Digital Assistants and the Death of SEO

By Duncan Hendy in Marketing
·5 min read

With sales of digital assistants projected to soar from 1.8 million to 15.1 million by 2020, it’s no wonder businesses are paying close attention. But leveraging voice-activated search is going to demand a major content and SEO strategy shift.

Heralding the new role technology plays in our lives, digital assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, and Google Home deliver unprecedented convenience to users… and an enigmatic situation for marketers.

Digital assistants offer all kinds of voice-activated functionality, like playing music, streaming podcasts, making lists, setting alarms, and providing weather and traffic updates. And the major benefit to users is the hands-free nature of it all. But these powerful voice-command tools are actually designed to strike up a genuine two-way dialogue with users. Google Assistant, especially, has search at its core and with things quickly moving in that direction, we can expect to see a major shift in all our digital interactions.

So, how should marketers prepare themselves for this eventuality? What is actually going to change?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it: everything.

Moving into a New Era of Search

Searching using a digital assistant is an interface-less process. There’s no keyword typing. No search engine results pages (SERPs). No lists of painstakingly search engine optimized content. There is no browsing or branding. There’s just the answer to the question asked.

You see, submitting a query to a digital assistant is conversational. Rather than “Oldest person ever”, the user asks “Who was the oldest person ever?” At which point the assistant replies “The oldest person ever whose age has been verified is Jeanne Calment (1875–1997) of France, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days”.

No matter how much more informative, creative, unusual, or life-changing than this response your content is… it’s no longer relevant—no, not even if you’re number two for this search.

The truth is, however, that in the majority of cases, users are asking these devices simple questions that have a single answer. “How many pounds are there in a kilo?” “What will the weather be like on Sunday?” They’re too smart to be comparing flights or buying shoes through them. So, actually, SEO never really comes into play anyway.

But what if you own Gloucester-based PizzaPlace101 and the user asks “What is the best vegetarian pizza in Gloucester?” It’s quite clear to all of us that your Quattro Formaggi knocks the oregano off all local competition… but how do you tell the user that if your voice has been muted by the far inferior but number one ranking result? Clearly, your time went into pizza perfection and not marketing.

So let’s take a look at how we have to adjust our game to start winning in the new playing field of voice-activated search.

Ranking for Digital Assistants

Ok, so the title of this article may have been designed to strike fear into your hearts and get you reading, because SEO is going to remain highly relevant—just not in the way we’re used to.

What is actually happening when the digital assistant is asked “What is the best vegetarian pizza in Gloucester?”? It searches the web and delivers what it considers to be the most relevant snippet.

Snippets are the text that accompany every search result listing and describe the page’s relevance to the searched phrase, showing words that exactly match the query in bold face. Featured snippets are those Google highlights at the top of a SERP that succinctly respond to the question asked in the query.

This is where it’s at for SEO in a voice-activated search world. The closer your snippet aligns with the actual query, the more likely you are to be considered most relevant and, therefore, worthy of being the answer.

So think long-tail keywords and remember that your user is now using full sentences. You’re likely to lose search volume, but you’ll encounter less competition and your relevancy will shoot through the roof. A very specific writing style will be required here. And if you’re local, BE local. Embrace it in every way you can. Local results are a major influencer in Google Assistant search rankings. Establish yourself and your value as being locally relevant, and you can start aiming for that top spot.

And then you can get a little bit creative (aka promotional), too. Sure, your content should be crammed with information and enlightenment, but don’t be afraid of a little sales talk. Imagine a hungry family of four hearing the sultry tones of Alexa saying: The best vegetarian pizza in Gloucester is undoubtedly the Quattro Formaggi at PizzaPlace101 where the cheese melts just the way you like it and kids get free ice cream.

You’d better have enough seating.

This is still a gentleman’s sport, however, so if the user is looking to get a simple answer, don’t get in the way.

If you’re winning featured snippets, then you’ll also be positioned well on desktop and mobile searches, and as there is already interplay between devices (with digital assistants saving or opening links in an accompanying app), there simply isn’t a good reason not get started. And by using adaptive content, you can be sure that the right kind of content gets shown to the right kind of device.

SEO for Voice-Activated Search: Your New Playing Field

SEO is not dead. It’s shapeshifting, which puts everyone back on the same playing field.

Your goal with digital assistants is to cast a smaller net to reach a more direct audience. It’s too early to really gauge the impact of the opportunities text-to-voice marketing will bring. And how we’ll measure voice answers is a whole other conundrum. But there is no doubt that the world is heading in that direction and we should all be getting to grips with it and establishing how we’ll adjust our current strategies to rank for voice.

The trend in marketing is already about getting personal, creating a relationship, and winning trust. Nothing changes here. But the way you go about it is set to be turned on its head. This is not a medium that is going to wait for you to catch up, either. But once you’re on board, you can ride that wave to a whole new world of voice-activated success.

What about you? What are your plans when it comes to voice-assisted search? Got any tips of opinions? Then share away in the comments section below.

By Duncan Hendy in Marketing
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