How Digital Assistants are Shaping the Way we Search Online

by Hayley Bayliss MMT Digital

Hayley Bayliss, Marketing Executive at MMT Digital, explores the popularity of digital assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now, and explains why marketers will need to adapt to this new way of searching

I am sure you are all aware that mobile searches have already overtaken desktop searches. The ease of picking up your mobile phone and tapping in your question is unbeatable when compared to searching on a desktop computer. Or so it seemed, because then came the introduction of the digital assistant, which has taken the ease of searching to a whole new level and made it a lot more fun!

Being able to ask your phone a question is nothing new. Already well established are Siri, Cortana and Google Now.

But there is an entrepreneur in America – part of a reasonably successful company called Facebook – who now wants to use digital assistants to improve his customers’ experiences with his product.

Facebook are currently testing their own personal assistant called M. Although not powered by voice commands, M will be available as part of the Facebook Messenger app and will be able to provide you with information and complete tasks for you. But more on that later…

What first appeared as a novelty asset on our phones is fast becoming the go-to search function, a lot easier (and wittier) than a standard internet search. This change in the way we search may well lead to changes in the way we optimise for searching.

So how do they work?

Digital assistants work in the same way as search engines but with some key differences that make them extremely user friendly.

They search online and offline. Windows Cortana, for example, will search files on your hard drive as well as the internet, so it can search through your saved documents and emails to find what you’re looking for.

Conversation is key

Having the ability to ask that burning question and hear your answer is the reason digital assistants are becoming so popular, as well as the human and often humorous tone of their answers. Take Siri for example. When asked the question, “What’s zero divided by zero?” it gives a long-winded answer before adding, “And you are sad that you have no friends”. Harsh, but this answer became an internet obsession and is just one of the many funny one-liners which Siri has up its sleeve ready to entertain users.

They get to know you better

Just as Google tailors its search results based on your previous habits, digital assistants go one step further. They keep an eye on your internet search history, your location and your general usage habits to give you a very personal user experience. Google Now, for example, can let you know when you should leave for the airport based on the information it has on your flight booking and your current location, so you don’t even need to ask! This is surely something which is only going to develop further and reduce the need for actively searching on Google.

They get straight to the point

Digital assistants will get you the info you need, and fast. They look for immediate, Knowledge Graph-like responses, removing the need for browsing through a page of websites which may or may not be able to help.

How do we adapt SEO to this new way of searching?

As the likes of Cortana, Siri, Google Now and M (once it’s released) become more and more popular, changes will need to be implemented to ensure that sites can be found through a voice search. Marketers will not only be relying on browser rankings, but also on the whether the site appeals to a digital assistant. Effects of Google’s Knowledge Graph have already been felt by Wikipedia and, with digital assistants working in a similar way, the same could happen to other sites.

But there are things you can be doing to adapt to this change.

Keep it conversational

Digital assistants search for a way to answer your question that suits the conversational tone, so using long-tail keywords, colloquial phrases and long form questions will help.

Be more visual

Currently, digital assistants have no choice but to visit a specific web page for photos and videos, so include more of this content in order to get yourself ahead.

Concentrate efforts on other platforms

Make the most of the platforms that digital assistants can’t reach. Use social media and third party directories – not so as to improve your ranking on digital assistant’s searches, but to increase your popularity in a field they can’t (yet) access.

How does Facebook aim to beat existing digital assistants?

Facebook Messenger is already one of the most used apps for messaging out there. It’s therefore no surprise that Facebook wants to utilise this and get in on the digital assistant action.

So what will M do better than other digital assistants? It will be able to look up information on your behalf but also complete tasks such as purchasing an item, booking a restaurant or making travel arrangements for you. Unlike the existing digital assistants out there, M will use real people as well as artificial intelligence to complete the tasks it is set. Users of the Facebook App will simply have to tap a button at the top of the Messenger app to send a note to M. It will then message back the user with a solution to the task, whether that is a restaurant recommendation or a confirmed booking.

What does all of this mean for the future of internet searching?

Considering their growing popularity, digital assistants could well overtake and even replace the browser-based search altogether. We may become dependent on immediate answers and need a digital assistant to give us information so that we don’t have to search for it. This could mean SEO being replaced with a new way of achieving digital visibility.

With this in mind, it may be time to start thinking about your online presence and how digital assistants may have an effect on it in the future. It will not happen overnight but we all know how fast technology evolves. It is always worth investing in your online presence and knowing what’s around the corner helps you to stay one step ahead of your competition.

This article also appears on MMT Digital’s blog.