SEARCH is still a vital part of our personal and business lives. Over the past decade, searching has evolved from text results to richer content delivering images, videos and sound clips depending on your search request.

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The number of ‘search engines’ has decreased dramatically from six or seven to two - Bing and Google (OK, three if we include Duck Duck Go but it’s not about to hit the big time.)

Yet the search industry is still very immature, working hard every day to ensure they deliver the right results for your query. Did you know that every day over 20% of all searches on Google have never been asked before? So every day, Google needs to find new results from its index.

In 2013 we expect to see some major changes in the way that search results are delivered. As a consumer you may see little difference except more relevant search results but as a business there could be major implications.

Let’s take a look at some of the key changes afoot within the search landscape and what they will mean to your business.

The biggest challenge search is trying to conquer is the ability to deliver you answers, not results.

In the past, to gain the most relevant answers one has typed in longer requests. So a search for “Personal Injury Lawyers in Ipswich, Suffolk, UK” would get a more precise result than “Lawyers Ipswich”. The better the result, the more likely you will find what you need and click on the result (which generates income for the search engine.)

The additional terms in that sentence added the context to the query. Stating the type of lawyer and the physical location helped deliver the context to the query and the result.

This context is one of the key elements the search giants are working on, trying to understand the wider elements of your digital life to deliver answers. The context should become the ‘short hand’ allowing users to type in ever shorter search requests.

As mobile search grows in importance so the search results should include the relevance of your location. If you are in a car heading to Colchester, one can assume your search for ‘Chinese Restaurant’ would be relevant for Colchester, so delivering a search result for a London Chinese Restaurant would not be as relevant. New search techniques could pick up on your location and deliver a local result.

This intelligent searching is not just for Google or for typing in requests. Apple’s Siri is starting to deliver contextual results. Ask Siri for the nearest MacDonald’s and it will give you the results sorted by distance from your location. In both examples the location is defined by the GPS in your smartphone.

Google has been working on contextually relevant results for some time. To date this has mostly been around your search history (if you share it with Google) which assumes that if you are typing in BMW, Audi and Range Rover that you may be looking for a new car. The tabs for ‘images’, ‘news’ and ‘videos’ has been Google’s way of asking you to predefine what result you are looking for. Increasingly Google’s ‘blended’ search results are delivering images and video in the main results stream depending on what it thinks you want to see.

Both the Google and Facebook are working hard to ‘learn’ more about their consumer through social networks. The Google Knowledge Graph and Facebook Open Graph are working watching what you like, what you don’t like, what you watch, rate and share, where you check in and more. All of these ‘social signal’s are being picked up from your social presence on Google+ or Facebook.

Already the search results on Google are ranked to include content your connections have liked or shared. Bing does the same if you connect your Facebook account. Facebook itself is planning to launch its own search engine.

The future search results will therefore be much more defined by your social connections and actions than simple text queries. The search engines will try and ‘understand’ your request by combining your search terms, your history and potential context (location, time of day and more.)

As a business this has important ramifications and great opportunities. Search engines are digging deeper and indexing ever more content, from text documents to images your business has the chance to deliver more. Google’s street view is expanding away from the road to index business parks, theme parks and more. The pictures of your business from the inside out now have a place in search results. Your brand’s presence in social networks is now more important than ever. As social starts to meet search, there will no longer be a decision of either or - they both will impact your business.

Google+, which we have covered in previous columns (all available on the EADT site) will come into its own to give early adopting companies a leg up in the search results.

Business keen to benefit from the new age of search need to consider their content - those presentations, that company statement, written documents and photographs all have a role to play in delivering answers to promote your business. Combining your company content with a presence on the social networks will all add to your search potential.

: : Jamie Riddell is an expert in digital trends and a director of Suffolk-based V4 technical, which develops of websites and mobile apps.

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