Just a short seven years ago this is what we had to do in order to find a restaurant near us:
- Remember its name
- Mention its city (and occasionally, country too)
- Know at least part of its street address including its zip or post code
- Hope it had a website and someone had placed the relevant information there, correctly
- Add some information about its food (if we were looking for a particular type of restaurant)
Just two years after that things had got better. Semantic search had kicked in, Google’s semantic index was being rolled out and we were getting some amazing results that appeared to almost second-guess our intent, when they worked. That last proviso was a big one. Semantic search requires metadata as well as data and it takes time to accumulate everything. As a result those in the US were enjoying a much better search experience than those in Australia or the UK (where it was, however, improving) and all of the English-speaking countries were enjoying semantic search ahead of the rest of the world.
Compare all that to today, this moment, wherever you may be in the world. When you want to find a restaurant near you, you whip out your phone, fire up Google Voice Search with “OK Google” and ask for a restaurant. You don’t even need to say “near me” any more. Indeed, the expectation is that your personal device already knows where you are and what you’re interested in and if it doesn’t or fails to deliver you’re more likely to see this as a failing of technology than ambiguity in your search query.
Weather forecast queries, for example, have shifted from the more traditional (and logical) “[Location] weather forecast” to “is it going to rain today?” – the second query is more how we would talk to another person as opposed to a personal device. It is context-poor and there is some ambiguity in its intent, but only when it is divorced from the context of our personal behavior. This last bit is key. Let’s quickly examine why.
As consumers we are faced by the paradox of increased choice and decreased time. We can now do more than ever before with personal devices that pack more computing power than traditional desktop machines. At the same time the time available to us to do anything is less and less as we have to do more and more in the allocated 24 hours of each day.
This creates a different imperative. We expect devices to deliver search results that are:
While our search queries are:
- Poorly formed
While location is more important than ever before it is mentioned less and less because we expect the assistants that live in our devices to be able to work it out. This presents marketers with a unique challenge and, obviously, an opportunity. The content created has to perform specific tasks that answer questions whose value is inference and context-rich in relevant Google search queries. The context-free question of “is it going to rain today?’ for instance will be impossible to answer if the site that provides weather reports hasn’t gone to great lengths to establish locality in its forecast, specific possibility of rain and provide all the relevant information that allows a search engine to understand it is a weather forecast site.
The good news? Every bit of extra work and loving care you lavish on your content is likely to pay off, eventually.
The bad news. You have to be in it for the long game. The days when a page would be keyword-staffed or even (for those who understand semantic search) linked to thematically similar pages and enriched through external links that broadened the depth of its coverage and it was deemed to be enough, are long gone.
Those who fail to understand their audience fail to find it.
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