The Evolution Of Search Habits

When we think about how much we rely on mobile technology these days, it’s actually surprising how ingrained it is in even the most mundane things in our lives.

A couple of decades ago, having a computer in your home was a big deal. Being connected to the internet was an exciting and terrifying prospect – what do you do once you’re online? What do you want to find? And how do you find it?

I remember doing my first ever search Ask Jeeves (which may be giving away my age a little!) and having to type in an actual question complete with a question mark and being presented with a small number of results. I think I was searching for Leonardo di Caprio or some other teenage heartthrob from the 90s!

Then Google entered the fray and started to change the way we think about search. No longer did you have to type in a full blown question. Just a word or phrase would net you thousands of results and as the web grew, the results grew along with it.

Desktops and laptops become a dime a dozen in the early 2000s and this was the only way to search until the introduction of smart phones, and later much more user friendly touch screen mobile devices.

Suddenly you didn’t have to wait until you got home (or got to work) to be able to access information online. You could simply whip out your phone and find exactly what you wanted at the click of a button (or screen rather!).

You also stopped needing to carry so many devices with you. Going on holiday and need directions? Just use your phone. Need to take photos but forgot your camera? Just use your phone. Want to make plans for coffee with a friend but forgot your diary? Just use your phone. Need to write down a phone number? Just use your phone. No longer did you need a sat nav, camera, Filofax or even a basic pen!

Many once essential services are also slowly becoming obsolete as information becomes more and more accessible online. Gone are the days of popping into your local travel agent, picking up as many brochures as you can carry and picking a holiday based on a couple of pictures and a price guide. Now you can look up almost anywhere in the world to stay, find traveller photos, reviews and tips and source and book your own transport as well.

These days it’s all about micro moments. Everyone leads such incredibly busy lives we are constantly being bombarded with information and thinking about what we have to do and when it needs to be done by. If we don’t do something when we think about it, often that thought goes straight out the window (well it does for me anyway!).

Being able to perform a quick search and get an instant answer helps us all make immediate decisions or access information instantly – whether that’s finding a phone number for a local business or checking what time your favourite restaurant opens. Micro moments also lead people to convert and not necessarily online. You may be walking down the street and remember you need to buy cat food. You want to find somewhere that sells cat food so you do a quick search on your phone for nearby pet shops. Results load and you choose the closest one to visit and purchase from – without your phone, you may well have forgotten or not been able to find a shop at the time you remembered you needed to buy that item.

Google is making our lives even easier now by providing a range of search results, not just organic and paid ads. Now we get things like the scrollable knowledge graph (for searches like ‘things to do in Sydney’), and knowledge box (which appears at the very top when you search for things with a very tangible answer, like ‘how old is George Clooney’ or ‘what was the Australia South Africa rugby score’). These results mean often you don’t even need to click on a result to find what you want. Google gives you the information instantly.

Voice search is becoming more used, mostly within younger generations (some people still find it weird talking to their phone), and providing another way for users to access information. Voice search is also starting to incorporate geo-location targeting so you can even ask your phone ‘What’s that building over there?’ and the results will be able to tell you about a nearby landmark. How awesome is that?

If you’d told someone fifty years ago we’d have a device no bigger than our hand that we could ask any question in the world and it would tell you the answer, could send messages anywhere in the world and take photos and send them to anyone anywhere in a matter of seconds, they’d think we were crazy. And when they realised that most people use this amazing technology to start arguments with strangers and watch cat videos I dread to think what they’d say!

There is no doubt that search has evolved incredibly over the last two decades. And it’s accelerating every day. Who knows where we will be in another 20 years? Maybe we’ll all have virtual assistants like in the movie ‘Her’ and be using driverless cars so we can spend more time searching. Oh wait…isn’t that already in the works?