“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke.
Every single day, billions enjoy the fruits of untold thousands of hours of design and iteration. Products, services and information are found with near-effortless ease. It’s as if Google reads your thoughts, perched like a slightly creepy wizard on your shoulder as you type and speak your queries.
For brands and businesses, machine learning (ML) is providing new ways of connecting with customers by spotting behaviour patterns that would be impossible to find manually from the data available.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. The near-prescient ability of the search engine has grown to its present state through continuous improvement and the embracing of AI and machine learning algorithms. Even back in 2016, Google’s total codebase included over two billion lines of code – a staggering figure that still grows each day.
All that sophistication has transformed how businesses can use digital marketing and online advertising to boost business growth.
Machine Learning in Google search
There’s more to machine learning than simply making a computer hold a conversation or understand search queries. In areas where there are too many signals for humans to comprehend – which can include everything from predicting weather to spotting performance trends in search advertising – ML can cut through the complexity to achieve superhuman levels of pattern recognition.
To put it another way: “We don’t have to tell computers the rules and strategies any more,” explains Andrew McAfee, co-director at The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. “That’s the old approach. Now we can just give them a bunch of properly labelled examples, and say ‘OK, you figure out the patterns for yourself here, we’re not going to point them out.’”
Many advancements in ML go unnoticed or are found by users in isolation; Google Maps getting better by pairing transit directions with biking and ridesharing suggestions. Google Search getting smarter by understanding synonyms and responding to vague queries thanks to a technique known as neural matching. Google Ads using automation to create ads based on individual user search queries and interests.
These clever feature releases are made possible through the leverage of a new kid on the block: machine learning – the subset of artificial intelligence (AI) currently helping to optimise Search, alongside everything from world-beating chess computers to face and speech recognition . And it’s changing how search and advertising work for good.
The benefits of machine learning in search
Even as the amount of data worldwide soars every day (We’ll be at 175 zettabytes by 2025, experts say), search engines can still process and understand it by leveraging machine learning.
That data, the prized oil of the digital age, is cross-referenced and analysed across an increasing number of data points by AI algorithms. Little human input is required, making the colossal task feasible.
And businesses are taking note. Eurostar is serving dynamically generated ads that match the user’s search query and link to the most relevant landing page for up-to-date travel information, winning them a 20% increase in revenue from ads compared with its generic search campaigns. Specsavers is using automatic bid adjustments to target returning visitors and locations close to its retail stores, unlocking a staggering 218% increase in bookings for their audiology business.
It doesn’t stop there.
One of the key draws of machine learning is right in the name: it improves as it consumes data.
Facebook’s photo algorithms are fed millions of pictures regularly, and they’re now eerily capable of recognising your friends in the photos you upload. Energy giant BP uses similar algorithms to monitor and analyse sensors at its sites and plants, constantly suggesting new ways to improve and streamline performance.
What about the future of machine learning?
Sounds interesting for the large corporations, you might be saying, but what about us smaller businesses? Fear not; everyone benefits from this miraculous tech.
Paid search campaigns are increasingly affordable and accurately priced, drawing on data from Google, its users and advertisers themselves to make informed decisions about the value of a bid. ML algorithms are even automating ad creation, lessening the need for traditional split-testing and now offering a native split-testing tool in the form of Responsive Search Ads.
For the growing and the transforming business, it means much less time spent agonising over the tiny details of online advertising and more time dealing with selling.
By allowing machine learning to take the reins just as we would with a self-driving car, organisations will become freer to invest their time where it is uniquely the most valuable, such as in defining the principles, brand identity and strategic objectives of a company. In the same way the first automated flour mill allowed farmers to spend their time on other tasks way back in 1785, AI and machine learning give marketing teams the freedom to act quickly and strategically and at a larger scale if desired.
It’s an exciting time to do business! As AI and machine learning moves from the bleeding edge into mainstream marketing, businesses are fast seeing the benefits on offer to them – whatever their size and budget.
If you’d like to talk to us more about this subject and how we might help your business, you can contact us right here.