What Does the Rise of Conversational Interfaces Mean for Search Engine Marketers?

  • 6 min. reading time
  • 08 may 2017
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Although now we use Google and Facebook as our primary source for online information, it’s not unthinkable that soon we’ll be using chat apps and voice search for web navigation: for finding information, and even for making purchases. This kind of technology allows users to perform less and less actions to find what they are looking for. The rise of conversational interfaces may very well change the landscape of search engines as we know it. What are the changes going to be, and how can search engine marketers anticipate them?

Slowly but surely the gathering of information is done more and more through conversational interfaces. Already, we often chat with chatbots instead of customer service representatives. An increasing amount of interaction between friends and companies takes place within chat apps, and with the arrival of Siri and Alexa, we’re now even talking to our phones in order to obtain information. It therefore doesn’t seem unlikely that soon we’ll be using chat apps as our primary way of web navigation.

What Does This Mean for Search Engines?

Chatbots, messaging apps, voice search and other conversational interfaces are going to play an increasingly important role. Siri and Alexa are going to be increasingly smarter, they’re going to have more and more capabilities. People will more easily and more quickly get the answers to their questions than before, and can expect to find what they are looking for with one quick query.

Longer Search Words, Quicker Answers

Because people use speech to specify what they’re looking for, queries are becoming longer. This means there will be more focus on long-tail keywords and question-based search phrases. But while queries are getting longer, users are expecting quick and direct answers to their questions, resulting into less search results. When we’re looking up something online, now Google provides us with a long list of search results, but there’s a pretty big chance that in the near future we’ll only receive one (or a few) answer(s). We won’t be looking for possible answers, but for the answer.

What Is the Best Answer?

Of course it’s great that soon we’ll have an answer to our questions even faster, but how will Google determine the best answer to that question? Or the best product of a certain product group? Who says that the answer Google gives you is in fact the best option? These questions are part of the discussion that exists surrounding these changes in web navigation. Because the question is whether Google is going to start determining our ‘truth’, like Facebook with their algorithm. There have already been a few cases when Google Home used fake news to provide users with answers to certain questions. If Google is going to determine what the best answer to a question is, then this could mean that companies will have less power over their website’s online findability.

So Will SEO Disappear Completely?

Probably not. Although it’s difficult to predict exactly what the effect of the rise of conversational interfaces will be on SEO and SEA, it seems unlikely they’ll completely disappear. Google is too dependent on companies investing time and money in high page ranking. There are however, very probably, going to be changes in the landscape of search engines and the way Google ranks the search results.

Thanks to ‘semantic search’, Google is getting better at recognizing the context of a query, based on connections between words, location, search history, time of day, device, and the queries of other people within the same context. This way, Google can provide you with the results most relevant to you. In addition, Google is likely going to rank information based on ‘the quality of the answer in relation to the query’, and ‘the way the answer is presented’. This way Google can move more towards providing direct (and the most relevant) answers to queries. The richer or the more attractive the content of a search result is, the more relevant this result becomes. That’s why ‘rich snippets’ will become increasingly important in online queries, but more on this subject later.

What Will This Mean for Search Engine Marketers?

SEO as we now know it probably won’t be enough if you want to rank as the ‘most relevant answer’ in a query done via conversational interfaces. There’s a few ways marketers can change their SEO strategy to anticipate the arrival of conversational interfaces.

Use Structured Data to Make Your Search Results More Appealing

Structured data allows search engine marketers to indicate what certain texts on an existing webpage stand for, by means of a code (schema.org). It lets you point out relations and connections between words, but it also lets you categorize a piece of text as, for example, an address, a product feature, or a review of a product. The image below shows an example of how this works.

The schema.org lines of code that make structured data possible.

This information is then presented more appealingly to Google through the use of rich snippets. Structured data allows for the possibility to add ratings, images, location and other significant information to the search results. In the example below the rating (represented by the number of stars and an average score) and the number of reviews were registered as structured data, making it more noticeable in the search results. In this case the highlighted product features are the rich snippets.

When information is entered as structured data, it’s presented as rich snippets and looks like this.

By presenting the search results like this, the most important elements of a web page or product are most noticeable. This can help Google determine how relevant the result is for you. It’s likely search results containing rich snippets will become more important, since structured data can help determine Google how well the results ‘answer’ common queries.

Think in Terms of (Direct) Answers to Queries

Long queries and direct answers are becoming more and more common. As a marketer, it’s recommendable to adapt your search results accordingly, by thinking more in terms of direct answers to questions. Consider what questions a user could ask that could relate to your website. Also consider what questions your website provides answers to, and adjust your SEO strategy accordingly.

Make Sure There is a Possibility for Dialogue

Although it’s difficult to start an actual dialogue with a user through a search engine, it is possible to anticipate any possible questions that may occur in response to earlier questions. When in real life you’re talking to (potential) customers, what is it they ask about? What is it they want to know about your product? Because asking follow up questions and having actual interaction between devices is much easier through a conversational interface, it’s important to be prepared for this. If you’re curious what questions people may have with regards to a certain subject, consider consulting answerthepublic.com.

Focus on Location Based Searches

Many queries through conversational interfaces are location based. For instance, someone might ask where the closest grocery store is, or which local store sells those nice sneakers. The more information you add to your search results (like your company’s location and the products you sell), the more likely Google will mention your company’s name when people ask location based questions relating to your website’s content.

What Else Should Marketers Know?

The more questions Google can answer with the content you provide, the bigger the chance your content comes up as an answer to relevant queries. However, this also means that people would have less interaction with your website: because Google has already provided them with an answer, they won’t have to visit and look around your website. As a company you can help Google by making your search results as relevant and appealing as possible, but keep in mind that this new way of searching is designed to provide people with answers as fast as possible, not to direct people to your website.

Also keep in mind that searches and clicks via messaging apps and voice search are still difficult to keep track of. If someone visits your website through a chat app it’s hardly traceable, which means that you’ll be able to save less data from these visitors. This data will therefore not be useable for creating customer profiles or retargeting campaigns.

Lastly, it seems there are some new competitors arriving on the scene. Of course the question is if they’ll ever be able to surpass Google, but they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on. It just might happen that in the future a search engine marketing strategy only for Google won’t cut it anymore.

A Peek into the Future

Unfortunately, it is still difficult to predict the exact impact of conversational interfaces on search engine marketing. It’s not unthinkable that a large part of online interaction will happen through voice search and chat apps, and that people will make less use of search engines for web navigation and finding information. Only time will tell to what extent conversational interfaces will affect search engine marketing, but it’s clear that marketers would be wise to start optimizing their SEO strategy.

Need some advice on how to optimize your SEO strategy for voice search? Get in contact with us!

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