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October 11, 2016

How to Optimize for Google Home NOW #OKGoogle

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Google’s recent debut of Google Home — and the impact it will have on search — has kept my mind reeling all week. I haven’t been able to shake this sense that we are on the cusp of a real change in the way that people interact with technology. (It’s also one step closer to the Star Trek computer Amit Singhal wants to make reality.)

Read on to find out how Google Home will deeply impact our interaction with search engine results pages (SERPs) and, subsequently, digital marketing strategy.

How Google Home Will Impact Our Interaction With the SERP

The Star Trek computer isn’t a bot that analyzes external data and catalogs instances of things to return a list of entries that users have to peruse. It’s a knowledge base, much like Google’s knowledge graph. It’s simple, intuitive, and omnipresent. In the world of Star Trek, people spend very little time looking at lists of options; the computer makes the decisions for them.

Google Home bases in seven colors.

Photo Credit: Google.

So how do we get to the 24th century computer from here? The announcements Google made on Oct. 4 took a big step in that direction. Both Google Home and Google Assistant (the heart of the new Pixel phone) bring Google’s experience with artificial intelligence to bear — and Google is training us to use technology in new ways.

The Google Assistant landing page invites visitors to use voice queries: “Ask it questions. Tell it to do things. Tell your Assistant to play jazz on the living room speakers, set your ‘go to gym’ alarm, make a reservation …”

SEOs see that and wonder: Where is there space for a SERP in there?

A SERP presents many results and lets a searcher click their choice. But voice searchers talking to Google Home have a different experience. Google wants to let the Assistant eliminate choices when there’s a clear best option — and “best” is defined by the Assistant.

Obviously, not all queries can have a single response. As you might imagine, a lot of the things we search for need a selection of answers or opinions. But do we need 15,000,000 opinions? Do we even need 10?

Example: I have a pretty small selection of power tools in a very small garage, but I’m getting into some simple woodworking. I recently needed to figure out how to quickly cut a 4″ diameter hole in some 1″ x 8″ pine. So I Googled it.

I really had to comb through the results based on my limited tool collection; a lot of the answers I ignored because they just weren’t helpful.

Now imagine doing that as a voice search with Google Home. I might hear many options the first time I searched. But because of machine learning, eventually Google would recall the particular site (or group of sites) that really caters to my skill level and figure out that out of the 15,000,000 results for “how to cut circles in wood” there might be 4 that are actually useful to me. That’s important information for Assistant; if I ask a question to Google Home while I’m in the garage plugging my jigsaw in, I don’t really want it reading 10 articles to me.

How Will Google Home Affect My SEO Strategy?

A lot of businesses have been doing online marketing, SEO, and PPC for long enough that it’s easy to think we have lots of time to catch up, or surpass, competitors.

While I’m not saying the SERPs are going away anytime soon, I do think that the increased emphasis on personalization is only going to make it harder to find new customers.

If you make a living off of publishing restaurant reviews, and people start using Assistant to find out about a new burger joint instead of Googling it, then Assistant will (likely) pull from one source to get reviews. New users might not even see your site as an option.

By the way, we have no clues yet on where AdWords may one day fit into a Google Home result.

Be Indispensable

Is the rise of spoken search results bad news for sites that aren’t Yelp, Wikipedia, or YouTube?

No! But it’s bad news for businesses who aren’t putting in the work to understand their audience. It’s bad news for businesses who aren’t willing to grow with their customers’ evolving needs.

If your business is willing to talk to your customers, to find out what your competitors are missing, then this new search technology is good news. Because the only way to be algorithm proof, the only way to secure a lasting position in the evolving world of search, is to be indispensable. So ask yourself this: Would the SERPs be lacking without your site?

Do some user experience testing. Survey your customers. Talk to your customer service reps to identify common questions or complaints, then address them. Figure out what your customers do just before and just after converting on your site; if you can help them perform some of those repetitive actions, you’ve suddenly simplified their lives.

This can be as simple as a good “People also bought” widget that anticipates the next need. If the user adds a nail gun to the cart, why not suggest some popular nails that fit the gun? Or, if it’s a hydraulic nail gun, maybe the user would like to know about a sale you’re having on air compressors.

Understand Your Analytics

The other thing to keep in mind here is that less traffic isn’t always a bad thing. A broad trend some of us in SEO have noticed is that many sites aren’t ranking for as many queries as they used to, which at first seems like terrible news. But many of those same sites are actually seeing better rankings for more specific queries, and a concurrent increase in conversions. As the search engines get better at understanding user intent, and as search becomes more and more personalized, rankings will be harder to track, and (in many instances) harder to get. But if your visits drop while your conversion rate improves, then that’s a net gain (assuming that you’re in business to make money, of course).

The one exception to this, of course, is sites that are dependent on page views for revenue (i.e., ad-heavy sites). I think now would be a good time to start developing a secondary revenue stream/way to monetize your site that you can grow over time, as people are spending less and less time on the SERPs.

Missed the Oct. 4 press conference where Google announced the debut of Google Home, Google Pixel and more? Watch the announcement below.

