SEO without SERPs is here with Google Assistant, Home and Amazon Echo. Here’s how to survive.

On the first full day that we had a Google Home in our house, we interacted with it 473 times over the course of the day. Four hundred of those were my two-year-old asking it to play “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways, followed by his mother or me interrupting with, “Hey Google! Stop!”

(Look, I love that song, too, but enough is enough, you know?)

The point is, watching the way that my family interacts with the device, and how often they interact with it, I’m more inclined to believe the forecast that sales of Amazon Echo and Google Home type devices will go from 1.8 million this year to 15.1 million in 2020.

Have you seen this demo video from Google I/O?:

It really can do all of those things, like turn on your lights and help you plan your day. There are many times where it gets stumped and says “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help with that,” but not nearly as many as Amazon Echo, as you can see in Danny Sullivan’s review. For the most part, it’s useful — and sometimes fun.

And as more people use smart speaker devices like these to get their information in a world without search engine results pages (SERPs), SEOs will have to adjust if they want to stay relevant.

Here are three ways SEOs can best position themselves for a world of assistant search without SERPs, powered by devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo.

1. Understand the types of queries this affects

It’s important to remember that most of the queries that Google Home handles on a regular basis are not the types of queries that are valuable to business anyway.

When I looked at the queries that my family of five asked Google Home over the course of that first weekend, the queries that were used most often are not the kind of queries that any business can monetize.

If you ask Google what a horse sounds like, for example, it neighs. If you ask it to play or stop music, that’s what it does. There is no opportunity for business exposure, as a successful search session ends at the answer or action.

And indeed, if you look at the types of things that Google Home can answer right now, there are only two categories where SEOs can have any effect at all: Facts & info and Local guide.

FeatureDescriptionSample queryOpportunity for SEOFacts & info Ask Google what you want to knowHow tall is Barack Obama?YesLocal guide Search for local places and ask for additional informationFind me a restaurantYesFinance Ask about current individual stock prices or current points of an index, like the NASDAQHow are the markets doing?NoMulti-room audio Group any combination of Google Home, Chromecast Audio or speakers with Chromecast Audio built-in together for synchronous music throughout the homePlay party playlist on all speakersNoPlay audio from your phone to Google Home  Play audio from your phone to Google Home from 100+ Chromecast-enabled audio apps or by playing your Android Audio N/ANoPlay audio on speakers and TVs using Google Home Stream audio to any speaker that has Chromecast Audio plugged in or Chromecast built-inPlay Rise by Katy Perry on Living Room TVNoPlay video using Google Home Stream video content to any TV that has Chromecast plugged in or built-inPlay John Oliver on Living Room TVNoControl your lights Turn on/off, dim, and check if lights are on with supported smart bulbsTurn on living room lightsNoControl your plugs Turn on/off devices around your home with supported smart plugsTurn on the coffee maker plugNoControl your thermostats Control the temperature with supported smart thermostatsMake it warmerNoIFTTT – If this, then that Control countless online services and third-party smart devices that aren’t directly integrated Turn off the TVNoCalculator Perform complicated calculationsWhat’s the square root of 356?NoDictionary Get definitions and spellings for words How do you spell girl in Chinese?NoNutrition Get nutrition information for ingredients or foodHow much fiber in kale?NoSports Ask for scores, live updates, or next game date, location and timeHow are the Warriors doing?NoTranslation Get translations for words or phrases in supported languagesHow do you say hello in Japanese?NoUnit conversions Get unit conversions How many euros is a dollar worth?NoFun Try various queries to see if Google Home has some surprises.Entertain meNoGames Test your knowledge with trivia and games.Play Lucky TriviaNoAlarm Set, check, cancel, stop and snooze multiple and/or recurring alarmsSet alarm for 6am tomorrowNoShopping list Add items to your Shopping list and check what’s already on itAdd milk to my shopping listNoTimer Set, pause, check, resume and cancel timersSet 10 minute timer for pizzaNoCalendar  Ask about an event or get your schedule for the day from Google CalendarWhat’s my calendar for Friday?NoFlight information Get status updates on your upcoming flightIs my flight on time?NoMy day Get a curated daily snippet about your day which includes weather, calendar, commute, reminders and newsOk Google, tell me about My DayNoTraffic Ask for traffic and travel times when driving, walking, or bikingHow long is my commute?NoWeather Ask for current weather or forecasts for the week for your home location or any other locationShould I carry an umbrella?NoMusic Play music from popular music services by artist, song, genre, album, playlist, mood or activityPlay Cherry Bomb by the RunawaysNoNews Get the latest news from sources you trustListen to the newsNoPodcasts Listen to popular podcastsPlay Serial podcastNoRadio Listen to popular radio stationsPlay 98.5 on TuneInNo

Out of all of these categories, the first two are the ones that use web or map search results currently and pull featured snippets from the web as answers, sometimes even providing a link to a website in the Home app.

The other types of queries are ones where what Google calls good abandonment applies, and these are not going to be worth most businesses’ time. If the searcher wants an answer, don’t get in her way.

But there are plenty of queries that Google Home just has no idea how to answer — and those are the ones, along with queries that are affected by featured snippets or maps, that SEOs can still optimize for.

2. Rank for featured snippets or go home

Search Engine Land contributing editor Greg Sterling recently asked on the LSA Insider blog, “Will (Mobile) SEO Soon Be a Thing of the Past?” His question relates to Google’s tendency with Assistant and Home to give answers instead of search results; and in a world where SEO is about ranking higher in the search results, what future does SEO have with devices that don’t provide search results?

It’s an interesting question — but when you really look at it, I think you’ll see that SEO is more important than ever in this context. There is only one number one spot, and that spot is used for the featured snippet. As long as these answers are pulled from Google search results and not from true artificial intelligence, SEOs will have a place in making sure that their answer is the one that appears in the featured snippet.

And so you see articles like this one, or Dr. Pete’s recent “How to Rank in Google Home,” that focus entirely on being picked up in those featured snippets.

If you can do that, you sometimes have a chance to drive more traffic to your website if Google provides a link in the Home app, and your site is credited as the original source, giving your brand credibility and authority.

3. Use the right blend of informational and promotional messaging in featured snippets

Yes, if someone is trying to get an answer, as a marketer you shouldn’t get in Google’s way of providing that answer. On the other hand, putting promotional messaging in your copy along with the information makes Google sound like she’s doing a radio spot for you when she reads the featured snippet.

Here’s what happens when I ask Google how much Dallas Cowboys tickets are:

This may be short-lived, but currently Google reads whatever text is in the featured snippet, and there’s no rule saying that it can’t be positive for your brand.

Final thoughts

Will the rise of digital assistants cause SERPs to go extinct and eliminate the need for SEO altogether? Only time will tell, but for now, it just means a shift in how SEO practitioners approach their work.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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