PMG Digital Made for Humans

A Search Revolution: From "Near Me" to "For Me"

April 9, 2024 | 3 min read

Author's headshot

Jason Hartley, Head of Search & Shopping

This article was written by Jason Hartley. As Head of Search and Shopping, Jason oversees PMG’s holistic approach to search across their client portfolio. A senior member of PMG’s Center of Excellence (COEs), he consults on media strategies across clients like Nike and Gap brands. He also leads PMG’s holistic approach to privacy. Alongside his work at PMG, Jason is a member of the Google Performance Council and ANA Ethics Policy Committee.

A decade ago, the rapid growth of mobile search represented both an opportunity and a challenge for Google. While search volume increased dramatically, results were predominantly designed for desktop users. Google adapted by prioritizing "Near Me" results, optimized for smaller screens and on-the-go searches. 

Today, the search landscape is evolving once again. Generative AI and social discovery are influencing how and where people search. People expect more personalized and dynamic results than traditional search engines offer, and they have more tools than ever to find what they need. This signals the arrival of the "For Me" era. Amid this change, marketers—and the search engines themselves—must move beyond established tactics and focus on delivering deeply personalized experiences to be successful.

Historically, search has centered on basic text, images, and links, which were sufficient for simple queries, but now, people have become more savvy and want more nuanced information. This trend has led thousands of users to append "Reddit" to their Google searches, seeking authentic insights and community-driven knowledge. This isn't a new development, but Google has only just recently joined forces with Reddit to power greater integrations to inform these search results more directly, recognizing that its communities represent enormous old-growth forests of digital knowledge. 

Generative AI chatbots, like OpenAI’s web search capabilities, take this crowdsourced approach further by dynamically using context from LLMs to tailor responses automatically as conversations unfold. With traditional search engines, finding the perfect "Cajun gumbo recipe" means multiple searches. But generative AI transforms the process, letting you refine your queries conversationally—like playing 20 Questions to uncover the perfect recipe. This empowers the user as a creator, with chats becoming personal archives reflecting unique preferences. This also signals a broader evolution as users gain diverse search options and reshape the traditional search experience. While it’s not clear yet just how this space will evolve, Gartner is anticipating a 25 percent drop in search-engine volume by 2026 due to “AI chatbots and other virtual agents.”

Generative AI isn’t the only disrupter in the space: Social platforms are increasingly used for product discovery. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram excel at visual search and product discovery, offering authentic reviews, immersive experiences, and insights into brand personality—all areas where traditional search engines struggle. And while TikTok may lag in raw search power, its intuitive interface delivers information with less user effort than search engines require. According to Insider Intelligence, as much as 51 percent of Gen Z worldwide use social media to look up a brand versus 45 percent who turn to search engines. They have turned to social because not only are the results more relevant, but they're also more “visual” and “fun.”

Social search and chatbots have transformed consumer expectations around search. Interactive experiences now supersede static keywords and paid placements. This shift extends beyond emerging platforms, as established search engines like Google, Amazon, and Bing are integrating chatbots and more visual results. Now, success in search, regardless of platform, requires a holistic brand presence and the exploration of new methods. Brands must cultivate a unified, authentic voice across their website and social channels. This means moving beyond mere keyword optimization and using search insights to inform emotionally resonant content. Close collaboration between social, search, and now, influencer teams is essential.

A recent study confirms this shift, revealing that 31 percent of social media users prefer discovering new products through creators and influencers. This is where influencers can provide a lift to search: it's contextually relevant, offers insights into natural language search terms, has viral potential to boost rankings, and diversifies content for broader appeal. By understanding how influencers shape consumer preferences and language, brands can tailor their search strategies for increased visibility and engagement.

The rise of the "For Me" search signifies a fundamental shift in the search landscape. For brands looking to reimagine their approach amid these changes, we recommend the following:

  • Diversify Your Search Presence: Expand your visibility across social platforms that offer strong search functions (like TikTok) and emerging chatbot technologies.

  • Prepare for Disruption: Understand the likely evolution of paid search formats due to generative AI. Emphasize adaptability in your search strategy.

  • Optimize Holistic Content Strategy: Prioritize engaging, accurate website content with strong SEO fundamentals.

  • Incorporate Influencer Marketing: Establish a purposeful strategy that collaborates with influencers to create and amplify searchable brand content, placing your brand in conversation and culture.

  • Monitor Developments: Pay attention to paid ad models that might emerge in subscription-based AI services.

Today's searchers seek inspiration alongside utility, with content that caters to both their transactional needs and aspirational desires. Brands that fail to offer this level of multi-faceted engagement across their digital touchpoints risk losing visibility in an increasingly crowded and rapidly evolving search landscape.