In this interview, Ken and Dixon discuss what they think Google’s future will hold looking at topics such as Google providing journeys for searches, concentrating more on query less search as well as moving from text-based search to visual.
Transcript of Interview with Ken McGaffin and Dixon Jones
Ken: Okay, Dixon. So Google is 20 years old today.
Dixon: Yeah, would you believe it?
Ken: It’s kept us amused for the last 20 years.
Dixon: You and I remember when it started.
Ken: So what about the next 20 years? What do you think Google will hold for us in the next 20 years?
Dixon: Well, it’s kind of interesting. The idea for Google over the last 20 years, as the audience will know, that it was trying to organize the world’s information, although it started off by having other phrases like don’t be evil, but organize the world’s information. And Ben Gomes, who’s a Googler I don’t know, talked about the next 20 years on the Google blog and he said that they’re going to focus on three core areas. The first is moving from providing answers to searches to providing journeys for searches. Now that is kind of interesting. The second one is that they’re going to start concentrating more and more and more on query less search. And the third one is moving from what he described text search, text-based search, to visual.
Ken: Well, let’s go for the first one there that you mentioned.
Dixon: So moving from answers to journeys. Now what Google are meaning by this, as Ben explains it, is they’re going to kind of move so that your search can follow you through your own buying behaviour or your own discovery behaviour. And that has to be predicated by being able to first follow you across different journeys because when you discover something for the first time, when you search for something for the first time, that may be a completely different device, a different location, different mind-set to when you’re then trying to compare products or compare flights or compare different ideas and you’re sort of honing and filtering down [inaudible 00:01:44] so you may be in a different place. And then when you’re going to buy something, you may actually go on your phone or you may be in a store for all that matter, so there’s going to be different phases and they want to follow that journey and help you through that whole journey.
Ken: So let me get this right. What is happening is Google wants to understand the journey and its algorithm will take us through that journey and each device that from all its years of experience [inaudible 00:02:11]
Dixon: Well, they’ve been building it up a long, long time. There’s a number of posts out there about the kind of data that Google is collecting about us as individuals, which gives it some other challenges that it’s going to come with, and I’m not going to talk about those today, but certainly they do want to try and help you, yes, to follow your mind-set almost.
Ken: So what implications does that have, first of all, for designing websites but also then for optimizing them?
Dixon: I think the first thing is that a lot of people in our…When we started out in the industry, you know, a lot of affiliates, for example, just trying to get the first jump in because they could lay down a cookie, get the commission at the end of it, and that’d be great. So as long as they heard about the brand from your website, then you could get the commission. So they were just concentrating on one part of the user journey. The problem is that Google now is going to really not consider an individual website. They might take people to different websites in different parts of the user journey but realistically you need to think about that whole buying life cycle. So you need to be able to educate…Well, you need to be able to create automization ideas for discovery. So, you know, where should I eat in town? Or, you know, what’s the best food in Birmingham or whatever it may be. And then as people then follow that through and say, you know, give me the three best Chinese restaurants in Birmingham, and then, you know, what’s the price of the Chinese and do they do takeout? All of those different bits, you need to have content for those kind of mind-sets.
Ken: So that sort of content, so we as well have to anticipate what that journey is and we have to create content for each step along the way.
Dixon: I think you should. I think you should. And I think that you need to…You can certainly use your own logs and your own data to try and find out where people are losing their current traction in your own buying process, checkout process, whatever it may be. But if you’re just an informational site, then that’s going to be dangerous. You’re still in a thin content layer and new sites have that challenge as well. So new sites have a little bit of a challenge and they need to get to the nub of a story, to the heart of a story. If you think about a story like Watergate, for example, you know, The Washington Post really was at the root of that story, you know, all those years ago for those that weren’t born at the time, you know, it was a long time ago, but, you know, ultimately it was The Washington Post’s story. And so I would imagine today Google would carry on trying to find other places but the algorithms would all lead it back to the authority, to the source, which would be The Washington Post.
Ken: Does that mean that The Washington Post would also have to make the story more complete by looking at all the stages [inaudible 00:04:58] by linking it to other…
Dixon: Well, it might be that they’ve got to spend more time verifying their sources. I mean, I would say [inaudible 00:05:03] at The Post would argue they always do but, you know, a website needs [inaudible 00:05:07]
Ken: And then prove that they’ve verified the sources [inaudible 00:05:09].
Dixon: Yeah. And then be fundamentally at the heart of the story that breaks. You know, they’ve got to the originator of the story that breaks but be able to back up all of its bits and pieces so that, you know, all roads lead to Rome and, you know, they will go back to the source story. So it does mean that, you know, if The Sun and The Mirror and The Telegraph and The Daily Express are all trying to report the same story, which of course happens every day, doesn’t it?
Ken: Of course.
Dixon: Basically it goes to the news and they’re all reporting the same story. Over stateside, they may have, you know, the Fox version and the CNN version, which may be two different plays of the same story, but ultimately, you know, Google’s going to be trying to…Google’s algorithms are going to be trying to see through that and take you through to that source story where it actually came from.
Ken: Okay. So does that mean that Google then is going to concentrate on the actual first step, the story as it was broken? Or is it…?
Dixon: I think Google is going to concentrate on you as the user and where you are in that journey. And that’s partly helped by what you search. So if you say, I don’t know, there’s just been, you know, a terrible tsunami in the Philippines, in Indonesia, so, you know, so if you’re going to say, you know, tsunamis, then that’s a very different kind of search to tsunami in Indonesia which kind of spikes with conversations that people are having around the world about, you know, one particular tsunami and now you’re not looking for generic information about tsunamis. But then as you go through, you may be really wanting to know about the victims that are in there, you may be wanting to know about the recovery efforts that are in there, you might be wanting to know about, you know, the source of the tsunami and the earthquake that was behind it and that sort of thing. So they’re going to try to understand what you want and then bring that information to you, not necessarily, by the way, taking you to the website, which is probably a story for another day.
Ken: But that’s another matter because that information almost belongs to the journalist or the newspaper that published it.
Dixon: Well, I think that that is a very interesting problem for the world. And I think that there’s different legislation and different approaches to it in Europe versus America as well. So, you know, we’re not lawyers but I think there is certainly going to be this how do I protect my story kind of attitude from journalists.
Ken: Okay. You mentioned earlier on looking for a Chinese restaurant. Now that’s a very search-based thing. If we’re in Birmingham tonight and we want to go to a Chinese restaurant, yes, a search is a really good way of doing that and we want an instant answer. But say we were looking for a new video camera, for instance, and we wanted to research brands or whatever. Is that then a more complicated process? Are they going to take us down the brand route? Or are they going to take us down the route that…
Dixon: Well, jumping to the last point on that article, maybe this is a good time to bring it up really, which is moving towards visual search. So whether you’re looking for Chinese takeaways in Birmingham or whether you’re looking for a new camera, I think Google’s observation is that there’s a lot more that Google can tell you in a picture. So if you’re talking about cameras, if it starts delivering to you just cameras with, you know, the reviews, the ratings, the information about that, or displays of locally-produced, you know, Chinese restaurant food, then that’s a new type of search. But essentially it’s not text-based search where you might start by typing in food in, you know…but I think Google wants to try and get it so that you can basically show it a plate of food and it’ll say, yeah, the ingredients of this and the best place to buy this is this and this is where you go. And so if you want to go to cameras, then, you know, maybe it’s when you see a photograph, it can say, “Do you like this photograph? We think that that was probably taken with a Panasonic HD camera.”