Over a century ago, the most imaginative minds saw a future that reflected their reality… only better. “In a hundred years, cars will fly!” Such could have been an individual’s opinion in 1918 when asked about the future. But we’re in 2018, and we still haven’t created flying cars but with a little hindsight, maybe we’ve done better. Could this individual have imagined that in 2018, using the sound of our voice we could order a product from the other side of the planet and receive it on our doorstep 2 days later? The answer is obvious. Digital has allowed our world to shift into second gear and leap forward in terms of development. And one of the most impacting changes to our everyday life is the Internet. Moving forward, we’ll speak specifically of Google – not that Google is at the origin of the Internet (far from it) but that today it is the search engine most used around the world. And it’s Google that calls the shots with regards to everyone’s online activity.
And whenever we talk about commerce on Google, we’re talking about SEO!
Since its creation, Google has not stopped taking up small bits of market share from other search engines to become number one worldwide. In 2017, Google represented 3.3 billion daily searches with a world market share of 92.9%. Let’s just say that merchants who are not present on Google might as well shoot themselves in the feet – at this point, in both feet. SEO, or natural search engine optimization, has been the most efficient web-marketing lever for quite some time. A source of site differentiation, it is also the backdrop for a constant and relentless battle between different players in a same sector. The goal being to land the first position on the first page of search results for that activity’s keywords. Over time, to legislate the practice, Google has developed algorithms to prevent cheating and to counter bad intentions.
To address the primary ones only, Google rolled out its Panda algorithm in February 2011, so as to place quality content at the center of attention and to penalize those who did not respect the company’s directives. In April 2012, Penguin became the first algorithm to really cause gnashing of teeth: this search filter penalized sites which did not respect Google directives as concerned the creation, or purchase, of network links. The Hummingbird algorithm was deployed the following year in September 2013. This last one allowed Google to clarify and refine results through sentence comprehension and complete searches. Google thus opened the doors for optimization based on more conversational and quality searches. The logical result? The Pigeon algorithm deployed in July 2014, which focused primarily on local searches favoring local businesses which was more in line with increased searches on mobiles: mobile search volume surpassed desktop volume in September 2016, with AMPs now generating 35% more engagement than standard web content.
After this brief overview of SEO’s evolution, we have a better understanding of Google strategies in terms of optimization which adheres perfectly to users’ usage. Currently, the use of smart speakers shows that SEO faces a new challenge, enriching and optimizing content to answer questions, and no longer simply matching keywords. There’s change in the air for e-commerce! We used to speak of e-commerce before the appearance of the term m-commerce for mobiles in 2016, and now over the past few months, v-commerce for voice search. But let’s stick with the term e-commerce for now. Ruhi Sarikaya, Amazon Director, declared during the World Wide Web Conference that it would become more natural to converse with Alexa. The interesting point of his presentation was improving skills. And how does that relate to SEO? For each question asked, Alexa could have its vocal assistant answer by suggesting a product if the question’s context allows. I’ll come back to the changes that brings for content and optimization. For the time being, let’s look at all the trends that may “regulate” SEO in the future beginning with visual search. Place your bets!
In the future we’ll have optimization that’s based more and more on mobile. There’s a centralization of information on the net that leads us to rethink the way of doing SEO. Several trends may emerge as a result. Let’s try to see things more clearly and sort through the information we receive daily!
Let’s start with visual search! This most recent trend will become more and more important over the years. Google is looking to develop this activity, and the evolution of results over time is promising. Media content will have a greater role in SEO ranking criteria. Something to follow closely, and as it happens, during the annual “Google I/O 2018” event, the Mountain View company presented (again) Google Lens supporting the idea that the application would enable the “Shazaming of the real world”. Looking for the name of an object, a recipe, or product references? You need only take a picture to see your answers on the Internet.
But SEO is only in the beginning phase of a substantial change. Machine learning is getting bigger, and Google is starting to properly put this technology in place. For several years, the American company has been using automatic learning which comes directly from AI for its services: predicting flight delays on Google Flights, recommending articles in the “News” tab as a function of the user, or the development of its Cloud offer. And Google has clearly shown its ambition in the sector by renaming its R&D department, “Google Research”, “Google AI”. Sundar Pichai’s strategy behind these billion-dollar investments? To place users and their expectations at the center of the business’s ambitions. But where will Machine Learning come into play with regards to SEO? you ask. There will be numerous changes, but we must admit they’re not very clear at the moment. However, without a doubt user experience will be strongly impacted. Content will be at the forefront! Google seeks to satisfy users by suggesting results and answers that are always more relevant (so its algorithms search for quality content ever more coherent with the original search).
To conclude, let’s talk about the increase in vocal search if you’ll allow. Still a minor trend in Europe, this way of browsing has gone beyond being a simple trend across the Atlantic. Comscore estimates that one out of two searches in 2020 will be vocal. For optimization, that implies enriched content to adapt to this new way of browsing the Internet (work on the long train, conversational content, use of semantic marking).
But a definite trend looms for natural optimization with regards to vocal assistants: structured data. For non-SEO fans, structured data are information present on your Internet site’s structured pages which Google uses more easily than “classic” data. These pages which initially allow Google to directly display part of your site’s information in search results have a special role for smart speakers. If I’m looking for an apple pie recipe on Google, the latter will allow me to see opinions, recipes notes, and preparation time.
Up to that point, nothing new. But Google is looking to use these structured data to simply the pathway for a user making a vocal search. Take the recipe example. Google, given the success of its Google Home, decided to add new features to structured data for more perfect user experiences (features added early May). One need only add new properties such as a video ; recipeCategory ; recipeInstructions property to allow all Google Assistant users to follow a recipe step-by-step. The recipeInstructions which are part of these new features present a particular interest for this type of use.
These two properties, “HowToStep” and “HowToSection”, allow you to specify the steps in a recipe for the first and the property step section for the second.
Note however that you must absolutely inform the properties. You’ll find all the details for adding these features here.
So yes, for the time being this example is rather specific but on the other hand it’s easily transposable too practically all requests made with vocal assistants. Further, Google is constantly enriching its search results with structured data and is directing its use towards an answer engine rather than a search engine. So, why not give it a thought?
To conclude, another obvious but non-negligible point: featured snippets and their position 0, the Holy Grail in terms of optimization! The latter will probably remain the number one goal to attain for SEO experts especially in light of evolutions in net browsing trends. The essential criterion? Rich content and an irreproachable Hn tag.
Two words for anticipating the future: rich and structured content. It’s obvious but a gentle reminder is always welcome. And for the sceptics who must swallow their pride, no, SEO is not dead. As a member of these important SEO-interested parties, you are left with making your own opinion and seeing which of the trends will become a supporting pillar for SEO, and which will quickly be forgotten in the years to come. Place your bets!
Thank you to Hugo Bochu, our SEO consultant, for his vision and expert eye on the subjects covered in this article.