Search Engines in 2020

Posted by Ryan on 2011-08-20

This article is actually written like a year ago, after a QQ (popular Chinese IM software) talk with my friends that formerly worked for a famous Chinese search engine. We both knew a topic like this would be too big and wide to write about, but anyway, we had serious discussions, and thought we could write something as a record so when it comes to 2020, we would know if we were right.

So as a SEO or a search engineer, have you ever thought what search engines are like in 2020?

Below are our conclusions at that time and we still stick to them today:

The game of search will never change – it is always about faster and more accurate results:

I know this is kind of a “Captain Obvious” talk , like “in the long run, everybody dies.”

But this is still important, because this is the most basic rule for search technology developments, and the direction where search engines head.

It will never change.

Text search will still be the king:

Users’ search process can be roughly segmented into:

  • People express their needs;
  • Search engines return results to fulfill the needs;
  • People check the results to see if they meet their needs.

We can see the key points here are the needs and the results.

Now consider, what is the best way for a user to express his/her needs?

Although today we have voice search and reverse image search, I believe text is still the most effective and most accurate way for a user to tell search engines what he/she wants.

Taking voice search as an example, which is usually brought up recently: it seems there is a bright future for voice search, especially when it comes to mobile search. But looking at the limitations on voice search technologies as both a search engine fan and a normal user, I think we will not make any leaps on it. The reason is simple – people’s pronunciations are too much diversified and the accuracy of voice detection is low. Like on Google, sometimes it doesn’t even know if I spoke English or Chinese (I know my pronunciation may not be good but I don’t need a search engine to tell me!!!)

So basically it is and will be something for fun, and after a few tries, people will still get back to the traditional way of searching.

Make users closer to results:

How far are we from a search result today?

Usually, we search, then click a result to see if it is what we need.

Now think about how a search engine can make us closer to the result?

An idea is that we can directly see the result page from within the SERP, which is one click closer. (The Chinese search engine Baidu already has been trying this, and calls it “Box Computing“.)

One challenge is that this may hurt the benefits of website owners – why would they work hard on creating content to help search engines take their users away?

Google has achieved this too if we think of Google Chrome as a packaged search engine – the blank “New Tab” is not really blank, because there is a search engine in it – the address bar. So whenever we open a new tab, we open a search engine too, then we can directly do our searches.

Google will still rule:

Semantic search.

Semantic search means making a machine able to read between the lines and better understand human languages. This sounds awesome but hard to fully achieve.

Today all search engines are working hard on this, and after analyzing the quality of search results, I think Google still does the best, even for Chinese searches.

User experience of search engines will become better.

I remember some people were worried that the information explosion would worsen user experience of search engines. But what we can see today is that they are becoming better, whether for English search engines or Chinese search engines.

Google leads the search market with its superb innovativity.

Putting search aside, who gives the one of the best browsers and best email service? Let alone other awesome products like Google Calendar,Google Reader, Youtube and Google Docs.

Search engines will never be replaced:

Honestly, I am sick of seeing people talk about “social media v.s. search engines” or “Will Google be replaced by Facebook?”

No, social media will never replace search engines and search engines will not die.

Reason? Can you find a better way to looking for something over the Internet?

In the future, maybe there will better advertising methods that make more money than search engines, but search engines will still be the most basic yet effective way for people to look for information on the web.

What are your predictions on search engines in the future?

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