As all of the technological advance and possibility looms large on the 2019 horizon, this just might be the most exciting planning season yet for marketers. Consumer experiences, artificial intelligence and a granularity in tracking that were futuristic hopes not long ago are now commonplace — even expected.
Google continues to take the lion’s share of the search market, as over 88 percent of North American consumers turn to the search giant to answer their every need. Increasingly, those queries are expressed by voice, on mobile, or both.
The way consumers ask for information is changing, but so are their expectations as to what they expect for results. Fully 74 percent of shoppers report that text-only search results are insufficient for finding the products they want. Consumers demand rich, visual results and expect that those recommendations will have a great degree of personalization, as well, as AI experiences drive new search formats and channels.
SEO is a brave new world again. Where should you set your sights and really focus in for the best organic search performance in 2019?
Organic search is key to our understanding of the consumer experience
Today, the path to purchase is as unique as each customer, but there are still some compelling trends we can identify in consumer search behavior.
Consumers are not only looking to identify a product or service to meet their needs—they’re using search to learn everything they possibly can about what type of experience they can create. Mobile searches for “wait times” have grown by 120%, for example (Google Data, U.S., Jan.-June 2015 vs. Jan.-June 2017.) Searchers want to know when a business is open, how to get there, what it looks like inside and out, what the service is like, whether they should tip, and much, much more.
With that increased internet usage and constant connectivity comes myriad new touchpoints for marketers to connect with consumers, and in more meaningful ways than ever before. Searcher intent has completely redefined the marketing funnel and, as Google says, no two customer journeys are exactly alike. In their recent analysis of thousands of searchers’ clickstream data, Google researchers discovered that:
- Consumers narrow and broaden their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments
- Some consumers research brands near-obsessively before purchase, scrutinizing every available aspect of competitors’ online presence to find one that truly stands out across platforms
- Searches may continue long after a purchase is made, as consumers seek to optimize their experience with a service or product
- Searchers have become increasingly detail-oriented and each fact (and subsequent attempt to verify it) generates new opportunities for brands to engage
Search used to be a great opportunity to move consumers from one point to the next in a strictly linear funnel. Today, search is a two-way communication channel that guides a brand’s understanding of how to meet the needs of its market, from marketing to operations, customer service, loyalty and beyond.
The integration of AI-powered search features is enabling brands to reach consumers in more granular, meaningful ways.
Earlier this year we learned that 60 percent of enterprise marketers planned to use AI in their content marketing. Among those already using AI, 31 percent said it gave them a better understanding of their customer and 27 percent said it drove more productivity and time savings.
Google itself is using RankBrain technology to understand the content better it’s crawling, in order to better meet the needs of searchers performing more — and increasingly complex and unique — searches.
Even as consumers are searching more often, they’re not necessarily digging deeper into the results. Searchers expect that Google’s AI will do the heavy lifting and sort out the best answers for them. As a result, as they try different queries and search more often to compare solutions, the number one Google result still gets 28 percent of the clicks (positions two and three get 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively).
It’s more important than ever that your content is discoverable and properly marked up for AI-driven search.
Tips for top search performance in 2019
With customer experience and taking advantage of AI-powered search features top of mind, here are a few areas of focus for marketers as we head into the new year.
Master your understanding of audiences and personas.
Personas give you a framework from which to ideate, create, optimize, distribute and promote the content most likely to resonate with your most desirable buyers. It’s not a new concept, but one that’s become both complex and increasingly important as the customer journey has evolved and changed shape. Greg Stirling shares some great advice on personas here.
Understand your customer in minute detail.
With those broad buckets of audience types in hand, you can begin to get more granular and truly personalize experiences. What are this buyer’s needs and wants? How do they consume media? At which stages in their journey will the personalization be most helpful and compelling? I talked about mapping content to various stages of intent and personalizing consumer experiences more effectively in this recent column.
Use artificial intelligence and machine learning to mine data, improving efficiency and scale.
This is no longer futuristic, but mainstream. The massive amount of data produced by all of this consumer interaction is meaningless with analysis and activation. Large, dynamic data sets enable you to identify patterns in real time, driving a greater understanding of changes in consumer base, the competitive landscape, and your market as a whole. AI and ML mean that data mining is not only the automation of the repetitive tasks involved in data collection but that your software can now make smart recommendations for performance improvement, as well.
Measure beyond the click.
Go beyond rank and click data with truly omnichannel and interdepartmental measurement. Revenue and attribution are critical, and not only for keeping teams cross-channel teams motivated and bought into your SEO strategy. Ensuring they have the proper resources and budget to execute is imperative, and that rides on your ability to communicate wins—large and small — to the C-suite.
Evangelize your SEO efforts and celebrate successes.
We operate in a new era of accountability, thanks to that mass of data we talked about earlier. CMOs are accountable for every penny of spending, whether inside marketing or recommending to another company leader to support marketing’s initiatives. Today, you’re just as accountable for the customer experience as those front-line team members dealing directly with consumers. Celebrate successes often and evangelize for the change that needs to happen as your SEO strategy evolves.
2019 is ripe with SEO opportunity for marketers committed to consumer experience and knowledgeable in the AI and machine learning arenas. You can learn more to help you prepare in our 2018 Future of Marketing and AI Survey Report (registration required).
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.