Mas­ter your under­stand­ing of audi­ence, mea­sure beyond the click and find ways to mine data to improve effi­cien­cy are all ways you can improve your organ­ic search per­for­mance in 2019.

As all of the tech­no­log­i­cal advance and pos­si­bil­i­ty looms large on the 2019 hori­zon, this just might be the most excit­ing plan­ning sea­son yet for mar­keters. Con­sumer expe­ri­ences, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and a gran­u­lar­i­ty in track­ing that were futur­is­tic hopes not long ago are now com­mon­place — even expect­ed.

Google con­tin­ues to take the lion’s share of the search mar­ket, as over 88 per­cent of North Amer­i­can con­sumers turn to the search giant to answer their every need. Increas­ing­ly, those queries are expressed by voice, on mobile, or both.

The way con­sumers ask for infor­ma­tion is chang­ing, but so are their expec­ta­tions as to what they expect for results. Ful­ly 74 per­cent of shop­pers report that text-only search results are insuf­fi­cient for find­ing the prod­ucts they want. Con­sumers demand rich, visu­al results and expect that those rec­om­men­da­tions will have a great degree of per­son­al­iza­tion, as well, as AI expe­ri­ences dri­ve new search for­mats and chan­nels.

SEO is a brave new world again. Where should you set your sights and real­ly focus in for the best organ­ic search per­for­mance in 2019?

Organic search is key to our understanding of the consumer experience

Today, the path to pur­chase is as unique as each cus­tomer, but there are still some com­pelling trends we can iden­ti­fy in con­sumer search behav­ior.

Con­sumers are not only look­ing to iden­ti­fy a prod­uct or ser­vice to meet their needs—they’re using search to learn every­thing they pos­si­bly can about what type of expe­ri­ence they can cre­ate. Mobile search­es for “wait times” have grown by 120%, for exam­ple (Google Data, U.S., Jan.-June 2015 vs. Jan.-June 2017.) Searchers want to know when a busi­ness is open, how to get there, what it looks like inside and out, what the ser­vice is like, whether they should tip, and much, much more.

With that increased inter­net usage and con­stant con­nec­tiv­i­ty comes myr­i­ad new touch­points for mar­keters to con­nect with con­sumers, and in more mean­ing­ful ways than ever before. Searcher intent has com­plete­ly rede­fined the mar­ket­ing fun­nel and, as Google says, no two cus­tomer jour­neys are exact­ly alike. In their recent analy­sis of thou­sands of searchers’ click­stream data, Google researchers dis­cov­ered that:

  • Con­sumers nar­row and broad­en their con­sid­er­a­tion set in unique and unpre­dictable moments
  • Some con­sumers research brands near-obses­sive­ly before pur­chase, scru­ti­niz­ing every avail­able aspect of com­peti­tors’ online pres­ence to find one that tru­ly stands out across plat­forms
  • Search­es may con­tin­ue long after a pur­chase is made, as con­sumers seek to opti­mize their expe­ri­ence with a ser­vice or prod­uct
  • Searchers have become increas­ing­ly detail-ori­ent­ed and each fact (and sub­se­quent attempt to ver­i­fy it) gen­er­ates new oppor­tu­ni­ties for brands to engage

Search used to be a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to move con­sumers from one point to the next in a strict­ly lin­ear fun­nel. Today, search is a two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel that guides a brand’s under­stand­ing of how to meet the needs of its mar­ket, from mar­ket­ing to oper­a­tions, cus­tomer ser­vice, loy­al­ty and beyond.

The inte­gra­tion of AI-pow­ered search fea­tures is enabling brands to reach con­sumers in more gran­u­lar, mean­ing­ful ways.

Ear­li­er this year we learned that 60 per­cent of enter­prise mar­keters planned to use AI in their con­tent mar­ket­ing. Among those already using AI, 31 per­cent said it gave them a bet­ter under­stand­ing of their cus­tomer and 27 per­cent said it drove more pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and time sav­ings.