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16 responses to “How to Optimize for Google Home NOW #OKGoogle”

  1. John Alexander writes:

    Mike – Great input, thanks. It seems like some of what you’re describing relates to a big part of the so-called “Pigeon” update. As David Mihm put it in October 2014, “the user is the new centroid.” So we’ve been seeing Google serving that kind of location-sensitive data for a while now; but the interesting point that you’ve discovered is that Pixel and Home might be giving you different data which, for some queries, would make sense since I might be more sensitive to location if I’m on my phone than if I’m still at home talking to Google Home.
    Did you sign in to Google Home with the same account as on the mobile device (or whatever device you were using to compare the Home’s results)? Can you be reasonably certain that the 2 devices were pulling from the same data set?
    It’s clear that yes, as you say, the Home will be personalizing itself over time. However, in the meantime, Google is trying to validate relevance and trust signals. How can local businesses optimize for that? Be hyper-relevant to your area. If there are events or characteristics unique to your area (and this can be down to the neighborhood, depending on the business) then why not engage with those (provided they’re relevant). So a pizza restaurant could sponsor local youth sports teams and have a page talking about the teams’ successes, showing pictures of the kids and their families at the restaurant, etc. Be a good neighbor and demonstrate that neighborliness. If you’re not a big brand, then you need to be CLEARLY good at what you do. (Look for engagement and feedback on relevant social media, etc.) I hope that helps, and I’d love to hear more about your experience and as testing continues!

  2. Mike writes:

    We’ve been playing around with Alexa and Google Home at work lately to see how exactly they return local results and we’re stumped on the best ways to consider optimizing sites in the future to appear for their results. For example, we were looking up local SEO companies for our region (one of the first things that came to mind) and we noticed that Google Home read back three results but they were neither the 3-pack nor were they the top three organic results. When we clicked into Google Maps, the sites were the three “closest” listed in Maps. Seems odd that instead of pulling the more updated local results or the most relevant organic results that it would pull the three ‘closest’ from maps. We’ve been trying to figure out how a local business would even compensate for that or if its more a question of Google Home slowly personalizing itself to the individual. When you’re in a highly saturated region where businesses and towns are practically on top of each other, it becomes harder to optimize for the future of voice search just looking at the most nearby as opposed to the ‘best’ options. Any thoughts or ideas?

  3. Danny Smith writes:

    Interesting how our search queries have changed but more targeted and long tail is good news for sales.

  4. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks for your sobering perspective, Al. Yours is an important reminder that AI is not the same as plain old I, by which I mean intelligence. America is the land of innovation, efficiency, openness and, perhaps, technological reliance. Everything in life is a trade-off. With our technical reliance we may give up some internal reliance and become lax in any individual attention to detail. But I’m hopeful that the net gain is positive. Those who see technology as an enhancement and not replacement to intellectual interests, discipline and dedication, make contributions that move the whole of society forward.

  5. Al Toman writes:

    One: I’m an oral cancer survivor (2007) and I cannot speak. consequently, “OKAY GOOGLE” is useless.

    Two: Just remember, the world’s most simple, sophisticated search engine, the LIBRARY, has no SEO and all the other crap that comes with GOOGLE and their brothers and sisters.

    Google is a step backwards from high intelligence to the lowly low.

    In 1978, USA placed #1 in math and science in the global community. Today, it doesn’t even place in the top 10, 20, or 30. Sadly, reading has now joined them.

    This is NOT moving FORWARD, anything but.

    We as a People, at least here in the USA, need to return to a higher level of intelligence, forget Google and the like, and take back our #1 status and pride.

    GUARANTEED, not gonna happen with Google talkin’ garbage at us.

    Kind regards,
    Al Toman

  6. Robin Khokhar writes:

    Hi John,
    It was an amazing post. I got lot of new things to learn and secondly I liked the images you have shared.
    Thanks for sharing.
    have a great day.

  7. John Alexander writes:

    Christine- for service-based websites (like restaurants) it might not be a problem if Google is pulling mostly from Yelp. Provided you’re monitoring your reviews and getting good customer feedback, then optimizing your Yelp page can be a great way to get business. Also, make sure that your site integrates with third-party apps like OpenTable.
    But sites who rely on visits for income (i.e., sell ads) are in the same difficult position that newspapers have been for several years now: if search engines want to display our information for free, how do we change our business model to keep bringing in revenue?

  8. John Alexander writes:

    Tauseef: while it remains to be seen how Google will monetize the information itself, it’s important to recall that we’re asking Google Assistant via a Google-made device; so the hardware and the software is sold by Google. So while I’m sure they’ll find a way to monetize the Knowledge Graph, it’s not like they’re losing money with Home or Pixel. Plus, between Google Play (including their music service) and YouTube Red, they do have subscription-based services bringing in revenue.

  9. krishna writes:

    Voice Search is quite new, glad I got the ground work from this article and test things out.

  10. Pedro Matias writes:

    Great post,

    I like the idea and have emphasised to clients that the object of SEO is to get more targeted users and more conversions, optimisation, not more traffic for traffic’s sake.

  11. PNR Status writes:

    Google Home definitely affect our strategy and before it will come in full action, we have to make our site adaptive to this, if we want to survive. Thanks for bringing this important search factor in-front of us, so we can prepare ourselves…

  12. Christine de Guzman writes:

    Google Home might show mostly review posts whenever it’s a services website like restaurants. Just as what you have said in this article. Anyway, thanks for this update!

  13. Isha with Magento multi vendor extensions writes:

    It’s another great post, no doubt. I’m a regular follower of your blogs. I get notification of your recent posts through the Facebook feed.

  14. Catia download writes:

    Voice Search is quite new, glad I got the ground work from this article and test things out.

  15. Tauseef Alam writes:

    Hi John,

    Your opinion is eye opener for me. With Google pixel, we’re entering into a new world. We don’t know how much it will impact us, the webmasters.

    Although I am sure Google will not want to lose money that they earn for Adwords. When you ask something with the assistant, it picks the first result from the serp and present to you as an answer of your query. This way Google is not making any money. I am sure Google will make some changes very soon.

    Tauseef Alam

  16. John Alexander writes:

    Thanks, Isha; I’m glad you found the opinions helpful, and wish you continued success in your work!

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