**This post first appeared on the Web Talent Marketing Blog and is being republished here.**
Despite the consumers search evolution and never-ending quest for answers to questions, products, and services; the act of search continues to increase. Fueled by constant connectivity, we increasingly seek to answer our queries by turning to a magical machine based answering device. Whether that is the traditional search engine (mainly Google) or the new in-home personal assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, our insatiable desire to obtain the correct answer pushes us more and more to our devices. Powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence, these devices are better understanding our language, our nuances, our feelings and ultimately answers to the questions we might seek before we ask them, and through passive listening, know the context of our conversations.
Ask any marketing manager, brand manager, business owner, or other digital marketer what the one thing that will help them earn more business online… chances are, they will talk about rankings at some point in the first 3 minutes.
Rankings have been the most important conquest of any digital agency, consultant, or internal staff due to the old adage that if you rank in the top 3 positions, you will earn the most traffic, which will then allow you to earn the most conversions from that traffic. Obviously, marketers want to rank high for the highest volume of queries, but those who are smart, make sure that relevancy is the most important metric in that keyword selection. However, working with clients, I have seen why this is a very flawed mindset. I have seen clients rank in the top position for EVERY query they want and still see flat or declining entrances from organic search. No longer should rankings be the primary metric to define success of an SEO campaign.
The entity called Position Zero, Featured Snippets, Answer Graph, or whatever you want to call it today has gone from being the most sought after entity, to the least sought after entity (looking at you IMDB), back to the most sought after entity again. Much has been covered on this topic so I won’t go into great detail here, but fundamentally, the goal of any website owner is to answer questions that consumers have and type into the search bar. With that being the goal, everyone who isn’t selling advertising based upon impressions should be trying to earn position zero, but also not give the complete answer. Give enough of an answer or even the process that wets the appetite for them to click through to your site to learn the rest. Remember how important click-through-rate is relative to Google’s Search algorithm. If you are selling a product, even better… your goal is to connect their query to your products, so earning position zero allows you to connect them to your products for queries where Shopping isn’t the primary result (think a query like best running shoes for ultra marathon runners) and if you can have your product featured in there, you are winning, and chances are you might even earn the conversion.
Position zero should be one of your targets for SEO success, since it doesn’t always go to the top spot, but to the result that is formatted in a manner that best pleases the bots, provides steps for answer (numbered/non-numbered), and obviously satisfies users. Even if you do not rank in the top 5 positions, you can still earn the position zero and potentially ‘outrank’ all of those other sites.
While the Featured Snippets are only 2 years old and according to data from Stone Temple Consulting, they are on the rise. But I think there is something else on the horizon that could be the next significant focus of SEO time, recommended answers on in-home personal assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo.
These in-home personal assistants are experiencing volatile growth and with the holidays here and the promotions that Google and Amazon are running, we will be hearing more of that automated Google voice or Alexa. These devices are really doing one thing… making us a bit more lazy by preventing the need to actually place our fingers (so incredibly tired from scrolling) onto our devices to type the same question we are verbalizing. Additionally, our phones have Siri, Cortana, and Google Now, all capable of doing the same thing that Echo and Home does, yet the large audible speaker and returning voice makes it easier.
Recently, brands and agencies are staffing up on those who are able to work with AI to provide recommendations. Brands like Tide and Johnnie Walker have been creating campaigns for these in-home personal assistants. Think about this scenario… you spill red wine on your couch and instantly, you turn to Alexa and ask, “how do i remove a stain from my suede couch?” You immediately receive a response developed by Tide, features a Tide product, and informs you of the steps you need to take to remove the stain. Or in the case of the liquor brand, you have friends over and want to know how to make a traditional Manhattan. Immediately a recipe from your favorite Whiskey brand is there with a delicious recipe. The possibilities for ‘Featured Recommendations’ are endless and you need to think about how you can connect those queries to your brand/products/services.
When we are no longer looking at a sea of blue links and relying on a device to make the best recommendation for us, earning the position as that recommended choice will be even more important than position zero. This could replace the local pack for localized queries and with advertising options SURELY going to make their way into these devices, earning that ‘organic’ recommendation could drive significant offline growth, through an online channel.
Gone are the days of the traditional SEO goal, earn high rankings and watch the traffic flow. Consumers are increasingly changing their searching behaviors, to that of devices not include mobile phones. Earning THE recommendation on the in-home personal assistants and continuing to strive for position zero adds 2 new goals for your SEO campaign, further muddies the water with regards to how you handle those conversations with your agency or partner, as well as makes it even more difficult for you to illustrate the story relative to the ROI of SEO, however, the stakes are increasingly higher.