With headlines like ‘easyJet re-engineers the booking experience for the Instagram generation’ & “Book your dream holiday by uploading a picture of someone else’s break” we knew another world first from our customer easyJet would be important. But we didn’t realize it would prematurely kickstart the “three Vs” of search split that many predicted would happen in the next 20 years, not the next five!
Out of all the trends we wrote about in our Mobile Travel Trends 2019 report it was clear that visual search was one of the most exciting shifts in the way we search the world’s information we’d seen since, well er… search began. It was also clear though that this was day zero in the new next generations of search, where search would begin to morph into three distinct streams: Visual, Voice and Vertical.
Visual: See it , Search it, Shop it
Like any new technology, visual search is not actually that new.
SEO aficionados out there will remember that it was in fact Jennifer Lopez’s dress that inspired visual search nineteen years ago. Outside of Google though it was really engines like Viewzi and Searchme that first showed a new visual way to sift through the world's information. Searchme was a search engine that displayed webpages stacked visually, a bit like a Coverflow UI for the web. Searchme briefly became one of the first apps on the App Store in 2008 with a design that looked like Apple itself had developed it.
Image Source: ajopaul.com
Briefly is the word though, because just one year after it launched with much fanfare and millions of dollars in backing, Searchme joined Infoseek, Cuil, KartOO and loads more in the great big search engine graveyard on the web.
Unsurprisingly it was Google that picked up the image search baton later that year with the launch of Google Goggles.
Image Source: YouTube
However, from 2009 - 2016 that remained a mere side project for Google until they premiered Lens at their I/O event in 2017. Actually they stopped working on Goggles in 2012 and the team moved to Glass whose fate was sealed!
Since 2017 retail has been leading the visual way with giants like ASOS and eBay pushing forward this natural evolution of search. But it was Pinterest’s 600 million visual searches per month stat drop that really made the market sit up and take notice. Now, with over 1.4 billion searches every day being image based and easyJet’s Look & Book functionality driving booking conversions, it’s obvious to see that this first V split in search has truly begun and travel may end up in the driving seat.
Voice: "Speak and ye shall find" (Matthew 7:7 - nearly)
It seemed apt to use a (slightly scrambled) religious reference to introduce our second split in search because the predictions for voice search are almost biblical in their forecasted numbers. Gartner said ‘by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen’ and according to GlobalWebIndex 27% of the global online population is using voice search on mobile. Now whilst those stats may verge on the ridiculous, it’s true that last year was a turning point for voice. We saw the smart speaker market grow by 187%, Amazon’s Skills Store pass the 50K mark and Assistant appear on 500 million devices – although Google have just announced that it’s on 1 billion now – up half a million in less than a year - … maybe those biblical stats aren’t so grand after all?
Image Source: Engadget.com
And it’s our industry that is really taking this second V of search to those masses as we’re seeing voice as a new entry point for travel brands more and more. From asking your mobile about your flight status using Siri, through getting your boarding pass on Assistant without typing a word, to finding the best sushi restaurant near your hotel using Alexa. Voice is already reshaping the way we travel so maybe the age of touch will come to an end faster than we think?
Vertical: Search is more than just Google
I’m old enough to remember when we only had five TV channels in the UK…. eeek imagine the horror! Now we have channels dedicated just to Christmas films, or that only show golf 24/7 - hell there’s even a painting and drawing channel! Just like TV, propelled by a shift from analogue to digital, has diversified to cater for the more niche tastes the same is happening in search. Users are now looking for search experiences that are more focused to their interests, thus the birth of our final split, Vertical.
But what is Vertical Search? Sometimes called “specialty” or “topical” search, it is tailored to specific content, genres or industry with the most common examples being areas like retail, travel or real estate. Have you ever used Kayak, or Trulia, Pinterest - yes? Or Google Flights, Image Search in Google itself - yes? Well you’ve used vertical search.
Image source: searchengineland.com
Like Visual search before, this split is not new, in fact vertical search has been hyped as the next big market shift in search for years. But it’s only now with the sheer size and power of digital behemoths like Amazon, Facebook and Pinterest that we are starting to see a dent (a small dent admittedly, but bear in mind that nearly half of product searches in the US now start on Amazon) in the big G. The dramatic shift from web to mobile search over the past five years is also driving users straight into sites and apps like Kayak and Skyscanner instead of a search engine results page. - Skyscanner has been saying it wants to be vertical search engine for ten years, maybe now it’s time!
Our future search landscape
So, what does this three-way search split mean for the travel industry?
Well I’m guessing that many of you reading this think that the idea that we’ll move beyond the search experience of now is completely absurd. You’re probably shouting, “Search is at the heart of the travel experience, it always has been and always will be”.
However, as we’ve seen throughout this blog that search experience of old simply doesn’t exist for the next generations. They no longer just type, they no longer just pick from a drop-down list because voice, visual and vertical search are shifting the needle of their expectation of what search is now and will be in the future. Our search landscape is going to look radically different in the next five years so it’s time you decided which direction your travel brand is heading.