Some days I pretty much live online. When I have a question, need a phone number, am bored, I go online to find what I need. Online behavior has supplanted many things that simply used to be.

I no longer have a use for phone directories, or for that matter phones, and my online content consumption has done away with my need for a newspaper and television.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed a shift in one very specific aspect of my online behavior, one that will have growing significance for marketers, and that’s in the area of search. Was a time when I would conduct dozens, sometimes hundreds, of searches using my search engine of choice. (I’ve been at this a while so for now it’s Google, but there was a time when a tool called AltaVista rocked the house.)

My use of search engine technology is slowly being replaced by the use of apps that provide me with answers relevant to my personal needs. My guess is that while you may not have taken note, you’re doing less and less in search engines and more and more in answer engines.

This trend highlights the marketers need to go beyond SEO and PPC and move even deeper into the worlds of social networks, mobile marketing and app based local marketplaces.

Apps inside social networks are providing answers. Apps inside social bookmark sites are providing interesting reading. Apps in content curation tools like Storify are providing relevant context for content. Apps on mobile devices, such as Yelp’s, are helping you find bars and restaurants. Apps using QR readers are helping you find deeper information on companies and products. Apps are providing you with sports scores, movie times, videos and images.

One of the elements of the new iPhone 4S that is getting a great deal of buzz is the Siri app. This app, billed as your personal assistant, is a potential game changer. A great deal of the buzz is still over the coolness factor and all the things it can do for you, but I think the real issue is what it doesn’t do for you – it doesn’t give you search engine results.

Think about how the world of search changes if Siri and the third party tools that one hopes Apple and other innovators create becomes habit. Right now the Siri app gives you answers that are personalized for you without giving you thousands of search results. If Siri gets very good at this kind of thing, people may ditch search engines for all but pure and competitive research.

Since Google’s primary revenue engine feeds on advertising in search, the trend of moving to apps that bypass Google altogether is a tremendous threat and I think it’s safe to say you can look for this kind of answer engine technology on a host of Android phones in the near future.

So, what about you, think about it a minute, are you moving your search behavior to apps? What does this mean for your business? What does this trend suggest for you in 2012?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • This is a fascinating point. It makes me wonder what will happen to SEO. Will we need Siri Optimization? Or will the term become Artificial Intelligence Optimization (AIO)?

    It doesn’t matter how good Siri is. The genie is out of the bottle. Google and Microsoft will create their AIs. (Does this mean the resurrection of Clippy?) Maybe the next new profession will be AI lobbyist – someone who could persuade Siri your website is the best choice for someone’s query.

    • Yep, it’s time – I actually started using Siri about two years ago when it was an independent app and the time just wasn’t right – I think the time has come and people will get used to voice for everything – my penmanship is shot because of computers, soon my typing skills may erode because apps get to the point where they can do it for you.

  • Steve Woodruff

    While Siri and other targeted “answer” apps are addressing a huge need – the ability to get to the RIGHT information in an ocean of data – the game-changing aspect of Siri is much, much bigger. It’s a major step away from the unnatural user interface of keyboards, command lines, and pointing devices. This will be so welcome!

    • Steve – you’re right about that – of course, let’s introduce one game changer at a time so as not to frighten the children.

      • Children love to be frightened! That’s what keeps Hollywood making those awful slasher movies. 😉

        But seriously, thanks for the heads up on this. I don’t have an iPhone, but I can see how AI apps could eliminate all but the top 3 search results for any category. Unless someone was truly looking for little ‘ol me. I look forward to seeing how we’ll adapt to this one!

        • Not sure I like the sounds of that. I don’t want to hand over control to the software. It’s one reason I’ve always avoided using Macs. I’m too much of a geek control freak that I don’t like having stuff getting in between me and my data. I don’t want the computer (or app or device) telling me what I can do. I want to be the one calling the shots. Having software deciding what I want is just plain creepy.

  • AJ

    Uh-oh….another game changer in the way we play the game.
    The interesting part is the people who sit on the sidelines and watch all the changes, while doing nothing.
    Never stop learning!

  • Good but scary point 🙂 Now that we have spent all this energy, time and money optimizing our site… I’m not using Siri yet, but will definitely have to do some research now. Thanks John !

  • Candy

    Very interesting post! For the company (infofreedotcom) I work for it justifies our plan to create a mobile app that offers b2b and b2c sales leads by searching our databases for the information. And about Siri, it is good but sometimes difficult to use when it doesn’t understand your voice. That makes me wonder if it’s just a passing fad.

    • Don’t think it’s a passing fad, it’s time has come and watch for it to get both better and pervasive – throw out those keyboards soon!

