"The world of search marketing is changing" – have many a great marketer said.
Never ever before has this been so true. Massive shifts in search behaviour and huge fundamental changes to results happened in 2016, are happening in 2017 and will continue to evolve in 2018 and beyond. They will be spoken into a smartphone or an Alexa-style virtual assistant, or undertaken on the move from their phones and watches . As a result, such searches involve different search queries and algorithms that deliver potentially very different results. If they haven't already, it is right now that brands and marketers need to start thinking hard and fast about what a voice / mobile search age means for audiences engaging with their brand, their products, and of course, their content. Ultimately, we need to look at how to deliver an audience experience to fit a very different types of search that didn't exist before. Brands can no longer just rely on search engine optimization and PPC when it comes to search – something bigger is happening.
It's Search, But Not As We Know It.
So let's put this into some sort of context. When we think about a user searching the web via Google, as website owners we think about our on-site SEO (meta data, titles, links, sitemaps etc...), our offsite SEO (backlinks, Moz score etc...) and sometimes, how we can utilize Adwords as a non-organic way to better control and manipulate the results. Quite rightly so, this is what we should be doing, but in fact, where we fall down is that we actually stop here.
Search is now bigger than just a user sat on their laptop typing terms into the Google search box. People aren't tied to their desks, just searching on their desktops. People are on the move, on their mobiles, often using conversational search, relying on getting back local results thanks to GPS, or even using voice search as they multi-task during their day. So, do you remember when you used to do a search from your desktop and get 10 blue links to websites with a brief meta description? Search isn't like this anymore. Go into Google now on your mobile, do a search for ‘coffee' or ‘coffee near me' and see what the results page looks like.
"Whaaaaat??! – it's not 10 blue links?!" I hear you say. Look at these results closely, we have maps, reviews, Wikipedia, Google knowledge etc... In fact, it took me 5 scrolls on my iPhone 6s to get down to the organic SEO driven results. The search results (below the Adwords powered results) are all structured data consisting of opening times, location, reviews, addresses and more. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome intelligent search. Welcome to the knowledge graph.
The Knowledge Graph... Things-not-Strings
The Knowledge Graph is nothing new, its been alive and kicking since May 2012, but right now and going forward, it is more important than ever. The Google Knowledge Graph is a Google system that understands facts about people, places and things and how these entities are all connected. The Knowledge Graph is used both behind-the-scenes to help Google improve its search relevancy and also to present Knowledge Cards, at times, within its search results that provide direct and intelligent answers.
"it is now imperative you get your brand on the Knowledge Graph"
The elements of the Knowledge Graph offer a distinct advantage to your business. The content is user generated data, yes you can curate and manage this, it is not crawled data. You can really own it, you can manipulate it and you can control your own brand knowledge. Great for building brand awareness and supporting brand strategy. While SEO should still play a part for most businesses, it is now imperative you get your brand on the Knowledge Graph – and in turn, this will benefit your SEO. There isn't a switch you can flick to instantly make your brand appear on the Knowledge Graph, however, there are certain types of businesses that stand a fair chance of that happening provided they are present on certain networks, services and platforms. Some of these services and platforms include:
- A YouTube channel
- An authority website
- Structured data
- Active social network profiles
- A blog
- References, citations, and backlinks
- A branded Google+ page
- Google My Business
- A Wikipedia Page (this isn't as easy as you may think).
- Entries on Wikidata
Each one of these that you can utilise and utilise well, will increase your SEO, but more importantly give you a better opportunity of owning a piece of Knowledge Graph real-estate.
Voice Search and the Knowledge Graph.
We were living in a mobile-first world, but there's a shift happening. We are moving (if we haven't already moved) into an AI-first world. This is without doubt one of the most important issues for businesses to address. It's how you can continue to thrive in an age and an environment where technology is increasingly more decisions about your information before your customers even see it?
When it comes to voice search, there is no clear winner. There are so many fragmented devices and services. For instance, with voice search, there's personal assistants including Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant which are becoming recognisable household names etc... over 20% of Google searches are voice based, highlighting the size of this ever growing market. It is predicted that in three years' time, over 50% of searches will be voice ones. It really is happening people, AI voice search is booming. Seriously, it is going off right now and there will be no let up as we move beyond 2020 and data location and digital knowledge management will be a crucial attribute in voice searches.
Voice search fundamentally changes how consumers receive information and how marketers and businesses approach SEO. Artificial intelligence powered personal assistants will often provide a single answer to many queries, without a screen. Yes, no screen, very scary for marketers and their brands. So we have to ask ourselves, "If I ask Alexa a question about my brand, or even better, relevant to my brand, does my brand appear?". I am pretty sure in most cases, your brand won't, but if you're a consumer facing brand, you want to be aiming for this.
"in three years' time, over 50% of searches will be voice"
Achieving this is all about managing your digital brand knowledge, getting yourself firmly on that Knowledge Graph, not about optimising for SEO, while it will benefit your organic ranking. It is time to start aspiring to be the answer. Start using services and knowledge platforms to build deep knowledge about your business and about your brand. Get into the details, create deep meaningful attributes that include all the key information about your business which is relevant to the user. Be the answer to that voice search.
Other benefits of managing your brand knowledge
We will continue to see a rise in intelligent search, whether its maps, voice or knowledge cards, moving away from the traditional search. This is where search has gone far beyond website SEO. Brands will continue to see a huge rise in traffic to their website from all these other intelligent knowledge rich channels. Not to mention, that in some cases, some of this traffic will never reach your website as the information they require is accessible outside of it.
"brands are seeing 4.8x more engagement from intelligent services than their own website"
We must remember, users are searching, browsing and consuming information on a vast array of channels and services. In fact, a recently published statistic said that many brands are seeing 4.8x more engagement from intelligent services than their own website. Why? Because they seem more independent than the brand's website, the information is more accessible than having to dig around for it and importantly, the results are more tailored to the search and the specific user need at that time.
Knowledge Management – it's time
I actively encourage the brands that I work with to include a reputation management strategy now. Depending on the industry, this will include a clear strategy from Trip Advisor to Feefoo (reviews), from Google My Business to Wikipedia entries. We must harness the platforms and services out there in order to feed Google / Siri / Alexa / Cortana, or even old fashioned mobile search (smirks) the right data, that they can then, in turn, serve to the end user. We must think bigger. We must think bigger than SEO and Adwords. We have to think Digital Knowledge Management.
In the knowledge management game, you are the ultimate authority of your own knowledge. Use it. Be the answer, control the search.