Search engines are evolving in strange new ways. Mobile searches have overtaken desktop searches (at long last), and competitors like Bing and Yahoo are growing more and more like Google every day, unifying the capacity of every major search brand.
As if that weren’t enough, a wave of digital assistants like Siri, Google Now, and Cortana have begun to emerge to redefine the search process—rather than opening a browser window, going to a search engine site, and plugging in an entry only to wade through a string of possible results, users can now use conversational commands and queries to engage with a human-like interface and be met with an almost immediate answer.
Modern digital assistants function almost as intermediaries, with search engines themselves operating in the background. Oftentimes, traffic from searches is completely negated—users get the answers they need without browsing or navigating to individual websites—and in other cases, digital assistants take you to websites directly based on your queries. With this new paradigm of search in place, is it even possible to optimize your site for a digital assistant?
How Digital Assistants Find Results
On the surface, most digital assistants find results in a process similar to the search engines we’ve all become familiar with. There are, however, a few critical distinctions:
- Digital assistants search more than just the web. For example, Windows Cortana searches the files on your hard drive for certain types of queries while relying on a Bing-based online search for others.
- Conversational search is the ultimate priority. The main convenience of digital assistants, and the reason they’ve become so popular is the fact that they can be accessed and used with simple voice commands. While semantic search (and voice-based searches) have been around for years, digital assistants are taking them to the next level by mandating and perfecting the spoken word process. Queries are more conversational, and results must speak to the intention behind those queries.
- Habits and histories are dutifully considered. Google tailors its search results based on past things you’ve searched for and previous online habits. Digital assistants do the same thing, but to an even greater degree. For example, Cortana can “learn” that when you search for a spreadsheet, you aren’t looking for tips on how to use one, you’re looking for one you’ve already made.
- Immediate answers are the goal. Digital assistant users aren’t looking for an extended browsing trip. They’re looking for fast, immediate answers to their queries. As a result, digital assistants prioritize immediate, Knowledge Graph-like responses.
It’s also worth mentioning that not all digital assistants function identically, just as individual search engines never functioned identically. Their similarities can be grouped as generalizations worth noting, but idiosyncrasies and unique characteristics will still keep them differentiated.
Still, digital assistants rely on existing web search algorithms for certain types of queries—i.e., ones that can only be sufficiently answered by directing a user to a specific website. For example, if you ask your digital assistant about a product that’s only offered by one e-commerce platform (however unlikely that scenario might be), you’ll likely be redirected to that website. It gets a little trickier if that product is offered on multiple platforms, especially if a mobile app is one of them, but if the key is to offer something unique that can only be found on your website—and can’t be summarized with a simple informational breakdown.
Knowing this information, there are a few key takeaways you can incorporate into your current SEO strategy to account for the rise of digital assistants:
- Keep conversational language in your posts. Conversational queries naturally seek out conversational results. Including long-tail keywords, colloquial phrases, and long form questions in your content will help you appear for more voice-based queries.
- Reduce your efforts on basic information. For a while, writing posts with simple answers to common questions was a good idea. Now, digital assistants can provide that information directly, without using you as the go-between. Instead of writing this type of content, venture into more complex, niche territory.
- Include more photos and videos. For now, digital assistants can’t bypass you to provide visual content—they have to route to you directly. For this reason, it’s better to incorporate more images, videos, and other visuals into your content rotation.
- Expand your reach on other platforms. Users don’t rely on digital assistants for everything. Stay active on as many social media platforms and third party directories as possible—this won’t help you rank in a digital assistant interface, but will give you greater visibility elsewhere.
The Future of SEO
Digital assistants aren’t the most used form of search today, but they’re growing more popular and could one day replace the typical browser-based search engine entirely. When that happens, users will become reliant on immediate answers and local solutions for everything, and overall visits to websites will diminish. Already, giants like Wikipedia are feeling the effects of the Knowledge Graph and similar quick-answer programs. When the trend develops further, SEO as we know it could vanish entirely, replaced by a new means of achieving digital visibility with users and resellers.
Until that time comes, it’s worth your time and money to invest in your online presence. Hedge your bets by covering as much ground as possible with great, diverse content, and a presence on as many external platforms and apps as possible. The goal is visibility, however you can get it.