  • KevinFerrasciOMalley

    John I think you’re spot on – it’s likely to be a serious game changer. In fact, I wonder if in a few years from know we won’t view Siri as Job’s biggest innovation – voice recognition with context. 

    My other hope is that Siri can actually “help” me figure out what to do with all the other apps that are on my phone that I’ve forgotten about and don’t use that much.  Maybe Siri can be smart enough to access/work with other apps so “app abandonment” is less of an issue?

  • I can honestly say, not only do I still use search engines to find relevant information, I’ve never had a friend or colleague recommend an app that replaces search.

    My heirarchy is still word of mouth, followed by Google, followed by asking social contacts.

    • It’s just a matter of degrees – do you still use printed phone directories? There was a time when that was 100% of how we found stuff? My kids don’t even know how to use one.

      • I honestly don’t know why they still print them. I wonder how many trees still die in vain from this fool practice?

  • Have been anticipating this shift for some time which is why my company started focusing on mobile applications for businesses last year.  Providing customers instant information is necessary.  Nice article, John.  Rock chalk 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing.  “This trend highlights the marketers need to go beyond SEO and PPC and
    move even deeper into the worlds of social networks, mobile marketing
    and app based local marketplaces.” I totally agree.

  • Gt

    You have the group that has the “In Technology” then you have the rest of us we either don’t care or can’t afford to keep changing every 3 months to the latest and greatest. We are the the group who change when what we are using no longer works for us.  I use the most handy device to look up a phone number whether it be a GPS, Google, or phone book, they all work, all take about the same amount of time if you know how to use them.  There will always be people who will let others run their life’s for simplicity, then there is the rest of us who choose to do our own thinking….

    • Not sure what your point is – is it that you don’t have an iPhone? That’s not really what I was talking about, but you’ll come around whether you know it or not. Do you still use Yellow Pages?

  • In some way I knew this was coming I am not surprised. It’s probably better for the long haul.

  • You are absolutely right re: Siri, and that is why Google decided several years ago that it HAD to do Android to not find themselves suddenly cut off on mobile platforms…

  • Even though these apps may supplant some search I don’t see search engines going away anytime soon.

  • Learning should never stop at any point of time and there are lot of things to be learnt…

    Online Business
    Virtual Assistant

  • siri’s not really in any way a game changer at all.  in fact it’s based on rather old technology.  the only thing that would be a game changer in terms of usage would be an app that returns only negative reviews while having powerful filters to remove the marketing spam…. sadly there would be no money in this.

    looks like i’ll continue to use googlefu and rubbing 2 brain cells together to spot the obvious.  and i’ll continue to sit back and relax with my smug grin as the ifad dies (much like your battery does in 45 minutes)

  • I guess I’m one of the few that still painstakingly trolls through the search engine results, which is actually kind of headache inducing when the results doesnt match what you wanted to find. I should remember to actually try those answer driven sites, it might make my life easier.

  • This is an interesting development and for a while now, we know that social media sites such as youtube and facebook get more daily search queries than the search engines.  But this is a sweeping generalisation and within the numbers are niches where big chunks of demographic groups use one tool for one thing and another tool for other searches.   It does make the process of channels to market evber more interesting!  Matt

  • Interesting post John.

    However, the data you are accessing through Siri and similar apps is, for the most part, coming from search engines anyway. And while Siri may not use Google we can be fairly confident where Android based equivalents will get their info from. From a marketing point of view I think the takeaway may be that, due to the iPhone’s sizeable market share, other search engines beyond Google are being made more relevant, as are review services such as Yelp – but good Marketers should be working out where their market is and optimizing for that market anyway.For small, local businesses the takeaway is that optimizing your listings on Yelp, Google Places, Qype, Facebook Places, Foursquare etc just got a bit more important but it should be on your job list, above optimizing for Google, Bing etc anyway.

    • Agree on all points Simon – just makes this total web presence and inbound approach even more important.

  • I have to agree with Simon that many of these apps are using search engine data streams. So while apps in general (and more specifically like Siri) may represent a change in user behavior, from the content developer perspective, many things remain the same.

    And John, you know I respect you and your status as a thought leader, but I will never throw out my keyboard. They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead, hands…unless I can find a way to make them bury me with it!

    • Yes indeed they are using search APIs, but the apps are indeed changing the behavior and the control of the data – I’m certainly not projecting the demise of Google, but the impact for marketers is undeniable – just another brick in the inbound marketing wall.

      You’re too young to be so set in your ways – embrace change and chaos 🙂

    • I agree with your thoughts about the keyboard, however I am looking forward to enjoying the choices and freedoms that full voice control will offer us.

      They have a long way to go yet though… think of the auto correct issues from typing and how funny or detrimental they can be (depending on who you are sending the message to) the auto correct with voice is even worse at this time.

