Mobile devices have had a profound impact on the way people search. Voice-recognition technology, such as Siri, has encouraged users to start asking more conversational questions rather than typing a series of keywords into a search box. And it’s not just voice search that has been a total game changer. Mobile has also brought rise to hyper-localization and personalization opportunities for search engines. People searching on mobile are typically asking questions via more natural language and are expecting very precise results catered to their personal preferences and current location.
Introducing Google’s recent Hummingbird update.
According to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, “Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”
Now, marketers need to consider the opportunities and pitfalls conversation search presents by thinking less about optimizing for specific keywords and more about; 1) Understanding conversational user queries (and current Google limitations) 2) Delivering relevant content and 3) Authoring content by recognized experts.
1) Understanding user queries
Google isn’t perfect, but their algorithm is gaining a better understanding of how people ask questions, and what they’re actually expecting to receive as results. To address, marketers must move beyond simple keyword lists to lists of possible user questions along with their implied needs, and then creating theme-focused content that would address user questions based on their intent, context of their location, and immediacy of the implied request.
An example query: Where can I find a pizza restaurant open now?
Obviously our user is hungry, is looking for food now, wants pizza, and needs a pizza restaurant close to his or her (current) location. Search engines need to (and can to some degree) understand most of this conversational search query, recognize the location from mobile geo-location, interpret the time component, and serve the most relevant results. Google’s recent update of their algorithm – Hummingbird – is one step towards improving the search engine’s ability to understand the more human characteristics of the user query. Marketers should follow suit by adapting their content to their users’ new search strategies.
2) Relevant content
Marketers need to consider the elements of implied intent and ensure that the content they produce includes the correct signals, giving search engines a reason to include it in mobile local search results. These include elements such as a consistent online name, address and phone number citations, location hours through a Google+ Local profile, signals that underscore categories, menus (in the restaurant example), and content that is thorough, comprehensive, and unique.
Although most of this is standard localization best practices, use of conversational language can be a key differentiator, and should align with a great user experience. Airbnb for example, provides a rich web experience, by featuring crowd sourced media on engaging neighborhood pages, reinforcing their topic expertise, and providing clear signals to search engines of user value.
3) Recognized experts
With the increased prominence of Google Authorship, social media, and other authority signals, Google has the ability (although not necessarily the definitive algorithm) to recognize ‘topic experts’ in diverse subjects. With expertise comes an implied trust, which Google understands as a core element of user engagement and, ultimately, satisfaction. However, recognized experts must at their core be people, so in our pizza restaurant example, these experts could be providing reviews, writing food blogs, working as city guides, or actually working at our imaginary pizza restaurant, providing pizza particulars to an avid pizza fan-base.
People topic authorities are fundamental to building a company’s topic authority through association and key connections (like rel=publisher tags), and these can also extend to location expertise inherited from both people and company connections.
As massive connections aggregators, search engines are looking to improve their search results by interpreting connections for topic expertise association (is this person an expert?), topic expertise (what is this person an expert on?) and associations reinforcement (how much of an expert is this person?) based on connections, interactions, visibility and trust signals.
Mobile Search Success
Although key to mobile search success, the three pillars of mobile SEO strategy above are not the sole factors to ensure visibility in mobile search results. Core optimization coupled with a valuable, findable, crawlable, and engaging mobile experience are fundamental to ensuring marketers gain greater return on mobile investment. Foundational to this is understanding search engine goals, Google’s ranking factors, the possible context of queries, the potential location of users, and specific user intent.
Consider all these components in your mobile search strategy and your users – and Google – will notice!