When I was a kid, every household had a copy of the Yellow Pages handy. It was a 5 inch thick book listing every business within shouting distance of your house. You name it, you could find it in there. The more money you had to spend, the bigger your ad was in the book. The bigger your ad was, the more likely you were to get the call for the business. When you weren’t using it to find someone to remove a skunk from the crawlspace under your house, it made for a very handy booster seat for your kids in the car or at the kitchen table. Life was much simpler back then.
If you look at the Yellow Pages today, you’ll notice that it’s a teensy weensy bit smaller than it used to be…ok, so it’s actually a fraction of the size it used to be. So, what happened you ask? Google. As consumers began to find the solutions to their problems by searching online they stopped using the Yellow Pages more and more. As smarter companies began to realize that more business was coming from the Internet they shifted their advertising budgets from the Yellow Pages to search engine marketing like organic SEO and pay-per click advertising. Hence the incredible shrinking book.
Once again here we are again at a potential crossroads. Is it possible we are at the beginning of the end of search as we now know it? Like it or not, things are changing and they are changing fast. Strategies that worked to get you a top rank just a year ago are rendered useless today. Search results are now more and more influenced by stuff like your social activity online, who your “friends” are and what they “like” and other outside influences that are much harder to control and anticipate. Put simply, more and more the actions you and your friends take are directly going to affect the results you are presented when searching.
That’s only the beginning of some of the shifts you can expect to see over the next few years. What effect do you think stuff like mobile, geo targeting and voice recognition is going to have on search? Technology like Apple’s SIRI is a glimpse of where we are going. You don’t even have to search anymore…just bark an order into your phone looking for the nearest pizza place and your phone will take you right there based on your location, skipping the search altogether. How do you as a business plan for a technology that puts so much weight in something that you have no control over like a prospects friends or current location?
At the end of the day, I don’t think any of us know what the next big leap is going to be in search technology or whether it is going to be developed by Google, Apple, Microsoft or a bunch of kids in their Mom’s basement. I do however know that things are moving pretty darn fast and if you don’t recognize these changes and make sure your business is flexible enough to adjust accordingly, you’re going to end up being just like the only guy in town left with a full page ad in the Yellow Pages wondering why the phone hasn’t rung in 10 years.