recognise that it’s your anniversary tomorrow and will suggest buying flowers and gifts as well as giving you the address of the nearest florist and gift shops. As it turns out, that specific florist has a sale on and you were just told about it by a computer.
This is what search advertising will evolve to be.
Voice search and multi-platform advertising
Voice search is destined to overtake text-based search queries in the years to come. Voice search is different to text-based search in that it is, as much as possible, modelled on the natural human language. Instead of typing well thought-out keywords to see your desirable search results, in voice search, you simply need to search for the information you need by asking the search question in the way you would if you were to ask another person.
Voice search is built on a more complex technology which is why oice search is currently the purview of technology giants such as Cortana (Microsoft), Siri (Apple) and Google Now (Google).
Visual search is the process of using mobile phones or tablets as a discovery engine by taking photos and using them as search stimulus to find the desirable search results. The benefit of visual search is that searchers (usually consumers) can search for products or services without needing to describe them or without having to think of well thought-out search keywords to return highly relevant search results.
Visual search is also a lot more broad in the sense that the searcher can upload a photo as a pictorial representation of what they are interested and the search engine will use the information contained within the photo to return search results. This is bound to return a broader set of search results than text based search where you usually have a series of similar or identical information in response to your search but from different sources.
This can be placed in the wider context of “queryless search,” a development that sees search engines either preempt or interpret a consumer’s intent without the need for an explicit query.
In fact, Gartner thinks that by 2020, 30 percent of all searches will be conducted without a screen, while over 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality by the end of this decade.
Visual search is in prime position to benefit from these trends. Early leaders in the field include Pinterest, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and a host of retailers who can see the huge opportunity visual search presents.
What Should Lawyers Know About Voice Search?
As a lawyer, you likely are accustomed to asking the questions. But more and more of your potential clients are vocalizing their own queries – literally.
Voice search is on the rise. Law firms that value search engine optimization (SEO) must adjust their marketing strategies so voice-first devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Voice search is based on how people talk
For a long time, people have been typing as few words as possible into search and perusing the list of results to find the information they need. For example, if someone wished to speak to an employment attorney about a wrongful termination claim they wanted to file, then they searched for “employment lawyer” or “employment law firm.” Search marketers would pinpoint the best keywords and work on getting their websites ranked the highest for those terms.
With voice search, typing is no longer necessary so additional words require minimal extra effort to include. Searches often turn into complete sentences. People ask their digital voice assistants questions that sound like they are talking to another human, i.e., “What is the name of an employment lawyer who can help me with my wrongful termination claim?”
To get your law firm’s website cited as a response for a voice search, make sure you have content that includes the answer as well as the question. Frequently asked question pages are more important than ever. To build your FAQ page, think like a prospective client and compile a list of questions they would ask. And when you get a question from an actual prospective client, add it to the page. Your answers to the questions should be informative, authoritative and conversational in tone.
Local marketing is key
A big benefit of voice search people mention is the ability to do it hands free. When people are looking for answers on the fly, they likely want an immediate fix, something nearby. Employing local SEO tactics has always been crucial in the traditional search marketing space. With voice search, following the basic tenets of SEO to get the prospective clients in your area is indispensable – especially for lawyers as they typically practice regionally.
Check your content to make certain there are numerous references to the place(s) where your firm is located: the city, county and state. Confirm your law firm’s address is correctly entered in online directories and mapping services. Gather reviews and always encourage clients to rate your services. The more reviews you receive and the better the ratings, the higher you will show up in local results.
Search marketing is always evolving
The latest trend in SEO is another reminder that law firms need to constantly re-evaluate and retool their search marketing strategies based on new developments in technology and changes in people’s habits. What works one year for your firm may not work the next. Likewise, concerning voice search, SEO strategies that are successful for one voice-first device may not work for another.
At the moment, some of the leading digital assistants include Siri on the iPhone, Alexa from Amazon and “Hey Google” from Google. Alexa uses Bing and Amazon data from a person’s individualized shopping tendencies. Google Home uses Google data. Siri had used Bing data but recently switched to relying more on Google.
It is too early to know all the ways voice search may change the search marketing landscape. At the moment, though, voice-first devices and digital assistants are what people are talking about – and talking to.
The future of search
It is almost inconceivable to think that little over 20 years ago search as a concept meant going to your local library or book store to find the information you needed. It also sounds almost ridiculous that in those pre-Google days search was the purview of the academic researches, geeks and those investigating specific topics or subject matters.
It is no exaggeration that search has come a long way in a very short space of time. Search is now pervasive in all areas of our lives: personal, professional and business. More importantly, the internet has allowed search to seamlessly become weaved into the fabric of our lives.
It is, therefore, appropriate to ask what the future of search is and where search is headed in the future?
The common consensus, based on recent developments in the field of search, is that the immediate future of search (the next 5 – 10 years) will be driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence. The beginning of this trend has already been heralded by Google’s RankBrain algorithm. The RankBrain algorithm is an improvement on its predecessor in that it focuses on the context of the user’s search query rather than the actual keywords. In other words, the search engine tries to figure out what the user wants to find out by taking into account not only the search keywords entered but also, the user’s location, previous search history, time, date and other characteristics. This allows the user to find what they are looking for faster as well as providing results which the user did not intend to search but may nevertheless find helpful.
