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Intelligent Search is Changing What It Means to Rank

If organic search rankings are your main focus today, you're failing fast. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and lead in the intelligent future.

Intelligent Search

Organic search rank used to be the main concern of businesses seeking to be found online, but a lot has changed in the past few years.

Today’s digital environment of paid ads, maps, shopping options, reviews, and mobile-first commerce has changed how we see what we see, and with it, what drives business to businesses.

If organic rankings are your main focus today, you’re failing fast.


The simple answer is there is so much more to pay attention to than even five years ago that old-school SEO doesn’t cut it.

As mobile has surpassed desktop in search, local packs and knowledge cards have all but replaced the ordered list of blue links as the dominant form of search results. This has changed how you need to think about tracking your success in intelligent search.

Running a search engine is a business – and the Googles and Bings of the world are securing their future relevance by changing what they do to fit the habits of the next generation of consumers.

As Boomers age out of being the prime consumer market for online business and Millennials and Generation Z take over, trust in elements beyond the “organic stack” will come to be a market force that changes what it means to “rank.”

So, what does it take to rank in intelligent search?

1. Cultivate Rich Location-Specific Knowledge for Map Apps

Map-based queries have risen as people search for specific items and products in map apps.

A natural consequence of a more mobile-savvy consumer base, location-specific searches are going to continue to rise. In fact, almost 40 percent of people say they perform searches only on their mobile device in the average day, according to Google.

Winning in intelligent search is increasingly about rich geo-specific information, like hours, menus, location-specific photos, service or delivery area, and more.

2. Generate & Respond to Reviews

Not only are reviews used to help determine how a search engine should rank you, but for certain searches, having high ratings may soon be the only way to rank.

For example, if a consumer uses “best” in a map query, some digital services filter for only 4+ star results. If it proves useful to to satisfying searchers, it’s likely that the search engines will cement and expand this trend.

You’d better be cultivating reviews and managing digital relationships with customers now if you want to surface in future map queries.

3. Connect Your Inventory to Your Digital Presence

Bridging the last mile for consumers looking for a specific item in the moment is going to be paramount.

Inventory data combined with map directions will drive foot traffic.

Consumer expectations are moving toward the day when “40-inch Samsung LED TV” won’t just return electronics stores that carry that item, but those that have it on the shelf in the moment.

4. Structure Your Data for Voice

Today, more than 20 percent of queries are done via voice.

Consumer behavior is changing fast as voice search catches on across smartphone search and voice-first devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

In fact, Google predicts that by 2020, 50 percent of queries will come via voice. And there is often only one result spoken, leaving you with little choice but to structure and markup your content to remain relevant.

5. Integrate Your Digital Knowledge Across the Enterprise

Until recently, it was plausible that you would silo key business data in certain departments. Now, however, the world is rapidly evolving, and to stay in front requires a rethink of that old practice. You need:

  • The insights that organic search provides into consumer research.
  • The details paid search provides on conversion.
  • The feedback and intent signals social provides across a wide range of locations.

These programs at a minimum need to work together and feed data to each other openly.

On top of this you need to gather internal digital knowledge (products, people, hours, locations, inventory, holiday hours, etc.) and ensure all marketing functions have instant access to it.

Finally, you need to ensure all programs and consumer touchpoints lead with the same messages. One voice, one brand.

The Future of Search Rankings: Trust + Rich Experiences

Everything we’ve discussed so far speaks to the larger trend of a rich business data footprint becoming a bigger trust signal for search engines. The more elements about your business that are curated and accurate, the richer the experience a search engine can provide to customers, and the higher you rank in more search formats.

Accordingly, new tools to track success in intelligent search, across keywords and search formats, are increasingly important to measure where you’re successfully reaching consumers (and where you aren’t).

Furthermore, 5G coverage for mobile devices will drive richer experiences as connectivity times tumble and data flows faster.

To be ready for this in the next 2 years or so, you need to get serious about owning your business data footprints all over the web.

Managing your business data, and things like reviews, won’t just be “good” in the future. It will be critical.

Consumers are demanding more. Intelligent services are aligning to deliver on those expectations, leaving businesses with little choice other than to stay on top of the data needed to answer consumer questions and queries, as needed.

And, let’s face it, engaging with customers is rarely a bad thing for the health of your business.

Bottom Line

Running a business online used to be simple. Today it’s not. And it’s only going to get more complex.

Understanding what to invest time in now is critical for your success tomorrow. The way to gauge this is through an understanding of your “share of intelligent search,” an important new component of SEO. Companies that lag behind in this new metric will see that fresh players in their fields can, and will, easily exploit the opportunity to step forward.

Too many businesses were slow to get aligned with mobile. This shift will be more impactful and could redefine business and brand as we know it.

Now is the time to seize the opportunity to lead in the intelligent future.

Duane Forrester Vice President of Industry Insights at Yext

Duane Forrester is the Vice President of Industry Insights for Yext, leading industry outreach, evangelism and authorship for the company. ...

Intelligent Search is Changing What It Means to Rank

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