Evolving Search Technology and the Deepening Need for Firms to Invest in Brand Recognition
I recently attended MozCon in Seattle, an intensive conference for search engine optimization (SEO) professionals and leaders in the industry. Topics ranged from developing problem-solving content, earning SEO-boosting links for your website, addressing Google updates, and more. One of the sticking topics for me was the future of search.
With the advent of voice-activated personal assistants like Google Home and Alexa, people are searching differently than they ever have. On the flip side, Google is returning results differently than it always has. This is big news for professional services firms who value their search traffic and the value it brings to lead generation efforts.
Google promises to rank websites higher in search results if site owners play by Google’s rules and format their content as requested. Answer people’s questions well, and Google says it will rank your site high and consequently increase site traffic.
We’re starting to see Google is giving less and less credit to sites for their great content, at some times even taking content as its own and featuring it as a snippet above search results. Rand Fishkin, SEO master and founder of Moz, calls this Google’s “Trojan Horsing.” 1 For some sites that follow Google’s rules, soldiers are hopping out to steal their traffic (take a look at Weather.com’s data below).
Screenshot via Google.
Google recently launched Google Jobs, which pulls content from LinkedIn, Facebook, Monster, etc. and shows them in a stylized section above search results. If you structure your business’ job postings with Google’s markup, you could be featured above the rest of search results with other similar job postings. Bare in mind: Google doesn’t offer a direct link to your website from the initial search results page. If someone clicks on the job snippet, they stay on a Google page and can view most if not all the information about a job. There is currently a link to view the original source, but a click to that source isn’t guaranteed if users feel they gathered all of the information they need from Google’s page.
Photo via Google.
Google has also been busy collecting local events from outlets like Meetup and using the data as a featured snippet above search results. In an extreme case, Google approached a site owner who collected massive amounts of celebrity networth data to ask if it could use some of that data, was told it couldn’t, and went ahead and took that data anyway.2 In short, Google will follow the fair ranking rules, that is, unless it has its “own content.”
Businesses are faced with a dilemma: pacify Google and risk it killing your site’s traffic, or hold back your unique value and risk a competitor benefiting from Google’s opportunities.
Search without Screens
A buzzy topic at MozCon was the evolving technology of voice search devices (personal assistants like Amazon’s Echo and Google home) and the decreasing need for screens to search for and return content results. While personal assistant-optimized SEO might seem far removed from how people find your firm, think again. Microsoft’s Cortana had 133 million monthly users last year, according to Tech Radar. Gartner predicts 30% of searches will be done without a screen by 2020.
No longer are users tied to their desktop computers or mobile phones to search the Internet for a solution to their problem. They can search using their voice by service, product, or even business name. Voice search can be a scary prospect for SEOs: second place doesn’t count. You either rank at #1 and return as the search result, or the searcher never knows about you.
Currently, most voice search interactions take place in the B2C sphere (i.e. people ordering pizzas, listening to music, or finding the closest pet groomer). There is certainly opportunity for B2B businesses to play in that space as well; we’re not sure what that is going to look like just yet. Keep voice search on your radar. It may become an effective lead gen tool for your organization, especially if your firm can gain footing as an early adopter and innovator.
Taking Control of Your Brand
You can gain a foothold in the growing voice search market and combat Google’s biased search rankings by building brand awareness. People will search for your content by name if they know it does a great job answering their questions.
Apple's Siri results of H&R Block locations.
I’m an avid Spotify fan. Their product is high-quality, user-centric, and a service I’m quite happy forking over $10 a month for a premium account. You can bet I’m searching for that brand by name. They’ve won me over so much, if I searched and didn’t get a Spotify result back, I would redo my search until I’m happy, or reach for my laptop and find it by hand.
Screenshot via Spotify.
Fuel that kind of passion in your audience. Delight them so much that they would rather not have the product or service at all than not get it from you.
Start Here (Hint: Find what Google is doing and do it better):
- Solve people’s problems so well that they search for you by name. (ex. When you think about x, think of us!) Why would someone go to Google when your content is so great?
- Build content that Google can’t represent in search results.1 Focus on complex problems or long-tail search queries that Google can’t answer in a simple search result. Interactive content is also hard to replicate and can go a long way in keeping visitors engaged and on your site.
- Curate your own subscription channels, and drive users to them. Delight users with video channels, blogs, and more.
- Innovate at the problem level. Google innovates at the solution level. It’s not looking to redefine problems or logically come to helpful conclusions. It aggregates solutions. Find what someone is truly looking for, and create content around it. Always test and refine to optimize searcher satisfaction.
There’s an opportunity here to be proactive and help ensure your firm stays competitive in an increasingly digital atmosphere. Search technology is constantly evolving, and we need to evolve along with it. We’re here for any questions you may have along with way.
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