BrightonSEO: Are assistant-powered devices like Alexa a dream or a nightmare?

On Friday 7th April 2017, a group of 6 from MintTwist travelled to Brighton, for what was my first BrightonSEO …

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On Friday 7th April 2017, a group of 6 from MintTwist travelled to Brighton, for what was my first BrightonSEO event. After a very early morning, our weary eyes were soon awoken by swathes of glorious sunshine as we stepped off the train and enjoyed our first few intakes of fresh sea air.

Upon exiting the station, the chit chat was impossible to filter out and one’s ears naturally picked up the ongoing conversations around Brighton, revolving around ‘SERPs’ and ‘Screaming Frog’. Predictably such terms would appear ludicrous to many of Brighton’s usual inhabitants, but today it had been taken over by digital marketers from a plethora of countries.

Once we arrived at the Brighton Conference Centre and began to queue, the sheer scale of the event finally sunk in. The array of languages in the queue alone, were indicative of the transformation of BrightonSEO from a conversation in a pub to one of the largest natural search conferences in the UK and possibly the world.

Almost every conceivably angle was covered at the event, from ‘How to build high quality links without spending money’ to ‘the psychology of language for PPC’. However, my personal favourite was Raj Nijjer’s excellent presentation on ‘AI and Structured Data: How voice search raises the stakes for businesses’ (which is absolutely nothing to do with the fact I work on SEO for MintTwist). Below, I will look to summarise the talk and convey the key points that were raised on the day.

SERPs are not what they used to be

To begin with, Raj stressed how SERPs are unrecognisable to those we saw ten years ago. It is no longer just ten blue links. Structured data has become king, providing the user with what they want instantly. The intelligent services that now exist (knowledge graphs, voice search, Google and Apple Maps) represent a fragmented and daunting future for digital marketers across the globe – often with no screens (gulp…).

We spend so much time worrying about our own website (or that of a client, in the case of an agency) yet the statistics suggest that this is misguided. Brands experience 2.5x more views on intelligent services and 4.8x more engagement. This serves to highlight the current shift towards user generated content.

Google Map Maker was replaced in March of this year with Google Local Guides (which is user generated) because it offers a richer service and is simply better! This is also indicative of the shift towards user generated content. As marketers we must ensure we are in control of all this content – from pictures, to phone numbers and opening hours.

What does the future of voice search look like?

Raj then moved on to talk more specifically about voice search. He referenced research from ComScore last year which stated that by 2020, 50% of searches will be conducted via voice. Further research from Parks Associates revealed a 140% year on year increase on the number of households with a voice search enabled device, further reinforcing the growing popularity.

Voice search is powered by knowledge graphs. Formally in SEO, if you were not ranking on page 1 of Google then you would not show up. Now, if you are not in the knowledge graph, you won’t show up. The way we search is changing and it is now about being the answer.

Do you have all the answers?

In order to be the answer, you must have a deep knowledge of your business and be able to offer information on a variety of subjects. Is your business wheelchair accessible? Is Wi-Fi available? Do you take reservations? You must know all the attributes of your business, particularly those that are industry specific, for example Google recently released a schema for menus this month. It also must be remembered that all this rich content brings your brand to life for the user.

How do Google’s local ranking factors work?

Moving on, Raj tackled how Google’s local ranking factors affect search. By using three significant factors of relevance, distance and prominence (including rating and rating count) in that order, local businesses can flourish alongside their more established counterparts.

Users are now searching for the ‘best…’ or ‘most popular…’ and this is changing how results are filtered. For example, by searching for ‘the best…’, Google will filter results to include those with 4* ratings and above. As can be seen below and by way of comparison with the earlier example, we see when adding ‘best’ to our ‘pizza restaurant’ search that Pizza Express does not make the cut and is omitted from the knowledge graph.  Google is making decisions on the user’s behalf. This highlights the importance of monitoring reviews and ensuring that those of brand advocates are out there. Additionally, research from BrightLocal last year specified that 60% of consumers regard star rating as the most important factor in their purchase decision, while 87% of consumers won’t even consider a business with a low number of reviews.

Furthermore, when searching ‘best restaurants open at 10 pm’ for example, Google will only show those in the knowledge graph that it has information for, otherwise it will assume you are closed. Ensuring you have entered all the requisite information is critical, but also very simple to achieve.

How will we cope!?

The question is then, just how do you maintain control in this chaos-riddled future of intelligent search? As much as digital marketers have become accustomed to Google’s domination of search and perhaps yearn for a simpler time, the future is more complex than this. Particularly in voice search, which is the most fragmented platform of search. With such a diversity of platforms consumed in a wide variety of ways, you must ensure you have direct connections to all of these in order to provide some modicum of control.  As a digital marketer, you are the ultimate authority for the brand.

Of course the engaging talks were myriad, but Raj Nijjer’s really got me thinking and I personally found it the most interesting of the day. He ended his presentation with a rather ominous quip, wondering how long it will be until we jump in our driver-less Tesla and instruct it to ‘take me to the best Chinese restaurant’. Ten years ago, or possibly even five, this would have seemed an outlandish concept, but the uncertain future that lies ahead is becoming clearer at an increasingly rapid rate.

Unfortunately there are no slides available from the presentation, but if you wish to view Raj deliver the talk itself, click here. You will also be able to view all the other talks from the main room.

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