How to Plan for the Future of Online Search

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It’s easy to forget, given how wide-spread they have become, but it was only 12 years ago that Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. In 2006, if you needed directions while you were out driving, you likely had to rely on your own knowledge of the area, a GPS device in your car, or printed out directions from MapQuest or Google Maps, which launched early in 2005. 

While the smartphone is a uniquely disruptive form of technology, it’s also a good reminder of how quickly technology can change. If you wait until a new form of technology has been broadly adopted, you will likely end up playing from behind relative to your competitors. In this post, we pinpoint how you can plan for the future of marketing technology, and especially, search engine technology.

Why focus on search?

Let’s start by first explaining why you should care about search engines. Do you really need search engines to drive traffic to your community? What about social media or listing services?

According to a new study from BrightLocal, on average, organic search traffic accounts for 53% of all website traffic online. Paid search traffic accounts for an additional 15%. In other words, about ⅔ of all internet traffic comes from search engines. Social media referrals on average account for less than 10% of website traffic on the internet.

If you want to drive traffic to your community’s website, then you need search engines. There simply is not another traffic source that can generate traffic as effectively as search.

What is the future of search?

When trying to understand how a business works, it’s important to distinguish between the problem the business is solving and how they’re planning to solve that problem. Technologies change, so the tools a business uses to solve a problem, need to change as well. 

There are businesses that don’t understand this point and they tend to collapse as soon as technology moves on from their preferred medium. Newspapers are a perfect example of this—they thought people wanted newspapers. They didn’t. They wanted news. When consumers found an easier, cheaper way to get news, they stopped paying for print newspapers and began getting their news from free apps on their cell phone, email newsletters, podcasts, etc.

Search engines help people discover information online. Without search engines, that’s a complicated task to complete, given the sheer volume of information online. But, with a good search engine, it’s much simpler.

Looking toward the future, the main possibility for major change in search technology is with screen-free smart speaker devices, like Amazon’s Echo Dot or Google’s Google Home. As long as people are searching on devices with text or their voice, and are looking for the answer on a screen, then the basic process is going to be fairly consistent.

But if you remove the screen, then search changes on a more fundamental level. If you say to an Echo device, “hey Siri, what will the weather be like today?” the Echo device has to answer that query audibly, without the use of a search results page.

The main difference is that with a speaker the information retrieved by the search engine has to be spoken by the speaker rather than displayed on the screen. This means that the amount of information that can be given to the searcher will be quite a bit more limited than what can be provided on a search results page.

That being said, Google has become quite good at understanding user intent and providing the right answer to the user’s problem. So, Google won’t have any difficulty responding to the search sufficiently with an exclusively voice-based answer.

How should multifamily communities plan for screen-free devices?

For companies that want to be found on Google, this may pose some challenges. If there is far less information being shared via screen-free devices than on devices with a screen, the question is, “How do you make sure you’re the first one Google features in the screen-free response?”

For apartment communities, the answer is relatively simple.

Apartment searches are always going to be local searches. This means that the answers Google gives its users will almost always come from Google My Business, which is Google’s database of local business information that is also integrated with Google Maps. The simplest way to make sure that screen-free users on Google find your community is to make sure your Google My Business listing is up-to-date and accurate. If your Google My Business listing is correct, when someone finds you on a screen-free device they should be receiving both accurate and relevant information.


Marketing technologies change with time. The principles of good marketing do not. The rules for performing well on screen-free devices are to make sure you have relevant, accurate content, and to make sure that your content is easy to find. In other words, it’s about making it easy for people to rent apartments. There is some work involved as we move from marketing on one technological platform to another, but the underlying principles of good marketing stay the same. Master the principles, and you are ready to make whatever adjustments are necessary as technology evolves.


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