From Social Media to AI: How to Navigate the Future of Search

By Sven Lung, CEO & Founder at Greenpark

Almost three decades after the launch of Google, search remains one of the most essential tools in any brand’s arsenal. Digital media is rife with inefficient targeting, with programmatic media being particularly ineffective. According to a recent ANA study, only 36% of what a brand spends on paid media effectively reaches the consumer. Begging the question, is paid even worth ‘investing’ in?

On top of optimisation challenges, measurement experts Amplified Intelligence suggest scrollable media grabs just two seconds of a viewer’s attention. In an environment like this, brands need to reach high-value audiences; consumers in search mode are one of the highest-value audiences there is.

But search has changed a lot since the 90s, and it’s continuing to evolve today. In fact, HubSpot research last year found that while 86% of US consumers are still searching via search engines, 53% are now conducting their searches on social media, and 35% are using AI chatbots like ChatGPT.

From social search and AI-generated content to marketplace SEO and changes in Google’s ranking preferences, the future of search is a minefield to navigate – but it’s vital that brands adapt. The question is, how?

Putting the E in EAT

The EAT acronym – expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness – has been at the heart of Google’s search ranking system for years. It’s the guideline by which the engine evaluates the quality of search content. But recently, Google added a new ‘E’ into the mix: Experience.

In short, Google believes first-hand experience is critical to supporting expertise and credibility. So, in an EEAT world, content needs to demonstrate such experience with its topic. That could mean providing behind-the-scenes content, outlining the content creator’s credentials in an author bio, or directly referencing real-world experiences within the content itself.

Join the social conversation

A piece of research conducted by Greenpark showed that in the Philippines, 17 million people a month are using Google to search for hair and skin related searches online, and 9.6 million are using Tik Tok – this will only continue to grow. With consumers now using social media search engines to ask questions and find information in user-generated content, brands need to take an omnichannel approach towards their search strategy. Younger audiences are significantly more likely to use social search as they hunt for individual perspectives and recommendations from people like themselves.

Google itself has recognised the power of human experience in search today. The platform’s new Perspectives feature helps users search specifically for opinions from individual people all over the web, whether it’s a legal question answered on Reddit or a product review on X.

Brands need to join this conversation, but social search requires a different approach. Brands must focus on the addictive qualities (or ‘stickiness’) of content served and deliver extreme personalisation. Winning in social search means understanding individual behaviour, not the behaviours of mass audiences.

Be careful with AI

The launch of ChatGPT triggered an explosion of excitement about its potential impact on content generation. Some companies even went all-in, replacing their content teams with the generative AI chatbot.

But Google doesn’t want to serve up endless reams of AI-generated content. So, in March 2024, the search engine launched a colossal update targeting AI content and spam. In its early stages, over 800 websites were deindexed, resulting in lost organic search traffic and advertising revenue.

Of those deindexed sites, 100% showed signs of AI content, and half had at least 90% of their pages created through AI. As a result of the update, Google saw a 40% reduction in unhelpful content in its search engine result pages.

The update sent a clear message, but that doesn’t mean AI doesn’t have an important role to play. It can be highly beneficial in things like keyword discovery and GAP analysis, taxonomy aggregation and audience profiling, content planning, copywriting inspiration, and article briefing.

Plus, Google says it won’t penalise you for AI content unless it is spammy, poor quality, or intended to manipulate search rankings. However, Google wants helpful, original content that fulfils EEAT.

An SEO strategy built around heavy AI content is doomed to fail. Brands need to put human experiences first. Create content by humans, for humans, enabled but not replaced by AI.

Don’t forget marketplace SEO

To capture consumers at all stages of their journey, brands need to be thinking about marketplaces like Amazon. Almost all consumers (98%) say reviews are an “essential” resource when making purchase choices, while 53% say user-generated photos or videos helped them decide on a product purchase.

Marketplace optimisation is not a one-off exercise. Just like search engines, it needs on- and off-page strategies to ensure a product or page ranks highest. Brands can use many techniques, including adding product schema and ensuring the site is mobile-friendly.

What does this mean for brands?

There’s still much change to come in the world of search. For example, Google is continuing to experiment with its Search Generative Experience feature (SGE), which uses AI to generate contextual answers to complex questions.

To stay on top, brands must pay closer attention to their EEAT signals. They need to build a good online reputation, cover topics in-depth, and take an omni-channel approach to search that covers social platforms and marketplaces. And, in the era of AI, they need to remain focused on human narratives.

By adapting to changes as they come, brands can position themselves to win in the future of search.