Welcome to Artificial Intelligence (AI), Voice Search and Augmented Reality (AR).
- Are you a business owner trying to market your business online?
- Are you in the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) industry and fighting denial?
- Do you know where search marketing is going and who the players will be tomorrow?
Select a heading below to learn more and read on. I would appreciate your comments and feedback.
No, the game simply evolved. From day one, due to the sheer volume of information submitted and collected by Google, it had to create an automated program to rank all this data into meaningful search results. These search algorithms have naturally got more sophisticated over time.
Up until 2011 it was all about being near the top of the ten-blue links on Google's page one for your chosen keywords. A core component of Google's algorithm was and still is trust. Unfortunately, the recipe for trust was the number of other websites pointing to yours, something easily manipulated and gamed by SEOs along with other lazy practices such as pumping out low-quality content.
In 2012 Google started releasing new search algorithm updates to combat low quality content, shady and poor link building practices, which has been the ongoing source of obsession for anyone involved in digital marketing.
New forms of SEO appeared, including negative SEO techniques to try and nobble a competitor or a flurry of link removal services as former link builders turned into link cleansers.
2012 also saw the growing use of structured data. Put simply, the text, images, headings and information on your website can be organised and catalogued so when search engines collect it, they can automatically categorise it and use it to populate search queries.
It is easier to visually show this, so looking for an excuse to include a minion, let's type:
Show times for Despicable Me 3 into Google (who doesn’t like Despicable Me?)
Now instead of those ten blue links of yesteryear, taking you off to different websites, you now have all the information you need in front of you without going anywhere else.
At the top of the page are displayed your nearest cinema show times (based on your computer or smartphones location). This data will have been pulled from the cinema website who will have organised their data into a structured format.
On the right, there is a knowledge panel. This pulls in information from a variety of sources. It could be Wikipedia, it could be your website, review sites, social media etc.
Below that are related stories, and finally right at the bottom is the first traditional organic search result.
Remember Google's longstanding and still current mission statement:
Structured data is still evolving and you will find plenty of bad examples or examples where the search results still resemble the old ten blue links. But it is getting more sophisticated and Google will take your unstructured data and try and make sense of by itself.
So, take control, organise and structure your data rather than letting Google make a best guess.
The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a lot more common than you may realise.
Although a very complex topic, a simplified look at AI will see it already in use powering portions of Google's algorithm. It achieves this by a process called “deep learning”, which is a process of analysing huge amounts of data.
Other ways it is currently used is by powering translation services, chat bots and various algorithms used by all the big players such as Facebook, Twitter and Bing.
AI may have yet to beat the Turin Test in all areas or meet our sci-fi driven expectations, but it is in mainstream use and you probably interact with AI on a daily basis without even knowing it.
AI powered search algorithms bring an interesting dimension to optimisation as search results will be more personalised to the original searcher. Data will be analysed based on previous searching criteria, stored profiles such as age, gender, income or even previous buying habits.
AI also brings its share of problems depending on the criteria used to train it. Prejudices can become hard-coded in AI such as a search for Doctors will assume they are male and nurses will be female. Google is tackling this with a new project called PAIR (People + AI Research), but it shows some of the challenges ahead when working with or optimising for AI powered algorithms.
Consumers and customers want instant information, not a slow website. Stats tell us 60%+ visitors now search using a smart phone. Unfortunately, many mobile sites still lead to a poor experience.
If you or your client’s information is readily available within search, do they need to go to your website?
Customers may need to access specific information from your website, or complete a sales transaction. But general information, location, feedback, reviews, reputation, opening hours even who your competitors are can be easily accessed by a multitude of channels, all without visiting your website.
Christi Olson, Search Evangelist at Microsoft, predicted at the Yext on Tour London conference last month:
Other predictions range widely from 30% to 70%. The only thing people do seem to agree with is voice search has arrived and it will grow quickly.
Meanwhile in China, they have embraced voice search and the fantastically named Amazon Echo clone "Ling Long Ding Dong" is struggling with demand, they can't make enough of them.
After seeing one being demonstrated by a Mandarin speaker I'd go as far to say it's better than the Amazon Echo I've got at home. If you ask for the nearest Chinese restaurant, it not only tells you, but sends directions to your phone. The name sounds funny to us, but apparently it's a girls nickname.
What's more fascinating is it caters for and understands the huge range of Mandarin dialects. So, it's time for us to catch up.
If you are still trying to figure out structured data, now you need to add a new dimension, context.
Search requests will become more conversational and specific rather than the current clipped keyword approach as we move away from our keyboards and embrace voice search.
You might speak into your phone “Where can I find the best Chicken Tikka Masala” versus typing Indian restaurants Stratford Upon Avon. But if you are an Indian Restaurant, you want to show up in both results.
You might ask “what veggie options does the Taj Mahal do?” How will search requests deal with the word veggie? How will search know that the Taj Mahal is the name of the local curry house versus the iconic mausoleum in Agra?
