This talk by Will Critchlow of Distilled on the future of search was one of the best things I saw at the recent Future Of Digital Marketing conference that I also spoke at. One of the things that Will said was that the way people interact with search is more interesting than the algorithm, but the focus on the power of context was particularly interesting. Will talked about how explicit query data is being augmented by ever more sophisticated implicit query data (all the information Google has outside of the search term e.g. device, history, location etc), the latter becoming more and more dominant over time in providing us with ever more relevant results.
As search becomes more conversational interesting things start to happen such as session matching, which can apply the context of our previous searches within the same session to enhance current results (search for 'what time is it in New York' in the Google mobile app, and then for 'what about Seattle' and the results will interpret that you're asking about the time in Seattle even though you didn't specify it in your search).
Functionality like enhanced campaigns lets you layer targeting options for PPC campaigns over basic phrases that can allow for targeting (and pricing) to take far better account of context and target by situation, not device. This is a more refined form of targeting since the fact that you are searching on a mobile does not necessarily mean that you're out and about (we all use our mobiles at home, no?)
I think the convergence of social and search is interesting here, due to the potential correlation between how people talk about your brand and how they search for it. The challenge for agencies is to enable the smart and seamless reapplication of data and insight from one to the other (like keywords or contextual insight from conversation to inform keyword strategy in search). As search becomes even more predictive and anticipatory, you end up with Google Now but as Will says, is this even search?
There were some common themes with my talk, including reference to the important battle for identity on the web and just why the log-in is so critical to the delivery of enhanced services and the ability to deliver seamless experience across multiple devices (one example is the new Google Play game services, announced at the recent IO, that enables synchronization via the cloud, so that you can save a game (or achievements, leaderboards) on one device, and pick it up from the same place on another device). Just as Google have Google+, Facebook have Facebook Connect and log-in (and a distributed presence which apparently tracks browsing behaviour even when we're not on Facebook) and interestingly Amazon have just launched an identity play.
We are only at the start.