Over the last several years, we’ve seen the typical search engine results page (SERP) change a great deal.
It was once primarily a list of blue links.
To that, we’ve seen direct answers added — sometimes replacing a list of links entirely.
We’ve seen video answers added, we’ve seen the advent of the local pack, the knowledge graph, and tools built directly into the top of the page (e.g., calculators).
And while it’s important to evolve for the changes we’re seeing today, what we really need to do is focus on what’s coming next.
The common thread that runs through all of these consumer options is data. The public-facing information about your business, website, products, services, and people within your company.
You need to identify all these points of data (sometimes also referred to as entities), catalog them, and mark them up so the engines and services can easily identify, consume, and trust the information they provide.
If you want to remain on the radar with consumers, this should be a critical focus moving forward.
Here are some of the changes we can expect to influence the SERP of tomorrow: in the immediate and not-to-distant horizon
1. Voice assistants and companion apps
In a very real way, this is our here and now.
This category can be best thought of as “voice and…” since it’s not only about voice assistants — and there is a less-than-clear path to ranking in voice search.
Voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are being built into any number of third-party products, and it’s become increasingly important to figure out how to optimize to rank as the spoken answer.
You may not be focused on it right now, but consumers are focusing on it more and more every day, and there’s an opportunity for early marketing adopters to set the trends.
The biggest issue when optimizing for voice is that it’s a true black box. Every query teaches the system something new, which is then applied to the next query, and so on.
With none of the popular systems sharing any inside data with marketers at any depth, it’s tough to really understand the levers that move the needles in voice search.
Still, you need to dig in here and invest as consumers are becoming more comfortable with voice search and are turning to it with greater frequency.
What can you do today?
Research how you appear in voice search.
Buy a smart speaker and use it.
Get comfortable using the device so you can experience what consumers experience.
Use it to perform competitive analysis of how other businesses are included in answers. Learn what kinds of answers come back in instances relevant to your business.
2. Visual search
We saw several new devices come to market for the holiday shopping season, with both Google and Amazon offering stand-alone voice assistants with devices featuring screens.
Facebook has a standalone product as well, though its initial focus is more on connecting people and conversations, as opposed to search and discovery.
(One easy prediction here is that, at some point, Messenger may be integrated to enable chatbots to join conversations, opening marketing opportunities for businesses.)
Ranking in visual search results will follow a similar path to ranking for voice search. These devices are essentially expanded footprints for showcasing answers.
But as consumer adoption grows, new opportunities will present themselves.
Right now, the surest path to being showcased in visual search is by building, as best you can, a robust presence in voice search — by effectively managing your data.
What can you do today?
Buy a device that has a screen and search for your business and your competitors and their products. In fact, you could skip the smart speaker and just start with one of these devices.
The work, results, and lessons will be the same.
3. Augmented reality
Useful data, layered visually on top of our everyday view of the world around us — this space has been around for a while, and is poised for rapid growth as younger consumers find the newest apps and devices that utilize this technology.
To be included in augmented reality, your foundation must be good data.
All the data about your business, no matter how small, will need to be marked up. This allows services to consume it and overlay it in an augmented reality interface.
This could have a large impact on customer foot traffic, as all the information they need to make purchase decisions could be overlaid, for example, on a street-view map. (This enables them to know, say, which businesses are actually open, are having sales right now, currently have long wait times, and so on.)
Managing your business data in this space will be critical for success. Inclusion here is almost guaranteed, success will come from managing your data well.
What can you do today?
Grab your smart phone and try some of the apps in this article.
While you’re doing this, think about the impact of having your business data overlaid in that view you see.
Understand that managing your data is step one in being included in AR scenarios.
4. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality is a bit further out.
We will get there as companies like Oculus are working to bring more accessible products to market, hopefully broadening adoption.
As content options expand, so will search results within the experiences — and advertising opportunities along with them.
Currently, this remains firmly in ‘testing’ territory, meaning you should be watching the space and testing different devices.
Develop a good understanding of the consumer experience, and spot ways to potentially integrate your products and services.
What can you do today?
VR is a more expensive space, and still at such an early stage, so it’s tougher to create an action here.
Reading and understanding the industry remains important to watch for growth, but experiencing VR yourself is also key.
Find a demo at a local store, at least, or step up to something like the Oculus Go to explore this technology and discover opportunities.
The SERP of tomorrow will have many interfaces.
There are a lot of changes in front of us, and it’s easy to be discouraged or feel overwhelmed.
The good news is that all the work you’ve done to this point has prepared you for the next few steps needed to remain relevant and thrive.
Just keep an eye on how consumer trends are shifting, as that will tell you how fast you need to move.
Your first action, above all others, however, is to manage your business data.
No amount of research will make you more successful if you don’t take this action.
Create a list of all your digital entities and learn how to control them. Make a plan to execute on maintaining the accuracy of all that data. And finally, create workflows inside your business for maintenance work of that data.
Knowledge can be wasted through inaction.
Duane Forrester is VP of Industry Insights at Yext.
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