Ray Kurzweil, Google’s ex director of engineering, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that the future of online search is a new, unexplored frontier. Google will eventually refine its algorithms so that the search giant can “actually understand the content of the Web pages,” instead of simply matching user-entered keywords with highly optimized pages. He predicts that search engines will reach “human-like” levels of comprehension within five to eight years. All of this is leading toward what the content marketing world labels “semantic search.” SEO is really taking off.
At March Communications, we’ve seen the technology PR landscape shift as clients increasingly request custom content, from written material like blogs and case studies to videos. As long as PR agencies make sure the content they produce for clients remains relevant and high-quality, they should be able to remain ahead of whatever disruptions semantic search may cause across the online content landscape. Our content team is in tune with these developments and is always looking for innovative ways to help our clients navigate the changing online content landscape.
From Siri to Semantic: How Hummingbird Came to Be
When Apple released the iPhone 4S in October 2011, it also debuted Siri, the computerized “personal assistant.” This proved to be one of the first steps toward semantic search. If you’re sitting at a computer around dinner time, you might type “Boston restaurants” and see a list of the best restaurants in the city or perhaps a page of Yelp reviews. But when submitting a request to Siri, you would say “Find me Italian restaurants nearby.” The results will be more relevant because of the added location element. So, consumer behavior is reshaping the search landscape. Now that technology allows consumers to clearly state their needs and start seeing immediate, refined search results, as they have with Siri, they will expect more relevant answers from other forms of search they use every day.
Last September, Google updated its algorithms as part of its Hummingbird initiative. The update rewards content that provides a substantive benefit to readers. While Old Google would spit out a list of 10 links per page that roughly matched whatever keywords a user entered into a search, Hummingbird-era Google tries to better understand context and the searcher’s intent as it provides possible answers. Hummingbird represents Google’s most ambitious step yet toward semantic search – trying to determine the meaning behind a user’s search.
Content in the Era of Hummingbird
To understand how content will need to change, agencies need to ask themselves, “Why do people search online?” Quite simply, they want to find answers that will make their lives easier It’s anyone’s best guess as to how semantic search will ultimately impact the search landscape, but for now, content producers and technology PR pros need to at least understand what won’t work anymore. It’s no longer only about determining which keywords and phrases have the most traction among your target audience. It’s about thinking of the needs of your client’s customer base and ensuring they have the answers to any customer questions.
So, what should PR agencies do to better manage content production? There are three steps you can take immediately:
1. Brainstorm User Questions – and Make Sure You Can Answer Them Use the time you once spent conducting keyword research to think deeply about the needs of a specific audience. Brainstorm the questions they would need answered by your client’s website.
2. Think In Terms of ‘How’ Even those who have never taken a journalism class know the importance of “Five Ws and One H” – these are the six questions that are asked as part of the information gathering process – who, what, where, when, why and how. Search engines have always been best equipped to answer surface-level inquiries related to the first five questions. But “how” questions require deeper exploration and semantic search should be up to the task.
3. Use PR Connections to Reinforce Brand Reputation Effective technology PR campaigns have always reinforced brands’ reputations as thought leaders through well-communicated messaging, and now, as PR agencies embrace the power of content marketing, there’s a natural inclination for brands to answer the questions of their audience. PR agencies have access to the connections needed to distribute content across a web of interconnected engagement channels.
To make content work, however, the technical bits need to be looked into as well. Your SEO people should do in-depth technical SEO audits to start off with, then work their way up (or down) to see that content looks, behaves and says what it needs to say.
This post was first published by Martin Jones on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.