As web search evolves into more predictive, intelligent models, Google's working to evolve their app to meet the rising demands of the modern consumer.
Back in 2012, Google introduced Google Now in their mobile app - Google Now is effectively a basic digital personal assistant, using your search history, appointments and other factors logged in your Google-connected apps to provide you with a personalized, proactive feed of information to help keep you up to date with what's happening in your world.
That element never seemed to catch on as Google hoped it might, and last December, Google Now was somewhat de-emphasized, with the lower page information feed being split into two sections - one that keeps you up to date with your interests as identified by Google (like sports, news, and entertainment) and the Google Now listing of your personal notes (like flights, appointments, etc.).
Now, Google's evolving the process again, officially retiring the Google Now brand and burying it further into the app, and replacing the feed with an upgraded personal information service, which utilizes more of your search history and insights to provide an even more customized feed of information.
As explained by Google:
"People have long turned to Google to get answers, learn about the world, and dig deeper on topics they're passionate about. Today, we're announcing a new feed experience in the Google app, making it easier than ever to discover, explore and stay connected to what matters to you-even when you don't have a query in mind."
That last element leans towards the social discovery process, which people are increasingly adapting to - searching through your 'Explore' tab on Twitter or Instagram, for example, or the 'Trending News' on Facebook. All of these discovery tools are being utilized more and more, taking away from Google searches - Facebook alone facilitates more than 2 billion searches per day on their platform.
The benefit these apps have (particularly Instagram and Facebook) is customization - utilizing the insights they can glean from your on-platform activity and connections, they can show you more of what you're interested in, providing an ever-evolving feed of personal relevance. They show you more of what you like, you stick around longer, and come back more often, and this level of personalization is an area where Google can't compete.
Or can they?
That's the focus of the new and improved Google feed.
"Since introducing the feed in December, we've advanced our machine learning algorithms to better anticipate what's interesting and important to you. You'll see cards with things like sports highlights, top news, engaging videos, new music, stories to read and more. And now, your feed will not only be based on your interactions with Google, but also factor in what's trending in your area and around the world. The more you use Google, the better your feed will be."
As you can see, the new discovery tools provide a whole range of content based on your interests, which Google gleans from your search history, combined with the news and events trending across the network. Rather than tapping into your interests and those of your friends to keep you engaged, Google's utilizing its vast databanks, gleaned from the 5.5 billion searches conducted on the platform every day, the majority of which now come via mobile device. And given the more recent controversies around filter bubbles and the social echo chamber effect, that may actually prove to be a more beneficial and relevant to your interests - the results Google displays are based on overall trends, not those amongst just your own friends, and your search history, not the content you post to social, which may not always be indicative of your interests.
When you search for something on Google, it's likely to be far more personally relevant - you may not post about it, you might not share everything you look for with your friends. But it's relevant to you - it's less about public perception and more about personal interest, which could enable Google to provide an information feed which is much more engaging and aligned to your niche interests.
If they can get it right.
And if they can, the implications could be significant - if Google is able to more effectively show people what they want before they go looking for it, that could open up a whole new range of SEO considerations.
Similar to digital assistants, like Google Assistant - which is built into Google's Allo chat app - the addition of predictive models adds a different perspective to the search optimization process. Now, you're not only trying to reach the top of the relevant SERP overall, you're also trying to be the top result for each individual person who goes looking.
Because these recommendations are based on personal affinity, not just overall ranking factors, it puts more emphasis on building a digital presence, and generating engagement amongst as many users as possible.
A good example is Facebook - as Facebook continues to evolve its personal recommendation tools, like M suggestions in Messenger, they'll also look to connect people through to relevant businesses based on those tips.
M suggestions in Messenger
Say you go looking for a restaurant - Facebook will soon be able to factor in your interests and proximity, along with ratings from friends, to come up with the best suggestions of relevance to you. If that becomes popular, it'll be important for brands to ensure they're coming up on those lists. How do you do that? By improving your Facebook presence, by connecting with more people, by ensuring your business has as many positive links to as many networks within the platform to ensure it appears as a recommendation.
There's more to it than that, but this is the way things are heading, and Google's latest updates also move in the same direction. Personal relevance will complicate SEO beyond our current understanding, making it more important than ever for businesses to solidify their digital presence and create connections with potentially interested consumers.
In addition, Google's also giving users the capacity to follow specific interests to ensure they remain updated within the app, while they're also providing more varied links on major topics (Facebook introduced similar back in April) and one-tap, direct connection to related searches within Google for any topic.
It's an interesting, and potentially valuable, upgrade, and as noted, it could have significant implications if it catches on. But even if it doesn't, this is the way search and discovery is headed, the systems are evolving to become smarter, more attuned to your personal behaviors, more aligned with the information each individual wants to see.
On balance, Google's process may be the best of its kind, untainted by the outside influences of your connections - but then again, more people are using social apps more often, and it'll be hard to break them out of those habits.
But if Google's machine learning processes are good enough, and compelling enough to keep people coming back, it could be a major step towards the next phase.