Google is the reigning champion of the Internet. Whatever moves the company makes toward new technologies, new products, or new online policies, the rest of the digital world tends to follow. In that sense, Google is a trendsetter, and understanding Google’s vision for the future can help digital marketers prepare for the next phases of an ever-evolving world.
Today, the preeminent concern for most businesses is how new mobile devices—most notably, smart watches and other wearable devices—are going to shape how people find and retrieve information. For companies who have invested countless time and significant money into their website and SEO strategy, the notion of wearable devices changing the scope of Internet use from the ground up is worrying. What’s worse is that the future is unknown, meaning it’s nearly impossible to adequately prepare for the changes that are coming.
However, Google has made a number of moves lately that suggest its vision for the future of mobile. By studying these moves, as well as the types of mobile technology that await us in the future, we can make a reasonable prediction for how online interactions, social strategies, and SEO should develop.
Google has been a proponent of mobile-optimized websites for years now, but its impending update on April 21st promises to reshape the world of mobile ranking once again. Up until this point, sites that have been optimized for mobile get a slight ranking boost over sites that aren’t mobile friendly—even on desktop searches.
The details of the April 21st update are still foggy, but we do know that it’s going to completely change how Google evaluates which sites are “mobile friendly” and which are not. It’s also going to carry a stiffer penalty for sites that aren’t mobile optimized by the time of the algorithm change’s launch—and rumor has it, this update will be more impactful than either Google Panda or Penguin, two previous game-changers in the search engine world. We also know that the algorithm will look at sites in a yes/no evaluation. Rather than judging mobile friendliness on a sliding scale, sites will either be optimized or not optimized.
This update is important because it shows how serious Google is about ensuring a quality mobile experience. More and more people are relying on mobile devices for their online use, and Google intends to expedite that shift in whatever ways it can.
Google has also recently begun indexing mobile apps, much in the same way that it currently indexes full websites. Users searching for specific apps or keywords related to those apps will be able to find them easily, even when they aren’t accompanied by a traditional website.
Though a bit of a stretch at this point, apps are starting to grow in popularity when compared to traditional web use. Rather than relying on the conventional process of pulling up a browser, going to a search engine, looking for a site, then using the site for a purpose, apps consolidate that process down to simply pulling up and using a single app. As the number and diversity of apps continue to expand, it’s reasonable to expect that people will be relying on the traditional web (and traditional websites) less. This effect is compounded by the decreasing screen size of mobile devices, which make touch-based apps far easier to use than web browsers. Google appears to be under the same impression, meaning in the future, it may be important or even necessary to be involved in the app game, instead of only relying on your online presence.
Google has also made moves in terms of how it pulls and evaluates its information. Over the past few years, Google has formed partnerships with other applications to pull different types of niche information, both to display in search results and to use as part of its more traditional ranking algorithm. For example, Google relies on the quantity and quality of reviews on Yelp for local businesses to partially determine ranks. It also pulls in live tweet information from Twitter in response to trending or news-based queries.
This shows that Google has a vision of a more interconnected online world, where instead of building isolated towers, Internet companies work together as co-dependent hubs in a vast, interconnected network. In the new mobile world, this would mean more information and more functionality is available immediately, without the need to hunt it down from different providers. For businesses, that means getting involved on as many platforms and as many apps as possible.
Google is also stepping away from traditional search results, instead favoring its new Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph, which collects information from around the web and presents it in the form of a “quick answer” for certain types of user queries, is growing, and it’s already taking some traffic away from otherwise high-ranked sites. This shows that Google isn’t concerned about taking people to the right website when they have a need or a question; if Google has the answers, it’s going to be more than happy to give those answers up front, with no other website needed.
It’s impossible to predict exactly how the web or mobile technology is going to develop from here, but Google’s agenda remains pretty clear: do whatever it takes to improve online user experience. With that vision in mind, there are a few steps you can take now to start preparing for that future. Get involved on other apps and platforms. Hedge your bets by launching an app. Make sure your site is responsive, and above all, give your users the value they crave in whatever form you can.