The Rise of the Personal Assistant in Search

I found an article in Search Engine Land recently that discussed one of the hot topics of 2016 – the rise of the personal assistant and its effect on search and SEO.

This wouldn’t be that out of the ordinary, but for the fact that I predicted this was likely to be where Google were heading back in my 2015 post over a year ago here.  I even referenced the same movie as an example of where we are heading:  That movie was of course, Her.  


The snippet below is from SEL:


“Behzadi also showed a clip from the movie, “Her,” and noted that “Star Trek” was imagining a future 200-plus years away (the show originally aired in the 1960s), and “Her” was envisioning a future just over 20 years away. Behzadi, on the other hand, believes that this will unfold in less than 20 years.” – Search Engine Land


“We actually got some initial insight into this right at the beginning of the keynote. Google’s goal is to emulate the “Star Trek” computer, which allowed users to have conversations with the computer while accessing all of the world’s information at the same time. Here is an example clip showing a typical interaction between Captain Kirk and that computer” – 

Search Engine Land

The “What is” search

I think as the months go by, it is becoming increasingly obvious for SEOs that we are seeing a lot more answer boxes in the SERPs than ever before.  Pretty much every “What is (a)” search is covered as well as many other variations.  Also interestingly, a mix of results can appear in this box, showing that it isn’t just the preserve of sites like Wikipedia that specialise in this type of content.   A lot of the search results that appear in the boxes don’t have the structured markup that you might expect these types of results to have.

“What is the difference between…” Searches

Some of the problems with these boxes are that they are not really providing “The best” answer, they are just merely pulling an answer that ticks a lot of boxes.  As you can see from the description, this can hardly be described as a fantastic answer – even the image snippet shows a SERP page from the olden days.



Position #0 FTW

The coveted “Position Zero”, if you like, is now the holy grail of the SERPs – being placed effectively above the organic results in its own little box.  (Google finding another new way to push organic results further down the page, and below the fold on mobile, ensuring their business model stays intact…genius)!  A lot of voice search answers are actually using this position #0 data and reading it back to the user verbatim at the moment, this poses quite significant questions for the results page in the future, as instead of having multiple results it would seem the personal assistant would just choose the one that most accurately fits the users intent from its question.
Tailoring content to fit this new enhanced position #0 brief will be the new challenge for 2017 and for some SEOs this has been a focus for a while.

Published by Chris

Chris is a London SEO Consultant working as an SEO Account Director for Blue 449, part of Publicis Groupe.

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