"Decentralized Search: How SEO has gone beyond Google."

The defragmentation of search

For the best part of the last 20 years, when consumers have needed to find something on the internet, they have turned to Google – treasuring its ability to sort and order the entire web’s content, providing the most relevant results. For a long time, its reign remained unthreatened.

But, thanks to a combination of technological advances and changes in user behavior, the landscape is changing. Google originally got ahead of other search engines due to the quality of the results it provided, but now other platforms provide better results and user experiences for specific types of search intent.

Let’s consider four areas of search where traditional Google search is no longer superior.

Transactional Search

Amazon has overtaken Google as the place people start when searching for a product to buy online. In 2016, 52% of people said they started by searching for products on Amazon, versus 26% of people who started out on a search engine.

Key Advice: SEO for e-Retailers

  • Content fundamentals are still important — including relevant keywords in titles, bullet-pointed descriptions and in product-page search terms
  • