SEO without SERPs is here with Google Assistant, Home and Amazon Echo. Here’s how to survive.

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On the first full day that we had a Google Home in our house, we interacted with it 473 times over the course of the day. Four hundred of those were my two-year-old asking it to play “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways, followed by his mother or me interrupting with, “Hey Google! Stop!”

(Look, I love that song, too, but enough is enough, you know?)

The point is, watching the way that my family interacts with the device, and how often they interact with it, I’m more inclined to believe the forecast that sales of Amazon Echo and Google Home type devices will go from 1.8 million this year to 15.1 million in 2020.

Have you seen this demo video from Google I/O?:

It really can do all of those things, like turn on your lights and help you plan your day. There are many times where it gets stumped and says “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help with that,” but not nearly as many as Amazon Echo, as you can see in Danny Sullivan’s review. For the most part, it’s useful — and sometimes fun.

And as more people use smart speaker devices like these to get their information in a world without search engine results pages (SERPs), SEOs will have to adjust if they want to stay relevant.

Here are three ways SEOs can best position themselves for a world of assistant search without SERPs, powered by devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo.

1. Understand the types of queries this affects

It’s important to remember that most of the queries that Google Home handles on a regular basis are not the types of queries that are valuable to business anyway.

When I looked at the queries that my family of five asked Google Home over the course of that first weekend, the queries that were used most often are not the kind of queries that any business can monetize.

If you ask Google what a horse sounds like, for example, it neighs. If you ask it to play or stop music, that’s what it does. There is no opportunity for business exposure, as a successful search session ends at the answer or action.

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And indeed, if you look at the types of things that Google Home can answer right now, there are only two categories where SEOs can have any effect at all: Facts & info and Local guide.

Feature Description Sample query Opportunity for SEO
Facts & info  Ask Google what you want to know How tall is Barack Obama? Yes
Local guide  Search for local places and ask for additional information Find me a restaurant Yes
Finance  Ask about current individual stock prices or current points of an index, like the NASDAQ How are the markets doing? No
Multi-room audio  Group any combination of Google Home, Chromecast Audio or speakers with Chromecast Audio built-in together for synchronous music throughout the home Play party playlist on all speakers No
Play audio from your phone to Google Home   Play audio from your phone to Google Home from 100+ Chromecast-enabled audio apps or by playing your Android Audio  N/A No
Play audio on speakers and TVs using Google Home  Stream audio to any speaker that has Chromecast Audio plugged in or Chromecast built-in Play Rise by Katy Perry on Living Room TV No
Play video using Google Home  Stream video content to any TV that has Chromecast plugged in or built-in Play John Oliver on Living Room TV No
Control your lights  Turn on/off, dim, and check if lights are on with supported smart bulbs Turn on living room lights No
Control your plugs  Turn on/off devices around your home with supported smart plugs Turn on the coffee maker plug No
Control your thermostats  Control the temperature with supported smart thermostats Make it warmer No
IFTTT – If this, then that  Control countless online services and third-party smart devices that aren’t directly integrated  Turn off the TV No
Calculator  Perform complicated calculations What’s the square root of 356? No
Dictionary  Get definitions and spellings for words  How do you spell girl in Chinese? No
Nutrition  Get nutrition information for ingredients or food How much fiber in kale? No
Sports  Ask for scores, live updates, or next game date, location and time How are the Warriors doing? No
Translation  Get translations for words or phrases in supported languages How do you say hello in Japanese? No
Unit conversions  Get unit conversions  How many euros is a dollar worth? No
Fun  Try various queries to see if Google Home has some surprises. Entertain me No
Games  Test your knowledge with trivia and games. Play Lucky Trivia No
Alarm  Set, check, cancel, stop and snooze multiple and/or recurring alarms Set alarm for 6am tomorrow No
Shopping list  Add items to your Shopping list and check what’s already on it Add milk to my shopping list No
Timer  Set, pause, check, resume and cancel timers Set 10 minute timer for pizza No
Calendar   Ask about an event or get your schedule for the day from Google Calendar What’s my calendar for Friday? No
Flight information  Get status updates on your upcoming flight Is my flight on time? No
My day  Get a curated daily snippet about your day which includes weather, calendar, commute, reminders and news Ok Google, tell me about My Day No
Traffic  Ask for traffic and travel times when driving, walking, or biking How long is my commute? No
Weather  Ask for current weather or forecasts for the week for your home location or any other location Should I carry an umbrella? No
Music  Play music from popular music services by artist, song, genre, album, playlist, mood or activity Play Cherry Bomb by the Runaways No
News  Get the latest news from sources you trust Listen to the news No
Podcasts  Listen to popular podcasts Play Serial podcast No
Radio  Listen to popular radio stations Play 98.5 on TuneIn No

 

Out of all of these categories, the first two are the ones that use web or map search results currently and pull featured snippets from the web as answers, sometimes even providing a link to a website in the Home app.

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The other types of queries are ones where what Google calls good abandonment applies, and these are not going to be worth most businesses’ time. If the searcher wants an answer, don’t get in her way.

But there are plenty of queries that Google Home just has no idea how to answer — and those are the ones, along with queries that are affected by featured snippets or maps, that SEOs can still optimize for.

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2. Rank for featured snippets or go home

Search Engine Land contributing editor Greg Sterling recently asked on the LSA Insider blog, “Will (Mobile) SEO Soon Be a Thing of the Past?” His question relates to Google’s tendency with Assistant and Home to give answers instead of search results; and in a world where SEO is about ranking higher in the search results, what future does SEO have with devices that don’t provide search results?

It’s an interesting question — but when you really look at it, I think you’ll see that SEO is more important than ever in this context. There is only one number one spot, and that spot is used for the featured snippet. As long as these answers are pulled from Google search results and not from true artificial intelligence, SEOs will have a place in making sure that their answer is the one that appears in the featured snippet.

And so you see articles like this one, or Dr. Pete’s recent “How to Rank in Google Home,” that focus entirely on being picked up in those featured snippets.

If you can do that, you sometimes have a chance to drive more traffic to your website if Google provides a link in the Home app, and your site is credited as the original source, giving your brand credibility and authority.

3. Use the right blend of informational and promotional messaging in featured snippets

Yes, if someone is trying to get an answer, as a marketer you shouldn’t get in Google’s way of providing that answer. On the other hand, putting promotional messaging in your copy along with the information makes Google sound like she’s doing a radio spot for you when she reads the featured snippet.

Here’s what happens when I ask Google how much Dallas Cowboys tickets are:

 

This may be short-lived, but currently Google reads whatever text is in the featured snippet, and there’s no rule saying that it can’t be positive for your brand.

Final thoughts

Will the rise of digital assistants cause SERPs to go extinct and eliminate the need for SEO altogether? Only time will tell, but for now, it just means a shift in how SEO practitioners approach their work.

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