Have you noticed how search results on Google are changing? In some cases, it's almost as if Google were reading your mind. It's not across all search queries - yet. It's happening, though. This evolution will affect how to get found on Google for your business.
This is more fundamental than title tags and meta descriptions - not that you should ignore those. Rather this gets to the heart of making meaning for your visitors and prospective customers regardless how they find you.
Here are notes from the presentation Will Critchlow, CEO of Distilled, gave at INBOUND15 on this topic.
The Future of Search – and what you should be doing about it right now.
As Critchlow explained, we are right in the middle of the most exciting and dramatic changes happening to search. He's not talking about algorithm changes such as Panda or Penguin. Rather, he's referring to bigger shifts in how Google operates behind the scenes and what users expect from their search queries.
What’s going on with search?
- Keywords become intents. Everything used to be about matching the words you use to search with words on a web page. Search is shifting away from explicit query to intent/conversation (e.g., I want to find photos of….).
- Search engines want to understand, not just index.
A search for “That movie where those two guys drink wine” generates the name of the movie (i.e., Sideways). That query shouldn't work - the search terms don’t even show up in the words! But it does.
A search for "best restaurant" does not mean a search where "best restaurant" appears on the page. It's more subtle. The intent of that search is to find an excellent restaurant; results include reviews and recommendations for best restaurants.
Critchlow recommends the following 1:19 hour YouTube of a Google Tech Talk titled The Structured Search Engine from 2011 about understanding queries. He says, "it's mindblowing!"
And on the searcher side, there's a more subtle transition depending on the type of device the search takes place on and the user's physical location.
For example, a “London tube station” query might rank a subway map, a Wikipedia entry, and the tube authority. If you do that search on an iPhone, on a street in London, you certainly have a very different intent. You don’t want history, or a map, rather you want to know where the closest tube station is based on your location.
The new search query model then becomes:
Query = explicit query + implicit signal
where the implicit signal has to do with country, device, time of day, etc. This requires that users provide more information as Google gets better. This includes user signals as well as personalization (your own search history). We don’t realize how much this is happening on a regular basis.
For example, Critchlow showed a search he did for photos of "Mario." First results included Super Mario, then the German soccer team, and then Mario from the German soccer team.
The vision for search is of a strong Artificial Intelligence (human powered). The current iteration is weak and specialized, which is more powerful for certain things (e.g., driving). Tons of different algorithms exist based on the different type of queries. These are complex systems which make it hard even for Google engineers to say why one page ranks over another.
Then – there is the growth of mobile and what it means to user behavior and social interaction.
The iPod revolutionized an industry; it disrupted portable music. The iPhone launch made the iPod launch look slow; the iPad made that look even slower, not to mention Android!
The point is that social is mobile. Facebook is 50% mobile only. Many people only use Facebook on their phone, including email! What that means that content is becoming mobile marketing. It gets shared on mobile. Even if a small percentage of mobile traffic comes to your website, your content still needs to be mobile because the sharing happens on mobile.
This becomes a viral loop – someone sees something cool and shares it on Facebook, and it gets further shared. If on average more than 1 new share happens each time it is shared, then it is viral (k>1). If it sucks for more than half, then half as many share it and it might never take off.
What does mobile content marketing mean for us as marketers?
Critchlow shared the following practical tips and tactics to succeed.
- What does content marketing look like if it is mobile first? It's not just responsive. It’s about creating things differently, with a mobile focus first.
- This is hard because we mostly develop marketing materials on the desktop first.
"Don't build things differently; build different things."
For example, Distilled created a piece comparing the vocal ranges of the world’s greatest singers. The mobile view is what was shared like crazy! So start in mobile!!!
(In Chrome, you can view a mobile emulation of what you are creating. Right click and select "inspect element" and click on small mobile icon in menu bar.)
You may need to present the information differently so it works in a mobile environment. (Example - New York Times visual showing the men’s 100 meter sprint over time. It's an engaging animation. Responsive design would have lost all the detail.)
Critchlow thinks about this as part of the content process. It needs to be baked In. He referred to his associate Mark Johnstone's presentation at INBOUND14 on how to produce better content ideas.
And how do we attack machine learning?
Ultimately, it's about making users happy in order to make the algorithms happy: this is the Google Objective for search. So, if you embrace tips from conversion rate optimization, you focus on minimizing short clicks; they indicate that your users are not happy with the results they have to choose from.
Optimize for what would happen if you did rank. What would your content look like? Find out why users don't like your site. Here is the sequence:
- Do they click?
- Do they like what they see if they click?
- Do they get what they want (fulfill intent) when they click?
(Google may be split testing different search results).
Here is Will Critchlow's presentation on the Future of Search from INBOUND15:
Four (simple) thoughts about how to get found on Google
1. More than ever, getting found on Google means starting with the end in mind as it relates to visitors on your site.
2. If you want to be relevant, be thinking about the explicit query and the range of possible implicit signals (this brings to mind the benefits of contextual marketing tools).
3. How can you make your users so happy that they click on your site link, they like what they see when they land and they get what they want as a result of that click?
4. In other words, how well do you understand your personas and how well can you meet their needs with your content so they happily stay on your site?
By the way, Steve Rubel Talks Inbound Content Challenges at #INBOUND15 alludes to this evolution of search when Rubel brings up needing to pay attention to the algorithm.
Comments? Reactions? What would you add? Have you tested any of these ideas with your own content?
Note: This article was originally published on 10/26/15 and has been updated.