Search marketing and SEO have been pretty synonymous since the first search engine launched more than two decades years ago. But today, it's a very different story: If you're not thinking about search beyond SEO, it's likely that your search strategy is stuck back in the 90s — meaning you're losing out on valuable clicks and conversions.
Don't get me wrong, employing SEO best practices for search engines is still important. (Google does have about 87% of the international search engine market, though that percentage has fallen in recent years.) But as search as a whole has evolved, SEO has become just one piece of the puzzle. Here are the impacts your team might not be thinking about.
Search Outside the Google Box
Google is far and wide the dominant player in search. But things are starting to slowly change as consumers' needs and tastes evolve. DuckDuckGo has dominated headlines recently due to their focus on privacy, and for marketers articles abound that give tips for slight SEO differences specific to Bing and Yahoo. But it's not just about disruptors in "traditional" search. Consumers are increasingly asking questions via a wider variety of platforms and services that don't strictly fit with the search engine label.
Amazon Alexa. Microsoft Cortana. Even platforms like Pinterest. The rise of voice and image search has customers both discovering brands and asking questions about existing favorites in new ways. That means businesses need to embrace best practices that can help them surface the proper information when customers ask a direct question about their brand out loud, as if they were having a conversation.
How? It all starts with building a knowledge graph as part of your search strategy. To truly "speak the language" of these AI-powered discovery services, your organization needs to be able to store your own facts, all mapped to one another, in a way that these services can read and understand. This is the foundation for leveraging artificial intelligence in a martech stack and answering sophisticated questions everywhere consumers search.
It sounds like a complex idea, but it's one that just about every brand can take advantage of fairly easily. Learn more about building your own knowledge graph here.
Make Your Website Work For You, Not Against You
Where else are customers searching more than ever? Your website. But it turns out that a lot of businesses can't answer simple questions via their own site search experience — creating a negative experience that bounces would-be customers off your website over to Google, where they can easily get intercepted by a competitor. (Remember, your website really is your only pandemic-proof property.)
"[You have to] meet the customer where they are," says Ryan Hohman, director of eCommerce operations at Justice, explaining why it's valuable to monitor the kind of questions customers are asking — and then deliver answers. "We ask 'How are our customers finding us?' 'What questions are they asking on our site?' We then leverage these insights to create meaningful content and experiences. This has been a winning formula for us."
If you aren't managing the search experience (and monitoring customer queries) on your website as part of your overall search strategy, you've already lost: Customers who search on-site are incredibly valuable, producing 1.8x more conversions than customers who only browse — but 68% of people wouldn't return to a website that provided a poor search experience. Instead, they become likely to bounce back to Google to ask their questions, leaving brands with no control over the customer experience.
The good news? This breakdown is fixable. As our CEO put it: "If brands invested in a modern, sophisticated search experience on their own websites they could stop sending their customers away to Google — and also stop shelling out big bucks to then try to win them back."
What does that actually mean for your website? To start, you need:
Universal search — where you can search for everything from one search box
Search that understands natural language — just like search engines
Search results that are complete, actionable answers — making it easy for searchers to convert
Read more about site search must-haves here.
The world of search is ripe for disruption — and marketers can use that to their advantage by thinking about search in new ways beyond just SEO.
That means building a website that is set up to deliver on three search objectives. Capturing high-intent traffic by ranking in organic search — there's the SEO part — is one of them. But the two most important in 2020? Delivering answers in non-traditional search experiences, and providing a fantastic site search experience that helps you win (and keep!) valuable customers on your site.