If you haven’t noticed, it’s 2016 and we’re in ‘predictions’ season. So here are ours...

We think 2016 will be a huge transitional year for Search as user behaviour will change and Google’s influence will wane. We think that Search as we know it will actually start to disappear (although it has a long way to go yet). Typing a word into a box on a screen this year may no longer be your de facto way of finding out information that you required. Google, Facebook & Twitter have become increasingly intuitive as to the information that you may require, and are better at pushing this to you. The provision of relevant information in a timely manner is a recurring element in the 5 main themes that we’ve identified.   

Google will make Search more customer-centric

Remarketing has been growing in importance in recent years, with programmatic display booming, and of course Paid Search has always been a great way to retarget your audiences. We think it will continue to be very important. We expect Google, Bing et al to develop more features through which you can build out audience segments and re-message them. Other features which will allow ecommerce retailers to deliver more efficient, higher revenue-generating campaigns will be the widespread use of RLSAs for Shopping and Customer Match. Google in particular will push Shopping further – using the opportunity to convert customers within the browser, without losing the user to a convoluted customer journey.

Google will face more competition from other ‘non-Search’ players

The way in which Facebook, Twitter & Apple have been developing their products leads us to believe that Google soon won’t have the monopoly in 'Search-like behaviour'.

Twitter have launched ‘Moments’ which provides real-time, curated content around trending stories – pushed to their users based on their interests. Apple has started tapping into app data and combining that with other local behaviour to build up a picture of the environment in which you currently are. Apple search has interesting potential in location marketing.

Facebook has adapted its platform to allow users to see a greater range of information, within a local context and with peer validation or recommendation. Facebook will move to monetise its business data and try and cut Google out of the research and consideration phase by trying to keep user journeys inside its 1.5bn people walled garden.

Local Marketing will boom – on the back of location data

Google My Business has allowed small local businesses to showcase valuable information about themselves – opening times, phone number, location etc to local audiences who will predominantly visit ‘offline’. This footfall is crucial for many small businesses that are located in ‘dying’ high streets.

Larger brands have realised that they can benefit from this, and services such as Localeze & Yext can amplify their information across a huge array of platforms in an automated fashion. This is increasingly important as we are all ‘mobile’ and more frequently require services within our immediate vicinity.

Because Local and Customer are powering innovation, Google will also give more ecommerce powers to MSBs

Small & local businesses will see developments within Google which will allow them to more easily exploit the opportunities which Google Shopping ads afford.  The Google Merchant Center will allow merchants to enhance their management of products feeds in order to tighten their campaigns.

Retailers will be able to be more agile and responsive and start offering products for sale with a greater range of options, including delivery options. As companies like Amazon continue to roll out same day delivery in certain postcodes, Google will provide tools to allow smaller business the same fulfilment options. Data will be key, but this competitive advantage will allow merchants to compete with the bigger retailers and also reduce their basket abandonment and increase conversion rates.

Display will exceed SEM, because SEM is ‘maxed out’

Predictions have already suggested that in the US Programmatic Display spending will exceed SEM for the first time, due to the respective potential inventories and where each channel is within its own life cycle.

Search budgets are, in the main, very mature and some advertisers are maxed out.  Many advertisers have seen the way companies such as Quantcast can build in depth audience profiles and use first party data to prospect and target similar audiences.

The nature of the way Search campaigns are constructed means that many large advertisers have 100% coverage on a huge range of keywords, and their only opportunity to expand (if Search query volumes for their terms remain flat) is to extend the length of the tail – which can be prohibitively inefficient from a performance perspective.

Obviously the boom in Mobile Search has helped most advertisers expand, but of course Mobile gives advertisers the opportunity to expand across display/programmatic as well, so there’s a more cluttered environment in a much smaller screen. SEM isn’t declining; it’s just growing slightly more slowly than its Programmatic cousin.

So there you have it – our view on some themes which we expect to develop throughout this year. We think it’s a very exciting time to be involved in SEM because for the first time since mobile really exploded, we think we’re going to see a shift in the way users carry out their ‘Search-like behaviour’. Will Apple & Facebook tread on Google’s toes? Will SEM budgets stagnate while Programmatic overtakes? Will Google roll out even more innovative products? We think so. We’ll check back throughout the year to see how we’re faring!