The world of SEO is an ever-changing one and search engines are constantly shifting their algorithms to better serve their users.
Users are seeking a solution to a problem or the answer to a question. That has always been the case. Search engines have provided a list of options from which to choose but they have struggled to provide one single solution or answer. That’s starting to change.
Both Google and Bing are increasingly capable of offering the correct answer.
The devices that provide the answer are becoming increasingly ubiquitous (mobile phones, voice assistants, watches, in-car assistants...).
As Google and Bing improve, their users are increasingly comfortable accepting the unique solution they propose.
These changes present new challenges - but also offer phenomenal opportunities for companies.
Converting Google and Bing’s users into your clients
Your aim, as a company, is to make sure that Google and Bing understand when you can offer the correct answer for a user for a given need at a given time and that they consider your answer to be the best. If you can do that, search engines will send their users to your site and those users can become your clients.
How can you ensure the interactions between users and search engines turn out positively for you?
Optimising for Answer Engines - The Two Pillar Strategy
Google is looking for:
So you need to:
You need to communicate to Google that you have the solution or answer for a given problem or question and prove that your solution or answer is better than your competitors.
This guide will provide an 8-point checklist on how to communicate and convince answer engines through understanding and credibility.
Communicate to create Understanding
Communication provides understanding to Google and Bing so they know who you are and what you do. If you can communicate that, and provide sufficient corroborated information, these search engines will give you a place in their knowledge graphs and the opportunity to be provided as a definitive answer. There are four steps in communication to ensure your company is ready for the answer engines of tomorrow.
1. Leverage structured data
Schema.org markup provides a way to present the information in your webpages to Google and Bing in a format they can easily and reliably understand. Use
basic information such as Corporation, Product, Offer, and more to explain who you are and what you do, then expand on this by giving details about you and your offers using attributes such as address, brand, price, etc. You can explain pretty much anything in this manner, and we recommend that you use schema.org markup extensively.
2. Use semantic HTML5
Semantic HTML5 is an additional way to present information to Google and Bing in an easily digestible manner. By using semantic HTML5 tags such as article and navigation, you can identify parts of the page so Google can better understand and concentrate on the content that is central to the message your page is providing to the user.
You can also give the content of the page structure using HTML tables and special HTML5 tags. Find out more here.
3. Maintain owned and third-party channels
Multiple sources corroborating and confirming the information you provided in steps 1 and 2 will reinforce Google and Bing’s understanding. Owned and
semi-controlled channels are easy to manage and include your company’s website, EV SSL certificates, your social accounts, review sites like Trustpilot, and other relevant third-party channels that you can affect. Sources you have no control over send stronger signals and include
news sites, Wikipedia, and government sites. The more signals you can generate through various pertinent and trusted channels, the better. This is very much an ongoing task as new channels emerge and existing ones
shift in value.
4. Keep your company’s identity consistent
Ensure that all the information about you, wherever it appears, is accurate and up to date. The better you can manage to be consistent across the web, the more confidence Google and Bing will have in the veracity of the information you provided in steps 1, 2, and 3. Start with your social accounts, business accounts, government sites build a qualitative and quantitative review platform portfolio, and then move onto asking third party sites to update information about you (they often oblige). This is another ongoing undertaking, but is absolutely essential.
Convince using Credibility
Your aim is to convince Google that you are the most credible available
solution. If you provide more powerful positive credibility signals than your competition, these search engines will consider you to be the best solution in your market and offer you as the best (objective) answer. This is the second pillar necessary for the answer engines of tomorrow - and consists of four steps.
1. Get reviews and ratings
Customer feedback, and therefore reviews, are an incredibly strong credibility signal. Reach out to happy customers post-sale by email or SMS and make it easy for them to give you a review on a third party platform.
Reviews you collect yourself have little value for AEO. Choose 3 or 4 platforms to begin with. There are two main questions to think about when choosing the right review platforms:
Which review platforms do your prospects use and trust?
Is the review platform credible?
The credibility of the platform that publishes a customer review carries significant weight in Google’s measure of that review’s importance. Everyone gets negative reviews. For brands with over 80% positive feedback, it is sheer quantity that makes the difference.
Google will prefer a brand that has 10,000 reviews giving an average of 80% over a brand that has 100 reviews with an average of 85%.
2. Engage in and encourage social feedback
Get positive social buzz and chatter to generate a very strong credibility signal. To generate buzz, keep a constant flow of content on social channels:
Engage with your clients
Reach out to prospects
Get your content out there
Share other people’s great content
The sheer quantity of social chatter makes it impossible for Google to crawl and index everything in this field. Some estimates suggest that it manages to crawl 35% of Facebook. If that is true, social chatter needs to be three times more voluminous than any review or press activity in order to have the same effect. So, although much of it goes unseen, a constant low-level buzz is vital for this channel. Should your brand go viral, you will become a focal point that Google will remember.
3. Obtain quality third-party mentions via press and thought leaders
Links remain important, but an intelligent machine understands, and gives credit to, brand mentions (so-called linkless links). So, reach out and get quality mentions from relevant thought leaders. Although we often think of thought leaders as individuals, brands and sites can be considered thought leaders.
Mentions and (better still) reviews from thought leaders are very powerful. Getting a thought leader, whether it’s a brand, site, or person, to talk about your brand in a relevant, positive context will send an incredibly powerful credibility signal to Google - well worth pursuing.
4. Optimise user experience
Identifying a user’s “moment of satisfaction” is the most difficult to pin down, but potentially the most important. Google is looking to identify the moment when its user has found the solution to their problem or the answer to their question. Google is not there yet, but is rapidly developing the capacity to identify this moment and base its results accordingly.
You need to make sure that user behaviour on your site reflects the fact that you have provided that user with the correct solution or answer at the right time.
Make landing pages fast, attractive, pertinent, and intuitive. Use the same vocabulary as your users and make sure you address their problem or question and clearly indicate that you have the answer for them.
To see how well you are doing, track such metrics as: page load speed, bounce rate, dwell time, visit depth and conversion rate. To help improve user experience on your landing pages, you can use one of the many A/B testing and user session analysis solutions.
Understanding and credibility are the two deciding factors in a future where Google and Bing deliver definitive answers to their users with increasing accuracy. If you want to be leading the field in the years to come, you must seek to communicate and convince, starting today.
Please note that this article was written in collaboration with Jason Barnard.