Google itself is using RankBrain tech­nol­o­gy to under­stand the con­tent bet­ter it’s crawl­ing, in order to bet­ter meet the needs of searchers per­form­ing more — and increas­ing­ly com­plex and unique — search­es.

Even as con­sumers are search­ing more often, they’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly dig­ging deep­er into the results. Searchers expect that Google’s AI will do the heavy lift­ing and sort out the best answers for them. As a result, as they try dif­fer­ent queries and search more often to com­pare solu­tions, the num­ber one Google result still gets 28 per­cent of the clicks (posi­tions two and three get 13 per­cent and 9 per­cent, respec­tive­ly).

It’s more impor­tant than ever that your con­tent is dis­cov­er­able and prop­er­ly marked up for AI-dri­ven search.

Tips for top search performance in 2019

With cus­tomer expe­ri­ence and tak­ing advan­tage of AI-pow­ered search fea­tures top of mind, here are a few areas of focus for mar­keters as we head into the new year.

Mas­ter your under­stand­ing of audi­ences and per­sonas.
Per­sonas give you a frame­work from which to ideate, cre­ate, opti­mize, dis­trib­ute and pro­mote the con­tent most like­ly to res­onate with your most desir­able buy­ers. It’s not a new con­cept, but one that’s become both com­plex and increas­ing­ly impor­tant as the cus­tomer jour­ney has evolved and changed shape. Greg Stir­ling shares some great advice on per­sonas here.

Under­stand your cus­tomer in minute detail.
With those broad buck­ets of audi­ence types in hand, you can begin to get more gran­u­lar and tru­ly per­son­al­ize expe­ri­ences. What are this buyer’s needs and wants? How do they con­sume media? At which stages in their jour­ney will the per­son­al­iza­tion be most help­ful and com­pelling? I talked about map­ping con­tent to var­i­ous stages of intent and per­son­al­iz­ing con­sumer expe­ri­ences more effec­tive­ly in this recent col­umn.

Use arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and machine learn­ing to mine data, improv­ing effi­cien­cy and scale.
This is no longer futur­is­tic, but main­stream. The mas­sive amount of data pro­duced by all of this con­sumer inter­ac­tion is mean­ing­less with analy­sis and acti­va­tion. Large, dynam­ic data sets enable you to iden­ti­fy pat­terns in real time, dri­ving a greater under­stand­ing of changes in con­sumer base, the com­pet­i­tive land­scape, and your mar­ket as a whole. AI and ML mean that data min­ing is not only the automa­tion of the repet­i­tive tasks involved in data col­lec­tion but that your soft­ware can now make smart rec­om­men­da­tions for per­for­mance improve­ment, as well.

Mea­sure beyond the click.
Go beyond rank and click data with tru­ly omnichan­nel and inter­de­part­men­tal mea­sure­ment. Rev­enue and attri­bu­tion are crit­i­cal, and not only for keep­ing teams cross-chan­nel teams moti­vat­ed and bought into your SEO strat­e­gy. Ensur­ing they have the prop­er resources and bud­get to exe­cute is imper­a­tive, and that rides on your abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate wins—large and small — to the C‑suite.

Evan­ge­lize your SEO efforts and cel­e­brate suc­cess­es.
We oper­ate in a new era of account­abil­i­ty, thanks to that mass of data we talked about ear­li­er. CMOs are account­able for every pen­ny of spend­ing, whether inside mar­ket­ing or rec­om­mend­ing to anoth­er com­pa­ny leader to sup­port marketing’s ini­tia­tives. Today, you’re just as account­able for the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence as those front-line team mem­bers deal­ing direct­ly with con­sumers. Cel­e­brate suc­cess­es often and evan­ge­lize for the change that needs to hap­pen as your SEO strat­e­gy evolves.

2019 is ripe with SEO oppor­tu­ni­ty for mar­keters com­mit­ted to con­sumer expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge­able in the AI and machine learn­ing are­nas. You can learn more to help you pre­pare in our 2018 Future of Mar­ket­ing and AI Sur­vey Report (reg­is­tra­tion required).