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In 2018 the Easter Bunny brought us more than just chocolate, it also gave us the long-awaited mobile-first index from Google. It will be interesting to see what impact this has when it comes to optimising digital assets. I’ve no doubt that we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the weeks and months ahead. For the time being, however, the SEO news for April has focussed on short clicks, the need for speed in e-commerce, and a new (search) view of the world.

1) Google’s quest for instant search satisfaction

People are often looking for shortcuts, especially when it comes to searching for things on the Internet. We want to find exactly what we’re looking for straight away, with zero hassle. However, it’s never the case that your search query immediately takes you to the result you’re looking for. On average, you have to return to the search results five times, either to refine your search term or to search for something different. These clicks back to Google or Bing are known as ‘short clicks’. You could argue that the primary objective of search engine optimisation is to make these short clicks obsolete, because the aim is to tailor the content of websites to exactly match what people are searching for. Google has made clear its desire to improve and speed up the search experience, and the company has now rolled out a feature which has been extensively tested on mobile devices and in the USA. If you return to Google with a short click, a box with the heading “People also search for” is shown underneath the first search result. This box contains a list of links with similar search queries. This list differs markedly from the list of alternative search queries which is already shown at the end of the search results. The fact that Google has rolled out this short click box globally indicates that the company is taking the issue of laborious, time-consuming searches seriously, and is prepared to take concrete steps to address it. It’s also another indication that short clicks are a negative thing in terms of the users. As such, it’s clear that search engine optimisation teams need to continue with their efforts to eliminate short clicks, with a view to making life that bit easier when you head to a search engine.

2) A real need for speed in the battle for the top spot in e-commerce

It’s now spring, which means the conference season for the industry is well under way. However, if you compare the main topics being discussed at ‘Search Marketing Expo’ (SMX), the leading international trade fair for the industry, in North America and Europe, you might notice that Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a much bigger topic in the USA than on our shores. On the other side of the pond, website operators and increasingly also e-commerce providers are placing a major focus on this stripped-down HTML protocol. It’s primarily designed to improve the user experience and increase conversion rates by ensuring that pages load faster. What’s more, at this year’s Online Marketing Rockstars conference in Hamburg, representatives from Google also indicated that fast loading times are crucial if you want to stay ahead of the competition, particularly when it comes to the top dog, Amazon. In keeping with this topic, US search expert Eric Enge has published a study which investigates the advantages of AMP technology and aims to dispel four key myths which are presumably holding many companies back from using the technology. Firstly, Enge points out that AMP is not just suitable for news publishers, even though the ‘stories’ format has only recently been implemented on the AMP platform for this. Instead, using examples from India, he demonstrates that the higher speeds available for e-commerce result in significantly higher conversion rates, particularly in markets in which mobile end devices are heavily used. Enge also explains that opting for AMP in no way means needing to compromise on design features. He argues that the responsive website design recommended by the major search engine operators has major weaknesses compared against AMP. According to Enge, more resources would need to be planned to design and implement an optimal AMP user experience as there are not enough use cases in this field yet. The study also expressly warns against half-hearted AMP implementations, as this would make it more difficult to use the technology on mobile devices, and would unnecessarily complicate key functions such as the navigation. Loading speed should already be a central pillar of every SEO strategy. However, if German companies want to prevail against their competitors on the global stage, they too should take a closer look at AMP technology and the benefits it offers.

3) Life through a lens – say hello to Visual Search

“Alexa! Can I show you something quickly?” You might already like to give the latest generation of voice-enabled personal assistants this kind of command, in the same way that you might ask a member of your family. Yet there’s one fundamental obstacle standing in the way of such integration: voice assistants don’t have eyes. This will very soon be a thing of the past, however, through what is known as ‘Visual Search’. Thanks to increasingly deep integration of artificial intelligence, it has now become possible to interpret visual information and recognise objects. Just look at the ‘Google Lens’ as the most recent example. This tool for performing visual searches was launched a few months ago and is available exclusively on Google’s own ‘Pixel’ smartphones. ‘Google Lens’ enables the user to run a search on a photo at the touch of a button. The search engine automatically recognises what is depicted in the photo, e.g. sights such as the Eiffel Tower. It then provides relevant additional information such as directions, opening hours, entry prices and reviews. What’s more, Google Lens really excels with text. Although text recognition is by no means a new feature, Google is able to recognise a photo of a business card as an address format, for example, and convert the information from the photo into a corresponding contact file. However, Google isn’t the only player investing in this field. Microsoft upgraded its Bing search engine with an AI package a few weeks ago, which also contained new features for running visual searches. And Pinterest – the popular platform which has always considered itself to be a tool of visual discovery – has also put visual searches at the heart of the user experience through its new ‘Pinterest Lens’ app. Not only does Pinterest Lens break down scanned images into their attributes such as colour, quality and function, it can also generate shopping links for selected brands from an image search. It’s no coincidence that all major Internet companies are placing visual searches centre stage. According to the market research institute Gartner, around 50 percent of all mobile searches will be triggered either by voice or an image by as early as 2019. As such, the new context-driven searches constitute a growth segment which complements intuitive human behaviour. It remains to be seen whether it will quickly become a real revenue driver in e-commerce, as is currently promised. However, it’s clear that search engine optimisation is facing a steep learning curve that goes beyond keywords and content.

The New Year is not giving us any breathers. The New Year’s Eve fireworks have barely died down and we are already invited to enthuse about the long-awaited relaunch of an important tool. How it’s not too long before we’ll be browsing with our reading glasses and why voice assistants are likely to get on our nerves soon – this and more you’ll find out in the SEO News bulletin for February.

1) Hooray, the new Google Search Console is here!

With the start of the New Year, the mailboxes of webmasters, in-house SEOs and agencies far and wide have been overwhelmed with countless emails. What initially looked like spam soon turned out to be a long-awaited message from Mountain View. After a test phase lasting many months, the new Google Search Console is now available to all users. Though officially still in its beta phase, the data portal for monitoring the organic search aspect of website performance formerly known as Webmaster Tools has had its design completely overhauled. Alongside its fresh look, the Search Console also offers real improvements, such as access to historical data from the last 16 months instead of the previous mere 90 days. There are new functions too, like the Index Coverage Report, which enables superior tracing of the search function performance for individual URLs. Although some basic functions are still missing, Google has announced that it will further expand the range of functions for the new Console within the year. At the same time, new functions will also be added to the API. The fact that the highly-anticipated rollout took so long was mainly due to the need to collect and evaluate the beta testers’ feedback, a Google spokesperson said. Google is also still interested in Webmasters’ input. They have been asked to submit ideas to Google for useful reports and functionalities. SEOs and Webmasters should not let this opportunity slip by to further adapt one of the most important tools of the sector to the changing needs of our time.

2) Voice search ranking: new study reveals first figures

The British online performance agency Roast has run a study to investigate the connection between rankings of classic Google search results and responses of the Google Home digital voice assistant. To this end, 616 top search terms from the areas of medicine, retail, travel and finance were entered as queries, and in the UK, an “answer box”, the so-called featured snippet, was shown as the search result. The Google Home voice assistant could answer roughly 75% of the queries through its automated search process; the remaining 25% left Google speechless, although the desktop search showed a corresponding answer box. No statement could be made about the rules governing the answers displayed, as the study shows. What’s more, about 20% of the queries answered by the voice assistant did not tally with the featured snippet on the desktop. For search marketing, these results mean that a successful battle for featured snippet ranking in a desktop search is far off from guaranteeing an equivalent reception on Google Home, and the Google My Business tool is still indispensable for managing information that serves search queries for local services.

3) Visual search on the rise

While we’re still waxing lyrical about the influence of voice search on digital marketing, AI is yet again opening up totally new avenues. With new apps like Google Lens and Pinterest Lens, as well as expanded functions on Microsoft’s search machine Bing, we’re advancing in the visual search era. Since the early days of Google we have been able to look for images using key words; later came reverse search for image files with the aid of structured data. In the next developmental step of visual search, AI will recognize the content of photos or only sections of images, completely without context, and will not only come up with similar images in its results list, but also detailed information on the properties of the depicted object. For the e-commerce sector, this means a new access point on the customer journey. Information searches and purchase decisions can be conducted quickly and intuitively. The need to translate your own search purpose into a written or spoken search phrase becomes obsolete; results are instantly reflected in an augmented image. For search engine optimization, this development means that providing product information via automated data feeds and data banks will become even more important. In this way, suitable information be stored in the search systems and successfully served by this kind of push paradigm. The transferred content – images and text – need to be optimized for quality and relevance and be able to excel as structured data in order to take their place in the competitive data world. The integration of visual search in cameras, browsers and apps will take place very quickly and accelerate the transition from on-page to data optimization even further.

4) Alexa gets her own opinion

In the meantime, we know that digital voice assistants like Alexa and Siri have female voices because studies verify that both men and women find the female voice more trustworthy than its male equivalent.
But apart from fact-based question-and-answer exchanges, so far it has not been possible to carry on a conversation with the voice assistants. This should now change through an Amazon decision. According to Techcrunch, Alexa will be endowed with her own opinion and also express this confidently in conversation with her user. By way of example, the company gives comments on films in its own video product range. As she once did with the funny character at the video shop counter, (the older reader will remember this), in future Alexa is intended to start up conversations with users looking for the right evening entertainment – which will not be based on content curated by humans. Instead the artificial intelligence of the voice assistant will independently generate the necessary portion of attitude and humour that is crucial for lifelike conversation in all its nuances and suitable for the market. With use of this strategy, Amazon expects to win an advantage over its competitor Google, which has recourse to information and facts from a disparately larger data set, a company spokesperson has explained. Thus, Alexa is today already declaring the US beer brand Budweiser to be her favourite drink. Humour aside, a machine’s skill in conducting a natural conversation with a human will shape and change the future of search marketing in a more decisive way than any leap in technology we have experienced so far.