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Intent-based search is getting smarter, but still needs our help

Part 2 of my top three takeaways from the 2018 Digital Summit

An important part of staying up to date with our work is attending events like the Digital Summit in Portland. This year’s Digital Summit did not disappoint, as thought leaders and professionals from diverse industries gathered to tackle digital marketing ideas. Not surprisingly, the theme of intent-based search came up in many of the sessions, as a growing cornerstone of digital marketing strategy.

What does intent-based search mean?

Simply put, Google wants to be intelligent. It wants to understand what you’re actually asking and why. For example, are your “mousse” queries chocolate mousse or mousse to style your hair? Beyond knowing what category of thing you’re referring to, it wants to be able to guess the ultimate goal of your query, whether or not you specify it: are you searching to find out how to make mousse, where to buy it, how to eat it, or how to style your hair with it?

Search query data continues to grow. Google is able to make more and more educated guesses to serve up what you want, regardless of how you as a searcher communicate or think. From a user perspective, the artificial intelligence may seem sci-fi, but it’s no joke. It has a long way to go, but it is changing the world of SEO and how it relates to broader digital marketing strategies.

Zero results: the good and the bad

Take, for example, the evolving “zero result” on many (but not all) SERPs. The zero result is an information card that appears before the first organic search result, intending to quickly and easily solve the question asked by a searcher. It “understands” your problem and gets you a best-guess answer almost instantly.

why am I hungry position zero google search result

As Rand Fishkin noted during a session, for many website owners, this is both good and bad news. The good news is that we all have access to earning the zero-result. That’s great, because anyone in the zero rank earns immediate credibility points, not to mention serious visibility with searchers.

The not so great news is that these results theoretically result in less website clicks. Why bother visiting a source site if Google can share all the info you need? It’s an interesting development, as some have said you are “cannibalizing” yourself if you have both the zero result and the first organic search result.

Don’t take this “bad news” the wrong way. Every change is an opportunity for those prepared to face it! How can you leverage this to your advantage as a brand or business?

How can we take advantage of intent-based search?

Despite how inherently intelligent it may seem, this AI intent-based search still needs us. We can help Google (and smart devices) understand the intent of our content. In fact, Google is asking us to do this through schema markup, sometimes known as structured data.

1: Use Schema Markup

Much like yesterday’s metadata, the schema markup language tags and defines things for the data-collection bots. For example, are you sharing a recipe for meringue or are you selling it? Plug your content details into the schema structure, add the code to your page, and search engines (and smart devices) can interpret the exact format and intent of your page.

lemon meringue pie google position zero rich snippet search result

Take this lemon meringue pie info card, for example. Schema markup in the website page helped Google easily understand what the content meant, and which parts were recipe steps, enabling it to show up as a “rich snippet,” or a SERP result with an enhanced appearance. Props to Allrecipes.com!

The above image is also an example of a “zero result,” an info card that appears before organic results. It is important to note that that adding schema markup to your site does not guarantee a “zero result” nor a rich snippet on a SERP. This is only one helpful tool among many.

At Outside Communications, we’ve spent the better part of the last year and a half learning and coming to understand strategies for structured data and schema. Need help? Contact us, we’d be glad to help!

2: Don’t go keyword-crazy

Intent-based search is pushing keyword search to the back burner. During the Digital Summit, many of the speakers noted that being found and ranked is more and more about intent and less and less about individual keywords. That’s not to say keywords don’t matter, but their relevance, and even how you approach them, is vastly different from several years ago.

Also, just in case you still “stuff” keywords, I can safely say this is a consensus: please, please don’t keyword-stuff. It’s embarrassing and annoying for everyone. There are plenty of healthy ways to use keywords. Think of keywords like icing on a cake, not like icing heaped in a bowl. 🙂

3: Consider voice-search

Every day, we’re more comfortable using our voice-activated devices and assistants. As a byproduct of this shift, typing in a few cryptic keywords into a search query box is becoming strikingly less common. We expect Google to understand us, as we verbally ask it our questions. How can digital marketers take advantage of this? Long-tail keywords and more informal search terms are becoming increasingly relevant. Take note of changing search behaviors when planning your keyword strategies and budgets!

Final thoughts

As intent-based search continues to improve, the way we search and get found will continue to change. To stay relevant, we need to continually reassess how the search engines read and present our data. At the same time, we need to also consider how people interact with search engines. For good or bad, search is changing. Whether or not we like the changes, our websites need to keep up.

(If you missed my first takeaway about mobile and SEO, you can read it here.)

If all of this sounds awesome and interesting, but you’d rather not tackle it for your own business, feel free to contact us. We’re here to help!

About the Author

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Rachel Jones

As a project manager at Outside Communications, Rachel coordinates projects in content creation, web development, video production and digital marketing. Her background includes commercial video production, project management, drone piloting and chocolate making. She loves working with people and learning something new every day.

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