Welcome to the race for position no. 1.
Except in this race, we are not the cars. We are not the drivers.
We are the racetrack. And we are competing to be the first choice for every car and driver.
The race is search. The most frequently chosen car? Google, which commands almost 88% of the global search market.
But it’s really no longer a single race car. Research shows, for example, if people are looking for specific products are much more likely to start with Amazon. If they’re looking for images, they go to Google Image. And if they’re looking for how-to videos, they’re most likely to search YouTube. Apple has begun to eat into Google’s market share of searching for directions.
Looking for what people have said about products or things? Facebook surpassed more than 2 billion searches per day. An estimated one in 10 internet users start with TripAdvisor for travel searches. And there are more than 40 million searches on LinkedIn for jobs each week.
All this begs the question: How are we as marketers thinking about optimizing our tracks – our content journey – for all these cars and drivers?
In episode seven of Marketing Makers, CMI’s series for those who make marketing work, I take a leisurely pace to explore the evolution that led us to today’s world where we must optimize our content for the cars and their drivers. You can watch the show here or read on for some highlights.
World without search
It’s hard to imagine there was a day when Google wasn’t a verb.
If you wanted to know what was available for your family’s entertainment on TV, you could purchase TV Guide or look in your daily newspaper. You couldn’t search for alternate times. You couldn’t search for programming by genres or favorite actors.
If you wanted to know what spaghetti sauce was available, you could go to the store and browse the aisle, looking at every single jar.
Information was a one-way street.
If you were searching for a solution for your B2B organization, well, you kinda didn’t. You could learn about new ways of operation, technologies, or equipment at a trade show, a film from a vendor, a catalog, or a visit from a salesperson.
In the early 1990s, a college student in Canada began the transformation that would change that. He created a program that allowed people to search for specific words in files people uploaded to their public servers (a precursor to the modern internet.) Now understand that the analysis program didn’t interpret language, it literally looked at the letters. If you typed “fun,” you’d get files that had the word funds, fundamental, funny, etc. It was more like searching a database with lots of records.
Now, information was a two-way street. That evolution led to search engines, which indexed and interpreted content. Now, a search about an author’s name, for example, returns not only books authored by the person but content about the author – biographies, reviews, media coverage, etc.
This subtle, but important difference, changed the world for how we as consumers would have access to information, entertainment, education, shopping, and pretty much all manner of things we wanted to consume when it comes to content.
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No longer about the search
As I talked about in last month’s episode on content optimization, modern search engines aren’t really search engines. They are better described as optimized answer engines.
It’s like that race we talked about. You are competing in SEO by building the best racetrack against all the other track builders for the one race car. You study the car, its engine, tires, shocks, and steering to optimize your track so it provides the fastest and best ride.
But remember, it’s no longer one race car looking for the best track.
If you feature how-to content, you better have a YouTube search engine strategy.
If you’re a local business, you better optimize a strategy for Google, Yelp, and other search engines that provide information on local businesses.
You have to build a racetrack with optimization strategies that deliver what those search engine “cars” want to drive.
How? Always remember why drivers climb into those search-engine cars. In most cases, they are not searching for one exact answer. In most cases, they want a number of answers, some of which they may not even have known they wanted to have.
More about the drivers
That brings us to a new level of SEO – finetuning.
Before we can nudge search in the right direction, we might want to look at where Google thinks it’s going in the long term. Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about new technologies such as voice, mobile, video, or image search. We need to think bigger than that.
I did a little research with a good friend and colleague Liam Carnahan on this and we did some writing on the topic. We can see that Google doesn’t just want to be the place to find a quick answer. Fun fact: only 8% of Google searches are now questions.
People will still turn to search engines for more traditional “database” searches to find out a celebrity’s age, see how many ounces are in a cup, etc. But Google and smarter search engines will take the next step on what searchers are really looking for– to answer the unasked why behind your query.
For example, instead of just helping you find out how old Idris Elba is, the modern search engines want to answer that and more. They tell you he is 48 and share his three upcoming movies.
Yes, there are eight ounces in a cup, the search engine confirms. And, it shares, the next best recipe that you’re likely to need that information for.
Now, your SERPs will differ greatly from mine because the engines also have more context about us so they can deliver more helpful results – and this makes figuring out search engine strategies difficult.
Connected content experiences
If we are to be the best search engine optimizers, we must realize that it’s not about a battle for the best, longest, or even most keyword-rich answer to a frequently asked question. We must present connected content experiences that not only answer the questions but present and enable the entire solution to why the question was asked.
Connect #content experiences that not only answer a searched question but deliver the entire solution behind the reason the question was asked, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent @Conductor. #SEO #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet
For example, the query for an enterprise software search may evolve from “What is the best CRM system?” to “Show me a demonstration of what a great CRM system can do.” Or it won’t be “What are the best Mexican restaurants near me,” but will become “Tell me the availability at the best Mexican restaurants for two people Monday night.”
The aim of future content-driven experiences will not be to answer questions; it will be to provide solutions to challenges that aren’t even asked yet.
And don’t take that just from me. Google co-founder Sergey Brin affirmed this seven years ago when he said: “My vision was that information would come to you as you need it. You wouldn’t have to search query at all.”
Put simply: The future of search will be removing the need to search.
Put another way: We must stop looking at the engineering of the car to develop a better racetrack. Instead, we must look to the driver, and build the road that leads them to the finish line.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute