In the first Iron Man movie, Tony Stark has in-depth discussions with his AI, Jarvis, talking back and forth while Stark narrowed down his questions and Jarvis provided contextual, conversational answers. While we may not have rocket-powered super-suits any time soon, AI/bot-based conversational search has landed. It’s not named Jarvis; it’s called “Hummingbird”, and it was originally released in 2013 by Google. Hummingbird has recently received some major updates, and it’s now it’s on the verge of taking over the way we search on our phones, tablets, wearables, and even inside our vehicles.
The implications of conversational search are pretty huge: the ability to ask a computer a question and receive an auditory response not only disrupts search methods, but changes how we think about search results. You might find that your search rank starts to slip as more people adopt conversational search and the immediate, auditory results that it produces. Everything from your keywords to your content will need to shift to accommodate this change in technology.
Not many people know exactly what goes on inside the depths of Google’s search engine, but here are some tips to help increase your odds of coming out on top in both traditional and conversational search results.
Rethink your Keywords
Keyword ranking is the bread and butter of SEO, and it’s still important. In fact, it might be more critical now than ever before. Traditionally, keywords consisted of one to three words that served to identify the key concepts of your page, article, or business. With hummingbird, your keywords need to drive your user toward answers to conversational questions. With the advent of conversational search, and the push to have that search capability built into mobile devices, wearables, and vehicles, your traditional keywords might stop producing the search results you’ve enjoyed in the past.
Build Keywords and Content Around Conversational Search
In traditional search, if someone wants to find an Italian restaurant, they’d probably type “Italian Restaurant” into Google. However, if that same person was driving around town and wanted to ask their conversational search engine where to eat, they’d probably say something like, “Where can I get Italian food?” If your business ranks well for “Italian restaurant” but you’ve never thought of “Italian food” as a keyword, your would-be customer might not ever realize you were a block away when they made that search.
The example is one of a “navigational” query. Keywords like “Italian food” or “Italian food in Phoenix” or even “really good Italian food in Phoenix” provide a partial answer to an unspoken question. They give Google something to chew on (pun intended) in order to navigate customers to a storefront. Additionally, navigational search can help a user find a website, online product, or anything else where the question might start with “Where can I find…”.
There are also informational queries, geared to educate the user, such as “How old is President Obama?” And there are also transactional queries, which drive a user to action, such as “I need to hire a web designer.” In the first, a user might be driven to a Wikipedia-style site, and in the latter, they might find a local talent service.
Think carefully about your keywords, and ask yourself if they are conversational in nature. Once you settle on a good mix of conversational and traditional keywords, write your copy to highlight both. Your content and metadata will both need to change in order to keep your ranking in check throughout the adoption and expansion of conversational search. Learn more about the basics of SEO.
Take Advantage of Real-Time Results
Google has turned data filtering into an art form. If your content is keyword-rich, well-formatted, and ranks high, it will parse your pages deeply, and it will highlight your relevance related to user search criteria. In some cases, Google will create tabular data from your on-page statistics, highlight content that sets your business apart, and even read your data out loud to search users. You can increase your odds of Google continuing to give your page a nudge toward users by following a couple guidelines.
Use Featured Snippets
Google’s featured snippets allows you to highlight your keywords, content, and differentiators in short form. If you don’t provide one, Google will make one for you. While they tend to do some good work digging through your content to pull out the meat, you’re doing your business a disservice if you don’t take advantage of this feature. Rather than letting Google pick a featured snippet from your content, craft a keyword-rich, descriptive, conversational line that spotlights your business while boosting your ranking.
Structure Your Content Wisely
Keyword placement has always mattered. Your slug, titles, subtitles, first paragraph, and sitemap still count in the ranking engine. However, now you also have to contend with two types of searches vying for attention that might require different keywords. If you find it difficult to reconcile your traditional keywords with the new conversational phrases, consider creating landing pages that link back to your main site. On these pages, create copy that has a conversational, informal tone. Set your focus keyword and featured snippets to reflect a typical conversation about your product or service, and make sure your slug reads more like a sentence and less like a list of buzzwords.
Continually Test and Track Your Metrics
Conversational search adds a new dimension to your testing and tracking. When performing searches, make use of Google’s conversational search, including follow-up questions. In the example above, after asking for Italian food and adequately finding the business, the tester could ask the conversational search about ratings, reviews, parking, etc.
As tools adapt to take conversational searches into account, you’ll see more metrics directly related to these new types of searches. Until then, track which keywords you’ve identified as “conversational” and measure how they rank against your traditional keywords.
If we’ve learned anything from the years of disruption caused by digital trends, we know by now that convenience gains adoption. It’s safe to say that conversational search is here to stay. Whether you want customers to find your storefront or you want clients to trust your brand, ranking high in the search results is key to your online success. Embracing new technology early-on can help propel you ahead of your competitors and might just garner your site that coveted top rank.
Click below for more great tips on inbound marketing, sales, and content through HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2016.