By all indications, the future of search is as exciting as it is unknown. As much as search engine technology has progressed in recent years, the biggest breakthroughs are yet to come. Fortunately, we won’t have long to wait.

Industry experts don’t deny voice search will continue to be a key driver of consumer behavior, according to a PwC report. Voice search gives consumers the opportunity to interact with search engines in completely new ways. Heck, consumers can even talk to their fridge to search for something. Companies need to be prepared.

Even with huge leaps in technology, seamlessly connecting people with information will always be a challenge. For anyone invested in search, however, significant changes are happening now. Here’s how you should approach search in 2020:

Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in the Search Engine Basket

As Google and others tweak search algorithms, existing methods for drawing traffic to your site will become less effective. “As Expedia learned the hard way, it is risky for a business to rely heavily on search engines as the primary source of traffic,” explains Vikas Sehgal, founder and CEO at hyperDart, a mobile search platform. “The constantly changing ranking algorithms can be disruptive to online businesses that rely heavily on traffic through search engines.”

For example, hotel-booking sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor struggled to keep their listings visible following a redesign of Google’s hotel-search feature. Be cautious of how much your strategy depends on search engines as a traffic source. Look increasingly toward building high-quality partnerships and nurturing your brand community. Build sticky features, and attract innovative developers. Don’t count on remaining on page 1 of the search results.

Get Onboard With Voice Search

Love it or hate it, voice search is here to stay. “Smart speaker use almost doubled in 2018, with fast growth continuing to 2020,” notes John Koetsier, VP of insights at Singular, a marketing intelligence platform. “And of course, nearly everyone has a voice-capable device in their pocket or purse.” And don’t forget cars, where voice search is becoming more common given that using smartphones while driving is typically illegal.

Adoption of voice search is bound to increase, yet research shows most businesses haven’t prepared. In an Uberall survey, only 4% of business locations had accurate information (address, hours of operations, etc.) listed on Google, Bing, and Yelp’s voice-search directory. Updating this information is obviously important. Similarly, companies can optimize their voice search presence by creating helpful content snippets and building domain authority. They can also benefit from using a conversational tone when crafting search queries.

Search Engines Will Keep Getting Better at Reading (or Hearing) Between the Lines

Have you ever asked Alexa a question and received an incorrect answer? You’re not alone. Researchers who tested 4,999 queries on seven smart devices found that Alexa answered almost 80% of questions asked fully and correctly. For Google Home, the figure was nearly 90%. That means approximately 20% and 10% of the time, respectively, the smart devices got it at least somewhat wrong. And it’s not just voice search. Current search engines struggle to understand the difference between “Venetian blind” and “blind Venetian” — similar phrases meaning totally different things.

Considering the vast majority of search queries involve two or fewer words, search providers have little context for figuring out what the user wants. Google took a major step toward improving that in 2019 with its BERT technology. The natural language processing system makes it easier to determine meaning from word pairings. Expect tomorrow’s search engines to get better at understanding the intent behind inquiries by improving their ability to pick up on context clues. Search engines will get savvier about filtering out things like fake reviews and phony ratings that currently distort the rankings. The end result will be more authentic and relevant search results.

Search engines revolutionized how businesses connect with customers. Voice technology, again, is poised to change the way consumers communicate with brands. As a result, everything from search to advertising to commerce will feel the impact. Watch these shifts closely, and above all, make sure to move your business in the right direction.

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.