Important shifts in search behaviour and fundamental changes to search results themselves will continue this year.
Mobile usage and search volume continue to surpass desktop, with more smartphones users relying on mobile information whilst on the go.
To accommodate this shift, Google has moved towards mobile friendly results across the board, removing the right rail of advertisements from the search engine result page (SERP) and favouring local optimised listings.
Google also provided clarity about their search algorithm—naming relevance, proximity, and prominence as the top three factors in search rank—increasing the importance of location reviews in local search. Search results have moved far beyond ten blue links on a page.
Through all these changes, a new player has emerged: voice search.
Businesses worldwide have invested heavily in adapting to a “mobile-first world.” Today, as we move from mobile-first to yet another new order, what Google CEO Sundar Pichai called an “AI-first world,” one of the most important issues for businesses is how to continue to thrive in an environment where technology is making more and more decisions about their information before the customer even sees it.
Voice search is already seizing a high share of search volume. 20% of Google searches and 25% of Windows 10 taskbar searches are voice-based.
Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant are becoming global household names. Voice search will only bring forth new players in search at the intersect of information and connected devices. The popularity of Amazon Echo demonstrates this.
Voice search fundamentally changes how consumers receive information and how businesses have to approach SEO. These artificial intelligence agents provide a single answer to many queries. “Where is the nearest open coffee shop?” “What is the best hotel in London?” “Find me a highly-rated restaurant in South Kensington, book me a table.”
These answers are provided quickly and powered by a complex set of data, allowing AI agents to understand the user’s intent and distinguish between “who” and “what” and “where”.
AI agents are able to base their answers on the nuanced preferences of their users, learning from their actions and adapting to their habits.
In the coming year, businesses must adapt SEO strategies to face this new normal head on. As Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft race to perfect AI, businesses will be racing to perfect their search rankings. The key to success? Structured data.
Businesses will need to structure their data accordingly so that their brands rank first for specific keywords and attributes. This leaves no room for error and increases competition tenfold. If the answer provided by AI is wrong, customers will not blame the device or search engine, but rather the business itself.
In fact, today, 8 in 10 UK consumes encounter incorrect location information online and 49% blame the business for these inaccuracies. One wrong piece of information can negatively impact a business for the long run, increasing customer frustration and brand associations.
Search engines and artificial intelligence rely on rich, accurate, real-time data to provide consumers with exactly what they are looking for.
The more information a business associates with its locations, the better chance it has of appearing high in search rankings.
Businesses must undergo the process of collecting and structuring data on their websites and creating search-friendly local pages so that search engines — and ultimately consumers — will find them.
While this is all daunting in scope, businesses can take solace that the same knowledge that powers voice search is that which has transformed the SERP: location data.
Name, address, description, categories, reviews—this is the same business information surfaced in knowledge graphics and local packs.
The key is ensuring this information is consistent across the ecosystem of directories, maps, and apps such that search engines prioritise it.
It’s not just retailers and restaurants who will be affected. Local search is how consumers discover doctors, day care centres, financial advisors, and other high-value services.
Optimising location data is paramount for any business to compete in an AI-first world.
This is a new age of search. 2017 will only bring new advancements and with them, new challenges. One thing is for certain; artificial intelligence is here to stay, and it will transform the world moving forward.
Sourced by Jon Buss, managing director for UK & Northern Europe, Yext