7 April 2016 | Team Tamar

How will intelligent personal assistants affect SEO?

If you’ve seen the movie Her, or perhaps Iron Man, you’ll know what the future of tech looks like. AI is coming and it’s coming in a big way. It’s here to make our lives easier and simpler, or at least, that’s what all the big tech giants would have us believe.

AI is nothing new, IBM has been experimenting with Watson for a couple of years. But powerful, enormous tech such as Watson is far removed from the lives of everyday people like you or me. But not for much longer.

AI-based tech, or intelligent personal assistants, is the newest trend on the horizon, one that all the big tech companies are starting to look into. They want to bring this revolutionary new tech to the homes of millions of us, all around the globe. According to data from a venture capital database, in 2015, AI startups raised more than $300 million – compared to $45 million in 2010.

All the usual tech giants – and a few outside competitors – are branching out into this AI-based tech, in the form of intelligent personal assistants. Whether it’s Facebook’s M, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri or even Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, personal assistants are at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

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And no wonder. When Buzzfeed got to trial Facebook M, it looked incredible. One platform that could do pretty much anything you need, whether it’s drawing personalised pictures, writing songs, sorting out cheaper bills or even just cheering you up with funny GIFs.

This is the height of human laziness, and we love it.

The future of mobile searches

More and more of us have smartphones. Here in the UK, two-thirds of people have a smartphone, using it for almost two hours each day. Of those, a third of these smartphone users consider their smartphone as the most important device for going online.

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Over the pond in the United States, it’s a similar situation, two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone – with nearly 20% of them relying on their smartphones for access to online services and information, as well as staying connected with the world around them.

Almost 10% of these have no other way of connecting to the internet, lacking both a traditional broadband connection and no other alternative for internet connection.

It is, therefore, no surprise that mobile searches are overtaking desktop in many instances. Back in May 2015, Google officially announced that;

“More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries, including the US and Japan.”

And what do mobile searches mean? More voice searches and smart assistants.

It seems that Google has already recognised this. We have already seen Google promoting voice searches through their ‘OK Google’ function – so it makes sense that personal assistants won’t be far behind.

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Indeed, back in December 2015, the WSJ reported that Google is working on an AI-powered chat assistant – although sadly very little is known about it, and will continue to be unless they reveal it at Google I/O in June.

‘No search’ future

It is inevitable that technology such as personal assistants will allow us to have a ‘no search’ future. If these personal assistants are able to retrieve any information we need and, in the case of the Amazon Echo – without us having to even see the page, does this not fulfil user intent to the best possible capability?

For other assistants, such as Facebook M, the page will still be visible to the consumer – but ensuring that Facebook M prefers your page will be a top priority. Essentially, these personal assistants will become the new search engines.

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Of the tech giants, both Microsoft and Facebook seemed to have embraced a future full of robots. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft was quoted as saying;

“People to people. People to your personal digital assistant. People to bots. Even people to your personal assistant calling on your bots on your behalf, that’s the world you are going to see in years to come.”

How will personal assistants affect search?

In the cases where you will still see the page – it will be our job, as SEOs, to make sure our sites are correctly optimised for these assistants – as well as regular search engines.

Facebook M

For example, making sure that Facebook M is able to easily retrieve your data, just in case a customer want to order an army of parrots.

If you’re a retailer, it’ll be important that these personal assistants can easily navigate the site, to find what they need and order it. In the case of Facebook M – Buzzfeed were successfully able to order tickets to the new Star Wars movie, after unsuccessfully spending three hours on Fandango with no result.

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The fact that they were able to do this proves that personal assistants will more easily be able to help consumers reach the products they need. There is demand for products, but consumers are just not able to reach the products they need. So for us, as marketers, don’t we want to be able to help consumers get to these products?

Facebook M also shortened the consumer pathway here from more than three hours unsuccessfully spent on Fandango to a mere 6 minutes with Facebook M, showing us just how powerful of a tool it will become – and why it will be so important to optimise for personal assistants.

Cortana

But it’s not just Facebook M that we will have to optimise for, Microsoft’s Cortana is also up for consideration. At Build2015, Microsoft laid out their ambitious plan to have Cortana rule the web, backed by an army of other chatbots.

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At Build2016, Microsoft were kind enough to give an example of exactly what it is they hand in mind. The example they used was ordering pizza. They assembled a chatbot live on stage and, using a conversational interface, managed to order a pizza without using any sort of form.

These sort of chatbots aren’t new – they’ve been around for a little while and have been seen before.

What made Microsoft stand out, though, is that they want to hand out the tools to help us build bots. They’re looking to businesses to build bots that interface with Cortana, in the hope that we can use them to connect with our audience more easily. In return, they can start to claw back what they’ve lost to Google – market share of the web.

If we’re looking to optimise for Cortana or her army of chatbots, we need to ensure that they have platforms to interface with. Luckily for us, Microsoft has provided – allowing us to do the hard work while they reap the rewards. However, if Cortana does become widely adopted – as Microsoft are hoping – it would be foolish for us to not optimise and essentially lock out consumers when we could be engaging with them.

Going back to the pizza example, if we don’t create these chatbots, do we expect consumers to be willing to order with us if we’re not providing a good customer journey, especially when our competitors are?

The future of search

So is this the future of SEO? Ensuring that our sites are optimised for personal assistants? Probably. If personal assistants do replace search boxes – which is a promising future – the job of SEOs will shift, especially if it becomes a ‘no-search box’ future. Keeping our robot overlords pleased will be priority number one (let’s just hope there is no Terminator rise-of-Skynet future in sight).

Technology like this might still be in the early stages, but those of us with our eyes on the prize will have seen this coming while other businesses are still grappling with how to effectively use messaging apps to reach consumers – which is set to be the big trend in 2016. But that’s for another blog post.

Team Tamar