Siri, Safari and Google Search: What does it mean for marketers?

Apple has recently made some significant changes to both Siri and Safari, with potentially far-reaching implications for digital marketers.

First, Apple has announced that results for its AI-powered digital assistant, Siri, will now be provided by Google rather than Bing. This interesting development encompasses two of the most important areas of modern search marketing: voice search and mobile. As such, SEOs will be paying close attention to how this might affect their strategies and their reporting.

The launch of the latest version of Apple’s Safari browser also brought with it controversial updates that could significantly impact the digital media industry. By introducing stringent new measures that will prevent third-party cookies from tracking Safari users for more than 24 hours, Apple has made a clear statement about the importance of consumer privacy.

Equally, it has forced some advertisers to rethink their approaches to tracking — and reporting on — digital marketing campaigns. Given the prominent positions of voice search, mobile SEO and data privacy in many industry discussions today, it would be fair to say that Apple has taken a stance.

Apple moves Siri searches to Google

Google has been selected as the default provider of search results via Apple’s voice-enabled digital assistant, Siri, although image search results will still be powered by Bing.

With voice search now accounting for over 20 percent of searches (a number that will likely increase dramatically in the near future), this move will undoubtedly bring a sizable number of queries to Google. Apple’s stated reason for switching is that it will provide a “consistent web search experience” for consumers alongside Safari results, which are already provided by Google by default. Bing and Google process queries and rank organic search results using different algorithms, so we should expect that the answers provided by Siri will change as a part of this development.

If Siri’s answer does not respond adequately to the query, Apple device users will now be sent through to a Google search results page to browse other links. Once a user clicks through to a Google results page, the data can be processed and shared as it would via any other Google SERP. While Google does not share its keyword-level organic search data with site owners, this will still provide welcome insight into other areas of the SEO traffic that brands receive via Google.

How does this affect search marketers?

There will, of course, be an inverse correlation between the number of Google searches and the number of Bing searches that marketers see in their reports, to a greater or lesser degree depending on how much of their audience uses Siri. For paid search, this may mean a re-evaluation of budgets for both Google and Bing. For organic search, the focus should be on providing the most relevant answer to a query, to increase the likelihood that Siri will select your content.

Although this could be seen to represent a seismic shift in how organic search marketers optimize for Siri, the reality is that the core principles of voice search and mobile SEO remain constant:

  • Micro-moments — revealed in I-want-to-do or I-want-to-go queries, for example — are vitally important.
  • Optimize for longer, natural language queries, as consumers are more likely to search in this manner via voice than via text.
  • Speed is of the essence; mobile users expect content to load quickly, so marketers need to incorporate this as an essential strategic consideration.
  • Hyperlocal searches, driven by implicit location-based intent, are on the rise as consumers come to grips with the capabilities of their mobile devices.
  • Constantly refine the approach as more data becomes available. This is still a nascent area of search marketing, and we need to be prepared to adapt based on consumer feedback.

In fact, as SEOs and content marketers strive to answer the underlying intent of a query rather than simply responding to exact queries through keyword matching, we can safely say that the days of chasing the search algorithms are coming to an end. As a consequence, Apple’s move from Bing to Google for Siri results should not require much adjustment from a sophisticated SEO strategy.

Furthermore, while this is certainly not a positive move for Bing, Microsoft’s search engine does still retain an important share of the market that search professionals cannot afford to neglect.

As mentioned above, Apple’s principal reason for switching to Google was to bring results in line with its Safari browser, which has also been the recipient of some radical overhauls of late.

Safari updates

Apple has primarily updated its Safari web browser in ways that affect the capturing, processing and sharing of user data, with the ultimate aim of improving the user experience. The three most noteworthy changes for marketers are Intelligent Tracking Prevention, Autoplay Blocking and Reader Mode. You can read more about these specific changes here.

Safari accounts for a sizable portion of web traffic, with a 14.22 percent share of the global market and a 31.5 percent share of the US market. With Google planning its own measures to tackle invasive advertising practices in the upcoming Chrome browser update, it is becoming clear that both parties want to protect consumers from irrelevant content and intrusive advertising.

Consumers are increasingly in control of what they see online and how they see it. According to Google, a majority of search traffic worldwide now comes from mobile devices. Combined with the 40 percent of US consumers that have used an ad blocker, the picture becomes clearer still. Brands and publishers are all striving to provide the best possible experience, with a mobile-first slant on everything they do.

Apple’s focus on a fast, user-friendly experience certainly does not exist in a vacuum. Pervasive ads can contribute to longer page load speeds, which is to the detriment of Safari. Apple wants to attract as many users to its browser as possible; removing elements that only detract from the user experience seems a sensible way to achieve that.

Moreover, Apple is not the only company taking measures to this effect. For example, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative strips back HTML into leaner source code that can be displayed faster, with an increasing amount of SEO-driven content now created for this standard.

Where Safari will not block ads, Google may go one step further with its upcoming Chrome update. Due for launch early next year, the latest Chrome has included an ad blocker in some early tests. We are therefore beginning to see browsers act as intermediaries between websites and consumers, rather than conduits for information.

How should SEOs prepare for these changes?

Apple’s recent updates serve to further consolidate the position of mobile SEO as the cornerstone of organic search marketing today. All of the recent changes have been driven by a desire to improve the consumer experience by delivering the fast, seamless loading of content. Moreover, Apple is at pains to ensure that this is content its customers actually want to see and engage with.

This will not sound revolutionary to many SEOs, who will by now be very familiar with these concepts. However, we should be cognizant of the fact that SEO affects many other marketing disciplines and understand that our work is pivotal as brands adapt to this new landscape.

Those that embrace this new ecosystem — where consumers are increasingly in control and the onus is on brands and advertisers to create experiences that draw engagement — will reap the very significant rewards. We have been taught many lessons and had to adapt to many trends over the past few years in SEO, through the many transitions the industry has seen. The focus on creating genuine connections through data-driven content is one that may soon apply to many other areas of digital marketing.

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