The use of natural language processing will also become more prevalent in the search arena. Today, the search engine takes a set of keywords as the input and returns a list of rank-sorted links as the output. This will slowly fade and the new search framework will have questions as the input and answers as the output. The nascent form of this new framework is already available in search engines like Google and Bing.
Natural language search is search carried out in everyday language, phrasing questions as you would ask them if you were talking to a friend, family member or anyone you come across in any given context. These queries can be typed into a search engine, spoken aloud with voice search, or posed as a question to a digital assistant like Siri or Cortana.
Another important component in future search engines could be the inclusion of context and personalization. Because mobile is becoming the primary form of consumption, future search engines will try to use powerful sensing technologies like accelerometer, digital compass, gyroscope and GPS. Google recently bought a company called Behavio which predicts what a user might do next by using the information acquired from the different sensors on the user’s phone.
Systems like Google Now and Microsoft Cortana do not use the traditional keyword based search. They try to provide the answer before the user has the chance to ask the question. With the proliferation of recommendation engines, this trend will continue. The future of search is “understanding” the web and not merely “indexing” the web.
Conversation search is another trend that is likely to continue. Systems like Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google voice make the future search engine seem more like a virtual personal assistant. They use search history, social media interactions, email conversations and other information that can be gleaned from the user’s internet usage and offer the relevant content recommendation. Search will also start to do things instead of simply suggesting. If we need to book movie ticket, we will soon be able to ask the future search engine to do it for us.
Networked specialist law firms: A new horizon for the legal industry
This landmark transformation is already taking shape in the legal industry. Different technology based platforms have attempted this model in different ways. The most notable example of networked lawyering is Lex Mundi Alliance. Lex Mundi is a network of law firms from over 100 countries with expertise in the gaming industry, allowing member firms to offer clients an integrated solution to their legal and regulatory needs across multiple jurisdictions. Lex Mundi member firms are top-tier law firms in their respective jurisdictions and among the most experienced.
They deliver indigenous insight, a market-specific focus and global connections to a diverse range of domestic and international clients. Each member firm is admitted only after substantial due diligence and must undergo regular quality and peer review procedures in order to retain membership in the exclusive Lex Mundi network. The key differentiators for Lex Mundi Alliance are their vast resources and their broad coverage. With 21,000 lawyers in more than 100 countries, it has the resources and the reach to compete with the most established players in the legal market. It means that in each of the world’s key business destinations, there’s a Lex Mundi member firm ready to assist. It is of course the case that the silver and magic circle law firms all have satellite offices in every commercial hub. But that’s exactly what sets Lex Mundi apart from the traditional market leaders. Lex Mundi member firms are top-tier law firms in their respective jurisdictions, and among the most experienced and knowledgeable in the world. They deliver indigenous insight, a market-specific focus, and global connections to a diverse range of domestic and international clients.
Being a Lex Mundi member firm means being ‘world ready,’ providing the insight, innovation, resources and cross-border connections to help the member firms’ clients meet the challenges of doing business in virtually any market, virtually anywhere in the world. So when a client of a member firm in one jurisdiction needs specialist lawyers in another jurisdiction, the Lex Mundi member firm there will know the courts, they’ll know the government agencies, they’ll know the business environment – they’re really tuned in to the local market.
In an increasingly networked world, this seems to me to be a model for the future; where smaller, more autonomous, more agile, specialist groups from all over the world come together to form a “super firm” when needed and then continue as specialist local firms when not.
For example, twenty four Lex Mundi member firms helped General Motors with Chevrolet’s exit from Europe. Lex Mundi was able to undertake this complex deal by enabling each of its 24 member firms to advise on the deal for their respective jurisdictions, with the overall effort being co-ordinated and led by Houthoff Buruma, Lex Mundi member firm for the Netherlands. So the client had a single point of contact and one bill but was able to leverage an entire network of specialist local firms.
Lex Mundi’s business model is agile, nimble, forward-looking, cost-effective and almost risk free. Contrast this with the fight to the death attitude among traditional big players who continue to believe that the only way to gain market leadership is by creating ‘super firms’ through mergers. More often than not mergers lead to cultural clashes between the mergers firms whilst the process of homogenising the two merging firms may not always be successful. It is quite possible that in the future more networked entities will emerge that will compete with one another as well as the traditional city firms. One thing is clear though: technological innovation will create new business models for law firms that will allow them to scale up in ways that were previously unimaginable and that in itself carries the biggest risk to the incumbent market leaders in the legal industry.
The law firm of the future
The law firm of the next 5 -15 years will look significantly different to the law firms of today. They will leverage technological innovation to automate standardised tasks and to augment what lawyers are capable of including creating the tools to augment lawyers’ reasoning abilities and negotiating skills. The narrative that lawyers will be replaced by robots in the future is largely misconceived. Lawyers will continue practising law but technology will play a huge role in how they practice law and as law firms begin to innovate to keep up with client demand and to find a competitive edge, they will consider new ways of operating that can encourage innovation. This shift will invariably force law firms to renounce the old fashioned top down, command and control method of doing business as it will be too slow to react and unable to make fast enough decisions.
The law firms of the future will create operational framework for innovation and will see innovation as the new platform for gaining a competitive edge or even surviving in an already super competitive market. The advancement of technology is causing businesses to go through one of the largest shifts since the Industrial Revolution. This digital transformation is forcing organisations to rethink everything about the way they do business. The firms and people that will be successful in this new era will embrace new ways of working, collaboration and teamwork.