All this just adds to the challenge of creating and distributing this information. You will also need plenty of positive feedback, a curated and positive customer perception, with your opening hours and latest menu information updated and distributed across as many channels as possible.
Augmented Reality (AR) has been around for a while but burst onto the public consciousness recently in the form of Pokémon Go with kids and grown adults running around the streets chasing imaginary creatures.
Purists will argue it’s not true AR but you understand the principle.
Overlaid interactive imagery and text on the real world, currently done by downloading an app on your phone.
Google has been working on an AR overlay system using a headset called Google Glass. Although there was speculation this project was ending, there recently has been a new update and rumour has it they are aiming to get the technology onto a contact lens.
The applications are endless from directions, to being told where to park, virtual receptions to shopping, where you look at groceries and see whatever information is displayed or even menu options.
This technology can be applied almost anywhere and a convergence of technologies in the very near future will see us being transported round in automated pods, with AR displays over the glass telling you whatever information you want to know, wherever you want to look.
You can imagine the advertising opportunities as we head down this path and become willing captive audiences. Maybe transportation will be free, as long as you watch the adverts?
SEO has become a bit of a dirty word. But optimising for a Google knowledge panel or search result, whilst ensuring your information is displayed when someone talks to their Amazon Alexa box, Windows Cortona, Apple Siri or the uninspiring named Google Assistant will become vital.
Then factor in augmented reality and ensuring you show up in relevant overlays will mean a new way of looking at optimisation. Old school SEO practices will hurt your search presence and potentially damage your brand or business.
Does your current strategy embrace and allow for the changes that are here as well as those that are coming?
For any aspiring SEO managers or consultants, it’s time to re-brand, rethink and move forward.
I first heard the term DKM listening to a presentation by Yext CMO, Jeffrey K Rohrs. Marketers will need to learn some new skills and business owners will look to this new breed of specialists to help leverage and market their products and services across the new and emerging technologies.
A business's information assets need to be created, curated, managed, updated, distributed and continually monitored.
I see the role of the DKM to take ownership of your company’s information and reputation across the digital ecosystem.
The ranking algorithm currently employed by search engines will still hold true when it comes to voice with the addition of context.
Distance – pretty self-explanatory, most voice and AR searches will be on a mobile device so the preference will be very local results.
Prominence - if I ask Siri for the best Chinese Restaurant, it is going to be based on locality and reviews. Reviews have risen in importance over the years, now the focus is on genuine reviews. Third party sites that professionally moderate reviews. In the future, I suspect we will see more syndication of reviews as scores are pulled in from multiple but validated sources.
Relevance - the more information there is about your products and services, the more chance you have of being relevant to search queries. Are your products listed with relevant specifications? Is your restaurant menu up-to-date? If you offer a service, is it obvious when you have an available appointment?
Context - will play a key part as to what results show for what search queries. Consider how you name or describe things. Offer alternative names, aliases or descriptions.
Look at this example of recent mobile search trends, to glimpse the future. Searches are getting a lot more specific and granular.
Can consumers find detailed information about your products and services? Think about this when trying to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Standard SEO practice until now was to optimise for Google and this would cover you for any other search engines. In the UK Google is the dominant search engine but Bing has a healthy 20% of the UK search market.
Microsoft conceded in 2014 that Bing couldn’t compete with Google on desktop search. So instead they have been looking to the future. Bing powers Cortana, the Windows 10 personal assistant, which is powered by voice. Cortana is also being offered to manufacturers of the funny term “Internet of Things” IoT devices. In other words, the new household smart devices of the future such as intelligent fridges.
Bing did a deal with Apple and now provides the search results for Siri. They also did a deal with Amazon and provide the same service for the Alexa, the home smart speaker.
This puts Bing in a very strong position when it comes to the exploding market of voice search, so it’s important to ensure you or your client's data is accessible and fully optimised for Bing.
Summary - TL;DR - (Too long and didn't read )
The way people search and the technology used is changing. But contrary to popular myth:
The SEO Manager may give way to a Digital Knowledge Manager, but good skill sets will be harnessed, work will become more challenging and interesting. Embrace it and move forward.
If you are a business owner or decision maker, then take a close look at your marketing strategy and spend. Are your current partners capable of taking you and your business on this new digital journey?
The future of search is already here, it’s happening. Take stock, evaluate where you are in this knowledge management era and apply whatever action you must. Ride the wave as an early adopter rather than watching from the shore.
- Artificial Intelligence Goes Mainstream - www.cbronline.com
- Deep Learning - The End of SEO as We Know It - www.socialmediatoday.com
- Google wants to make sure AI advances don’t leave anyone behind - www.theverge.com
- 4 Things You Need to Know About the Future of Marketing - www.thinkwithgoogle.com
- The Rise of Digital Knowledge Management - www.yext.com
- How the Travel Research Process Plays Out in Time-to-Make-a-Plan Moments - www.thinkwithgoogle.com
- Bing search engine can't compete with Google - www.computerworlduk.com
- Cortana to power fridges and toasters - www.theverge.com