Google is reinventing search beyond the “10 blue links”

The pandemic digital boom is showing signs of slowing, but tech companies are still preparing for a future where the habits adopted during the period endure. At its annual Marketing Live event on Tuesday, Google addressed the emergence of what it calls “omnibuyers”: consumers who research and navigate more intensely through their online and in-store shopping journeys. With these people in mind, the company is changing core features like search to focus on commerce and visual media, while prioritizing online video through YouTube Shorts and connected TV.

During the presentation, which took place in person this year after being held virtually earlier in the pandemic, Google executives also appeared critical of how their rivals are adjusting to this new economic reality.

“Let’s be clear: it’s not about virtual worlds. It’s about improving the real world today by bringing the best of what the digital world has to offer to the real world,” said chief commercial officer Philipp Schindler in a likely head-butt to Meta Platforms, which has presented the metaverse as the next evolution of the internet. Schindler spoke in a pre-recorded segment due to recent exposure to COVID-19.

Search remains Google’s main revenue engine, and the company has changed the way it works frequently over the years. But the latest Marketing Live made it clear that the platform is undergoing a more substantial overhaul as a result of the pandemic.

In April, Google unveiled a “multi-search” feature which allows users to explore the web using multiple methods, such as taking a photo while asking a question via voice command. Leaders said the way information is consumed is no longer linear. Branching paths require more emphasis on visuals, including advertising.

“We’re reimagining search to help you explore information in a more visual and navigable way,” said Jerry Dischler, vice president and general manager of ads at Google. “Ten blue links may have made sense in the early days of the web, but today information is exploding and there are more choices than ever.”

“With a more visual experience, we will absolutely have more visual ads to make them more useful, inspiring and engaging than ever before,” Dischler added later.

Trade is a big piece of the equation. Later this year, Google will start allowing trademarks to run “highly visual” shopping ads that display images, prices, and reviews in search results. Companies that have 3D models of their products will also be able to run augmented reality (AR) ads directly in search so users can test out what furniture looks like in their living room, for example. The company cited data from a study it commissioned from Ipsos that found that 90% of US consumers surveyed currently use or would consider using augmented reality shopping.

“We believe augmented reality will become the next permanent staple in how shoppers interact with brands and products digitally,” Google Commerce chief Bill Ready said at the conference.

A final research update on the visual front related to loyalty: Merchants will be able in the coming months to promote loyalty programs to users exposed to ads on Google, with a “see more” icon explaining the potential benefits to accumulate points. Loyalty program enrollments can be managed through a goal-based Performance Max platform that aims to convert customers across YouTube, Display, Search, Discovery, Gmail, and Maps.

“AI-based advertising is our future,” said Dischler. “Advertisers who use Performance Max in their account see an average of 13% more incremental conversions, which, especially in today’s business environment, is pretty compelling.”

Climatic changes

New bells and whistles for Google Search are coming as other aspects of the company flag. Parent Alphabet fell short of Wall Street estimates in the first quarter, largely due to YouTube’s underperformance. The platform saw its revenue grow 14% year-on-year to $6.87 billion, while analysts were forecasting growth of around 25%. The rare failure added to a revenue streak that has seen streaming and digital video providers crash of previous pandemic highs.

During Marketing Live, Google continued to highlight YouTube Shorts, a TikTok lookalike that now averages 30 billion daily video views. Starting Tuesday, action video and app campaigns can automatically adapt to the all-new short video format. Later this year, YouTube will also introduce tools to better connect product feeds – previously available in in-stream videos – to Shorts campaigns to make them more buyable, although details were scarce. A similar feature is also coming to the YouTube search function.

Additionally, on the video front, Google Audiences is coming to connected television (CTV) for display and 360 video campaigns. The offering works on Hulu, Peacock and other CTV apps, the speakers said.

Google is shaking up its advertising strategy as it prepares for a more privacy-centric future. The executives cited data that suggests 65% of the world’s population will be covered by modern privacy laws similar to the General Data Protection Regulation by 2023, up from 10% in 2020. Google projects to remove third-party cookies next year and is working on alternative solutions, such as topic targeting, to help marketers stay on course amid the disruption.

“The measure must change in a privacy-safe future. It’s a good thing, even if it’s a bit difficult because we are figuring it out together,” Dischler said. “Because people care about privacy, we as an industry need to rewrite digital advertising for the next chapter.”

Brandon D. James