Google’s recent debut of Google Home — and the impact it will have on search — has kept my mind reeling all week. I haven’t been able to shake this sense that we are on the cusp of a real change in the way that people interact with technology. (It’s also one step closer to the Star Trek computer Amit Singhal wants to make reality.)
Read on to find out how Google Home will deeply impact our interaction with search engine results pages (SERPs) and, subsequently, digital marketing strategy.
How Google Home Will Impact Our Interaction With the SERP
The Star Trek computer isn’t a bot that analyzes external data and catalogs instances of things to return a list of entries that users have to peruse. It’s a knowledge base, much like Google’s knowledge graph. It’s simple, intuitive, and omnipresent. In the world of Star Trek, people spend very little time looking at lists of options; the computer makes the decisions for them.
So how do we get to the 24th century computer from here? The announcements Google made on Oct. 4 took a big step in that direction. Both Google Home and Google Assistant (the heart of the new Pixel phone) bring Google’s experience with artificial intelligence to bear — and Google is training us to use technology in new ways.
The Google Assistant landing page invites visitors to use voice queries: “Ask it questions. Tell it to do things. Tell your Assistant to play jazz on the living room speakers, set your ‘go to gym’ alarm, make a reservation …”
SEOs see that and wonder: Where is there space for a SERP in there?
A SERP presents many results and lets a searcher click their choice. But voice searchers talking to Google Home have a different experience. Google wants to let the Assistant eliminate choices when there’s a clear best option — and “best” is defined by the Assistant.
Obviously, not all queries can have a single response. As you might imagine, a lot of the things we search for need a selection of answers or opinions. But do we need 15,000,000 opinions? Do we even need 10?
Example: I have a pretty small selection of power tools in a very small garage, but I’m getting into some simple woodworking. I recently needed to figure out how to quickly cut a 4″ diameter hole in some 1″ x 8″ pine. So I Googled it.
I really had to comb through the results based on my limited tool collection; a lot of the answers I ignored because they just weren’t helpful.
Now imagine doing that as a voice search with Google Home. I might hear many options the first time I searched. But because of machine learning, eventually Google would recall the particular site (or group of sites) that really caters to my skill level and figure out that out of the 15,000,000 results for “how to cut circles in wood” there might be 4 that are actually useful to me. That’s important information for Assistant; if I ask a question to Google Home while I’m in the garage plugging my jigsaw in, I don’t really want it reading 10 articles to me.
How Will Google Home Affect My SEO Strategy?
A lot of businesses have been doing online marketing, SEO, and PPC for long enough that it’s easy to think we have lots of time to catch up, or surpass, competitors.
While I’m not saying the SERPs are going away anytime soon, I do think that the increased emphasis on personalization is only going to make it harder to find new customers.
If you make a living off of publishing restaurant reviews, and people start using Assistant to find out about a new burger joint instead of Googling it, then Assistant will (likely) pull from one source to get reviews. New users might not even see your site as an option.
By the way, we have no clues yet on where AdWords may one day fit into a Google Home result.
Is the rise of spoken search results bad news for sites that aren’t Yelp, Wikipedia, or YouTube?
No! But it’s bad news for businesses who aren’t putting in the work to understand their audience. It’s bad news for businesses who aren’t willing to grow with their customers’ evolving needs.
If your business is willing to talk to your customers, to find out what your competitors are missing, then this new search technology is good news. Because the only way to be algorithm proof, the only way to secure a lasting position in the evolving world of search, is to be indispensable. So ask yourself this: Would the SERPs be lacking without your site?
Do some user experience testing. Survey your customers. Talk to your customer service reps to identify common questions or complaints, then address them. Figure out what your customers do just before and just after converting on your site; if you can help them perform some of those repetitive actions, you’ve suddenly simplified their lives.
This can be as simple as a good “People also bought” widget that anticipates the next need. If the user adds a nail gun to the cart, why not suggest some popular nails that fit the gun? Or, if it’s a hydraulic nail gun, maybe the user would like to know about a sale you’re having on air compressors.
Understand Your Analytics
The other thing to keep in mind here is that less traffic isn’t always a bad thing. A broad trend some of us in SEO have noticed is that many sites aren’t ranking for as many queries as they used to, which at first seems like terrible news. But many of those same sites are actually seeing better rankings for more specific queries, and a concurrent increase in conversions. As the search engines get better at understanding user intent, and as search becomes more and more personalized, rankings will be harder to track, and (in many instances) harder to get. But if your visits drop while your conversion rate improves, then that’s a net gain (assuming that you’re in business to make money, of course).
The one exception to this, of course, is sites that are dependent on page views for revenue (i.e., ad-heavy sites). I think now would be a good time to start developing a secondary revenue stream/way to monetize your site that you can grow over time, as people are spending less and less time away from SERPs.
Missed the Oct. 4 press conference where Google announced the debut of Google Home, Google Pixel and more? Watch the announcement below.