Last updated on May 12, 2017

It’s 2019.

Where is your business in the search results?

Ranking in first position? Second? Third?

Or are there no longer search results?

The Google Crystal Ball

Google has been trying to predict searchers’ and consumers’ needs since 2004, when they first introduced Google Autocomplete (the function that proposes the rest of your search phrase as you type).

The predictive abilities of Google have evolved considerably, until they didn’t even need the beginning of a search phrase. Your past searches, your browsing history, your emails… Google’s access to so many details about your life enabled the creation of Google Now – the mobile function that debuted in 2012. In addition to answering natural language questions, Google Now also presented you with information you hadn’t requested but that it thought you might want – sports scores, financial updates, weather and more.

From 2015-2016, Google Now evolved to become the Google Assistant: an intelligent virtual assistant that engages in two-way dialogue with the user. In the old days, you could ask Google Now a question, and it would present you with results. Now you can ask Google Assistant a question and it can answer or clarify – all in a written or voice interaction.

As Google puts it in their Google Assistant intro video, the original Google search was so you could find and make sense of all the information out there in the world. But now that our lives have become so complicated, you need a personal search assistant to find and make sense of all your personal data!

How are consumers going to hear about your business in the future?

More and more, consumers will hear about your business as it fits into the microcosm of their lives – or as Google determines that it fits into the microcosm of their lives.

Asking Google Assistant to help you find cheap flights from New York to Paris?

Eventually, Google will be able to sift through all the available information and ask: “Do you want to book on kayak.com for $380 or on expedia.com for $395?” Once you’ve decided upon a flight, Google Assistant will assume you’ll also want to book a hotel for your stay, and ask if you want to reserve a room at the same place you stayed last trip. If this is your first trip, it will give you options based on price or style of hotel you tend to stay at.

Less and less will your potential client see you on a page of results that they skim on their own. More and more your business will be mentioned as it fits into your customer’s life, needs and purchasing habits as analyzed by algorithms.

How can you make sure YOUR business is the one searchers find?

David Mihm recommends looking at ways that your website can create sales, bookings and leads from the search results, without needing searchers to click through to your site.

Use as much data markup as you can (with Schema.org or JSON-LD), so searchers can see hours, menu data and other critical information in the search results. Sign up with third-party sites like OpenTable and ZocDoc that let searchers book reservations and appointments right there in the search results.

How are searchers going to get answers to their questions in the future?

OK, Google.

Voice search is here – and growing.

In May 2016, Microsoft reps said that 25% of searches performed on the Windows 10 taskbar were voice searches. Additionally, Google reps said that 20% of searches on the Android mobile app in the USA were voice searches – and the number is only increasing. (KPCB)

These are searches on devices which can use voice or written input. What will happen as the number of devices that use primarily voice input increase?

The Amazon Echo, the smart speaker connecting you to personal assistant Alexa, has likely sold significantly more than 11 million devices since it debuted in 2015. Google Home – with the Google Assistant – is a competitor device released in November 2016.

When people ask Google Home a question, like “How do I hard boil an egg?” the answer given by the Google Assistant is generally based on the featured answer, if there is one.

The featured answer is a separate box at the top of the search results in which Google attempts to give a direct answer for your question, extracted from content on the web. Here’s what it looks like for the hard-boiling question:

screenshot of google search result for hard boiled eggs

So your Google Assistant would tell you: “According to incredibleegg.org, place eggs in a saucepan large enough to hold them in single layer. Add cold water…”

How many search results did you get access to?

One.

If you use a voice-only device, or what you’re involved in (like driving) makes voice the most convenient or the only option – you’ll have one answer to your question. Google’s answer.

How can you make sure YOUR answer is the one searchers hear?

Ranking as the featured answer (otherwise known as “Position #0”) boosts your visibility in both voice-only, single answer searches, AND in the regular results.

How can you get your answers to be chosen by Google for that privilege?

A thorough guide from Moz is here, some great tips from Wordstream are here and practical advice from Go Fish Digital is here.

Let’s sum up what we know:

  • Ask and answer the question directly and succinctly at the beginning of your page. After that, you can do into depth about different aspects of the answer, but you’ve already given Google the information to pull.
  • Don’t try to get a featured answer for simple fact questions (“How old is Justin Bieber?”). Those answers will be pulled directly from Google’s Knowledge Graph. Aim for answers that are a little more complex or specialized.
  • “Why” and “How to” questions tend to be especially good at getting featured answers. If you’re aiming for a “How to” question, write your answer in a numbered list with a sub-title for each point. Google will pull the subtitles and create an abbreviated list for its featured answer… but you’ll still be likely to get clicks through to your site when people want to see the complete answer (if they’re looking at a screen, that is).
  • If you’re using a numbered list, aim for 8 items. Google will truncate the featured answer’s list at 7 items and then include a link for “More items.” Assuming your reader is interested, they’ll be much more likely to click than if all the relevant information appeared to already be in the answer box.
  • Look for “People also ask” questions in the Google results to find other good questions to target.
  • Featured answers tend to come from pages that rank in the first few positions for that query. So do a good job on every other aspect of your SEO for that page.

Being handed heavily processed information does save a lot of time. It also means we might miss things we would have wanted to consider, or receive misinformation.

When you’re doing your own voice searches, be aware of the pitfalls even as you appreciate the convenience.

When you’re optimizing your site, make sure your website integrates with all the programs Google and other people are using to make purchase decisions. Make sure your information is the most reliable, best presented answer out there.

Hopefully Google will think so too, and tell their searchers all about it.

So get to optimizin’, Pilgrim!