This question about conversational search is about so much more than Google and it’s latest algorithm re-write, Hummingbird. It’s about why we blog and who we are hoping to reach and serve with our efforts. But hold that thought. I’ll come back to it.
What exactly is an algorithm?
Google’s goal is ‘to get you the answer you’re looking for faster’. So they have created several algorithms over their 15 years to do this.
An algorithm is a set of computer programs said to be made up of more than 200 ‘clues’ or ‘signals’. Google are noticeably shy of a full disclosure on just how many and what they are. However many, their job is to calculate the relevance of a page to a query. They include terms on your website (keywords), the freshness of your content, your region and pagerank.
Is SEO dead?
In a recent coaching session, I was asked by my client if the new, but less than intuitive Google Keyword Planner which has replaced the much friendlier Keyword Tool, signalled the end of SEO (search engine optimisation or unpaid search). If so, what was the point of the research we were doing to optimise her community site for the search engines so that it could (not would, but could) be found by her most desired audience.
Let me make a disclaimer first, this isn’t intended to be a treatise on Hummingbird or conversational search. I have a lay person’s fascination for search in all it’s manifestations. I call it Curiosity as the second step in the framework I use to coach business owner’s from clarity to community.
I’ve done hundreds and hundreds but probably not the ten thousand hours of research required to be an SEO expert. I don’t need to be.
My job is to help you structure your community sites according to your passion, purpose and framework or process.
Then with a significant nod to the search engines, ensure that these pillars of information are optimised at navigation level for the best possible, most relevant search terms. That means that the SEO, SEM experts can do their job well if and when you decide to go down that path.
It’s still only ever about great constant content
In the meantime, we continue to work to create and supply great content with constancy to find and connect to your ideal client.
Yes that requires building a treasure chest of valuable, purposeful content that has been optimised for appropriate search terms. But only where it can be shown that using those particular terms might usher the right visitors (emphasis on right) to your front door, courtesy of the search engines.
Relevance isn’t just Google’s domain
For the search engines to offer up your content as a relevant result, the journey starts with diligent keyword research but doesn’t end there. First, it’s vital that these keyword phrases are shown to be those that would be used by your ideal visitor. This is where curiosity comes into its own.
More than just keyword research, it’s actively exploring what those you want to talk to are searching for when they have a query.
There is a place for research tools like Market Samurai, (that was an affiliate link by the way, because I use and admire MS for its cutting edge platform and authentic passion for keyword research, and they’re Melbourne boys.)
Embracing curiosity, exploring opportunities
However, it doesn’t replace old fashioned sleuthing online. It’s when you really embrace research online that the opportunities to connect present.
Try it. Assuming you understand what your best client’s situation is, what their issues are and what they need help with, ask the question of Google that they would ask. What do you find? What content is being presented to them? Is it any good, could you do better? Is there content that is so good you absolutely must share it with your community.
Over time this process exposes opportunities you just couldn’t imagine. It connects you with great people, informs your content and in many cases refines your business offer. It’s not just a process, it’s a way of doing business.
Back to my client’s question. Of course I googled is SEO dead? The best result was this FAQ article on Hummingbird by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. Danny has been writing about search engines for 20 years, talks direct to Google executives and is often quoted by main stream media in the USA.
In it he says that SEO is not dead and supports that with a linked article he wrote in 2010, which gives this simple, but succinct definition of SEO.
“SEO is not about tricking search engines, nor spamming links, nor ruining web design. It’s about building good content, understanding the ways people might seek it — including the words they might use — and ensuring the content is search engine friendly along with being human friendly.”
Danny explains in the FAQ article that one of the ‘new searches’ this algorithm supports is conversational search.
New technologies will result in a change in the way we search, increasingly likely to be through voice search and couched as a conversational query. Just the way we might ask a friend, ‘How would you go about cooking paella?‘ or ‘How am I going to make sure a cut on my leg doesn’t get infected?‘ or ‘I wish I could find a way to do exercises with my dog?‘
Danny goes on to explain that Hummingbird is said to pay more attention ‘to each word in the query, ensuring the whole sentence or conversation or meaning is taken into account. The goal is that pages which match the meaning do better than pages matching just a few words.’
I believe, it’s the word ‘meaning’ that looks to change the paradigm. Google even refers to the word ‘intent’. Seriously? This is clever stuff.
President Obama provides a clue
Danny gives an example of asking of his Google Chrome browser. ‘How old is Barack Obama?’. The reply by voice comes back instantly with his age. He follows on with the question, ‘How tall is he?’ The reply gives Barack Obama’s height, intuiting that the question is related to the first question. Text search doesn’t do that.
Google’s Knowledge Bank
After 15 years of computing trillions of search terms, you might think that Google has in depth knowledge of everything we want, need and ask.
Not so according to Google Fellow, Amit Singhal. But the future for search looks very different he says, taking it beyond mere words to ‘entities and attributes and the relationship between them’.
Think about that. It’s not so far off HAL, the computer in Space Odessy 2001 which you could ask any intelligent question of and get an intelligent answer.
How does this affect our blogging?
How does this affect our efforts to put relevant valuable content in front of the people we most want to read it?
As Daylan Pearce of Next Digital wrote, how would he ensure that a client who ranked for a term like ‘Beach Holidays’ also rank for a conversational search, such as ‘What is a beach holiday I can go on that my friends have enjoyed over the past 2 years?‘
So imagine you were optimising content for ‘What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?’ Would you be more likely to be found and supply valuable content for those who ask, ‘I’m desperate, I’ve tried everything to manage my IBS, are there ANY new ideas?’
What if you followed it up with an article that was headed, ‘I wish there were stretchy clothes I could easily buy when my IBS is at is worst.’
It would mean working even harder to understand the situation your ideal client is in. You’d need to ask loads of questions of them both on and offline to give you an understanding of how they’d make a query within a conversation rather than keying in a search term.
Of course, there’s way more to getting your great stuff in front of your community than just using a considered conversational search term in your blog posts. Social signals and credible back links remain among the factors that’ll still matter to make your content the most relevant.
But I believe that purposeful content just got a whole lot more exciting. What do you think? Can you see how you might use conversational search to change the conversation?
If you are interested in exploring how this might improve your blogging and connect you with your best people, contact me here for a 1-2-1 coaching session.