  • Once again, interesting read, John. Thanks. I don’t know if anyone has brought this up, but one thought I had after reading your piece, which could spell a barrier to adoption of apps for search broadly, is the fact that a number of them require the registrant to accept that their data can be shared. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, even in reading the fine print of these agreements that need to be confirmed before being able to use an app, whether data will be used only within the company that makes the app, or if now or sometime in the future it could be shared with other companies, especially without notice. I think as privacy concerns have risen with social network and other online usage, and as people generally become more knowledgeable about the risks of sharing information, this could possibly help Google, Bing, and other traditional search engines that rely on next-to-results advertising hedge against losing the search race in a huge tide toward mobile and other apps.

  • This technological change reminds me of compact disc. It certainly had its advantages over LPs.

    Even as marketers begin to explore Siri, Siri is already obsolete, we just don’t know it yet.

    It’s OK to be on the bleeding edge, just don’t forget there’s still a boat load of money to made on those who lag behind the trailblazers.

  • Chris

    Thanks for your always inspiring posts John. Though I still use Google on my Macs I have indeed noticed that Siri has nearly put an end to all my search activity on my mobile. Great tool. Exciting times!

  • Certainly we all need solutions that help us bypassing unrelated information and getting directly to the answers…what could help could be the ability to contextualize the searches and reviewing the results in context. 

  • Amy

    One of the complaints that I hear frequently about search engines is that the results one receives is slanted by geographic location and personal search history. People are wondering if they’re getting all the info they can or just the info “Google” wants to show them. Their “trust” in a search engine to give them results that really gives them a variety of choices is waning. People who are disappointed with their search engine results are less likely to utilize the search engine or the services it pushes.

  • I can definitely see my search use dropping, but I don’t think Google is going anywhere. They will create an app that is like Siri. They will turn into an answer engine. The still give me the best results when I do a search. They just need to modify how it fits into our lives.

  • Just got myself an Android smartphone. The Android has its Siri equivalent. I haven’t tested it thoroughly, however I’m amazed at the power of such a tiny device  to be so connected. 

    It is just a matter of time when voice search & speech recognition becomes so good & fast, not only will be get rid of the keyboard, the screen will be the next to go. Granted they will always be a need for keyboard & visual display.Search may not die, but will have to compete with the apps which filters the info. Someone makes a great app markets it and once your install it, there are gatekeepers (app makers) who decide what info gets shown on the app, instead of big G.I think for the minimum, business have to make their website mobile friendly. Then depending on the type of business, create an app for mobile customer

  • Not so sure my search engine usage will dwindle.  I use search engines all day every day, and I don’t think apps will be able to replace what I do.

  • Alta Vista! Ah, I loved that search engine. Lycos wasn’t bad, either.

    I don’t think search engines will go away. After a while, having to use a zillion specialized apps is going to get tiresome. I don’t have a smart phone yet – have been too busy to wade through endless specs and data plan variants to pick one out – all I know is that it won’t be an iPhone. I know nothing of Siri, so I’ll have to take a look when I do get that smart phone.

  • I still use search engines (I too have been at this a while and remember AltaVista) Google is my current engine of choice.

    I think it is important to remember, that if we rely on apps to determine what our past behaviour was and spit out answers based on the past we will not be able to grow and change as easily.

    I want to be in charge of making my own decisions and having current information available to make those choices is extremely important.

  • Wahmlovinlife2011

    You bring a good question to the table.  I absolutely think that this will have a major effect.  Thanks for the topic, Now I have lots of pondering to do.

  • I’m not sure that I would agree that our use of search engines is being replaced by apps, though I would agree that search features embedded within apps could potentially provide richer and more relevant results – within the context of the app itself and the data sources it has access to (potentially a far narrower subset than what search engines are using).

    I use Chrome as my default browser, and I think that what Google has got absolutely right is that when I type a search term or keyword, e.g. ‘BBC’, into the browser, it tries to resolve to the actual web page where possible, rather than giving me a page of search results (I can of course choose not to select the suggested web page and look at the search results). More often than not, the web page is what the user is looking for, and has therefore saved the user time in being able to access it directly. Time saved may only be seconds, but seconds are very important in today’s world. I would also add we’re all very lazy when it comes to search, so anything that simplifies the task (e.g. by having a browser address bar double-up as a search bar) is likely to gain traction.

    So, I think Apps can potentially provide a more personalised set of results, but I think this is just another facet for users, and not a replacement for ‘traditional’ search engines.

  • Cathyvers

    Questions explore possibilities, whereas answers narrow the field of opportunity. Applicability is for the individual to determine, not software from an outside source.  It is likely that when you tell Siri that you could shoot yourself for forgetting to do something, Siri will direct you to a gun store instead of telling you to learn the lesson and move on.