With search engines shifting from delivering blue links on a page to structured answers and knowledge cards, a quickly growing number of searches result in a user never visiting a web page at all — and this means major changes for marketers who may have dedicated the majority of their time to writing website copy.
If the most important audience isn’t a group of people but search engines themselves, how can marketers make sure that their business is providing the right information when customers need it most? At a panel moderated by GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain at Yext’s ONWARD conference, SEO experts discussed this topic — offering tips to marketers on “how to speak search engine” in the intelligent future.
Below, an edited and condensed version of the panel discussion.
GeoMarketing: Let’s start by talking about the knowledge graph. How can marketers work to make sure their business is represented there — and how is the knowledge graph different from featured snippets?
Adam Edwards, head of SEO, US, Reprise: When we talk about featured snippets or featured answers, the best content wins. This really has little to do with structured data; it is controlled by Google programmatically, and it [simply] pulls for the content that answers the search query. If you are structuring your content in a way that conversationally makes sense [on your site], Google is going to serve that to the user as the best answer.
When we talk about the knowledge graph, that is completely structured data driven. So we [need] to mark that out: We can mark up our logos, we can mark the hours, we can mark up the site.
And Google has evolved this considerably over just the last year: Now we can actually go in and respond to customer questions directly from the knowledge graph. That’s fantastic — especially if you’re a local business — to be able to have that evolution in the knowledge panel, which is a way for you to push offers out and to respond in real time to actual questions from your customers.
Casey Markee, founder, Media Wyse: [It’s important to note] that feedback is very important on featured answers; Google does make mistakes with featured snippets all the time. For example, about three months ago, if you typed in “who owned the New York Jets?” the featured answer was “Tom Brady.”
That was just one of the funniest examples. But in the event that they do get them wrong, definitely avail yourself of the feedback option.
How do you manage your search marketing such that you’re reaching people who already know what they want — e.g. searching “new Camry” and seeing the knowledge card with prices and configurations — versus those who are making a more general search? Are there “search commandments” today, or does it vary?
Casey Markee: When we talk about search commandments, when we talk about qualifying for position zero, when we talk about marketing to the machine… we have to [talk about] JSON-LD schema. It’s a beautiful language, and it’s very easy to learn. Google loves it, and they’ve updated basically every bit of documentation they have online around structured data to say that JSON-LD is a recommended standard so you should be using that.
Google is never going to come out and say, “Hey, you should do this.” But when they say, “This is our recommended standard,” you tend to want to use that.
Also in regards to the knowledge graph, if you go in and look at the help pages from Google, they’ll tell you how to mark that adequately. Just type “knowledge graph” into Google and look at help pages; I’m always shocked at how many SEOs have never visited those pages. Google tells you what they want you to do, and it’s just a matter of you implementing those examples and filling out that material as much as possible.
Brendan King, CEO, Vendasta: To me, it’s really important that everything is marked up so that Google understands it [and so it addresses] what consumers are looking for.
[But] to me, the real challenge is to get [business owners] to understand that they need to get that structured data there, and then you can use all kinds of of tools to make sure it’s marked up correctly — and then after that you still have to find a way to close the loop. What good is the data if it doesn’t actually result in a conversion where [that business] gets some money?
Casey Markee: Right. And I don’t know if I’d use the word “commandment,” but one of the biggest things that I try to instill into my clients is recognizing that we need to get everyone on the same page. Not everyone needs to know everything about the different schema, but they need to know that this is important.
We can’t talk about the future of intelligent search without touching on the role of voice: 20 percent of searches in the Google app are now by voice, and humans are intuitively built to talk and listen. How is voice transforming search, and, as an extension of that, what role do intelligent assistants like Amazon Alexa now play in how brands need to interact?
Casey Markee: You could almost look at voice search as a no user interface — it’s literally like a blank slate. What I mean is, you don’t even see the screen, and so as marketers, we have to predict what people are going to ask with literally very little feedback and you have to invest in that.
It’s not just about having mark up; it’s about having content that will actually answer these questions that users are asking. I’m sure in the future there will be some artificial intelligence solutions, but right now, answering someone’s question is going to come down to just understanding what people could ask.
This is also kind of why schema continues to be important: There is going to be a new schema introduced next year that is currently pending right now. It’s called speakable, and it’s specifically optimized around marking up conversational content. So, the idea is that it will allow everyone to actually pull out snippets and just mark those up with structured data — so that it’s easier for voice assistants to pull that information programmatically from the page in as clean and easy a way as possible.
Brendan King: Yeah, they call it voice “assistance” because it isn’t really just search anymore. It’s interesting the uses that these devices see, and it [brings about] a whole change in your behavior. At my house, the people that use it most are my grandkids — and they’re turning the lights off, playing music, et cetera. [There are ] just so many use cases here.
It really is the future, and the only way that it works is with that structured data.
Adam Edwards: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s now table stakes to have that data out there.
Brendan King: If people hear or see an ad, they expect that they can go immediately look for that business. If they don’t find that business right away, they’re going to find a competitor.
So I like to say the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of the Google search results, because nobody goes there.