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Digital assistants, conversational search and the future of local

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Traditional search has us conditioned to speak like cavemen: choppy sentences, verbs optional. But that’s all starting to change with the rise of digital assistants and conversational search.

Conversational search comes with the expectation that digital assistants will actually converse with us. Our primitive two-word queries (grunts and hand gestures included) have evolved into full-fledged, honest-to-goodness questions.

The age of digital assistants is upon us. For practitioners of local SEO, here’s everything you need to know to thrive in this new environment.

The impact of digital assistants on local search

The most common way we’ll interact with digital assistants is through voice search. The problem with voice search is that it makes having a screen optional. You can receive your answers from digital assistants without ever having to read a word of it.

This puts greater pressure on brands to have the best answer, as there is no guarantee how many results will be read.

While the absence of a screen will impact both general and local search, conversational search clearly favors local. After all, general knowledge queries will simply be answered, resulting in few opportunities to lure customers back to your site.

For example, when you ask Google Assistant a general knowledge query, it answers the question and gives a shoutout to the original source, but it doesn’t dump you on the source’s website. If you have a follow-up question, the digital assistant will run a new search and answer that question with the best source available. This may or may not come from the same source as the first question.

General search queries will not drive as much traffic as they used to. You may have written an excellent white paper that ranks well with traditional screen-based search, but a digital assistant will only pull what is needed from your paper without the user needing to visit the page. This will undoubtedly cut into profits from general search traffic and related PPC ads.

But digital assistants are less likely to disrupt local search. The very nature of local search is its local intent. If you ask about a nearby restaurant, there’s a good chance you intend to go there. Any follow-up question will also be about that location. As such, the specific location should be the source that the digital assistants pull from.

Thus, digital assistants will not erode the profitability of local search like it will with general search. If anything, digital assistants are far more likely to drive local sales, especially considering how effective chatbots have been at doing the same thing.

But there’s a catch. You must rank high enough in local search to be selected by the digital assistant. While the competition for the top organic local spots will be fierce, here are 10 steps you can take to encourage digital assistants to pick you as the right answer.

1. Optimize your location data

Getting your location data in order for all of your locations will be key. Digital assistants will still be only as good as the data that they have. That means making sure your data is always updated and correct, as well as consistent across the web.

2. Speak the language of the digital assistants

If you want the digital assistants to choose you in local search, it’s critical that you make it easy for them to gather and understand your page content. Be sure to use structured data markup (using schema.org vocabulary) on your local landing pages. If you’re not implementing schema, now is the time to do so.

3. Fill out all relevant business categories for Google My Business

You’ll need to make it easy for digital assistants to find your name, address and phone number (NAP), of — but that’s not all. You should make your Google My Business (GMB) profile as complete as possible, filling in all the other data attributes specific to your locations. If you have outdoor seating, but you haven’t entered it into GMB, you aren’t likely to rank for those queries. Don’t handicap yourself by not getting credit for the things your already does.

4. Focus on the broader picture

The complexity of location data will continue to expand. At the same time, digital assistants will get better at finding that information. Be sure that you’re maintaining your local search ecosystem. Keep ahead of your location data, wherever it may be found.

5. Cultivate reviews

As users rely more on reviews for verifying the quality of a business or product, so, too, will search engines. Make sure you’re monitoring reviews and addressing complaints quickly. More importantly, cultivate reviews from satisfied customers by asking them for feedback.

6. Enable API connectivity

It will be critical for brands to connect directly to digital assistants. Right now, digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are new enough that users don’t necessarily expect an API connection for completing transactions. But this is rapidly changing, and brands that don’t streamline these transactions will be left out in the cold.

7. Find your niche

Examine each competitive search environment on its own when looking to improve your SEO performance. Artificial intelligence is starting to delineate ranking factors among markets. After all, a quality retail website is likely to look different from that of a quality restaurant. Stay niche.

8. Target long-tail keywords

Long-tail are going to be crucial for PPC and the future of local search. Improve the targeting accuracy of your bids by choosing the best answers that have local intent and the highest probability of conversion. Remember, conversational search is moving us beyond the parlance of cavemen. Take advantage of it by targeting keywords that incorporate natural speech patterns.

9. Be willing to experiment

As I stated in a previous article, once you have the basics down, SEO is mostly trial and error to drive improvements. Be a data scientist and try new experiments. Always strive for improvements.

10. Write in a conversational tone

Digital assistants often read your answers out loud. Make sure your website copy sounds natural — that means it is written for humans first, not search engines. Always read your copy aloud before publishing.

Final thoughts

Local search will continue to transform as digital assistants and conversational search becomes mainstream. However, if you apply the above steps, you should thrive in this new era of SEO.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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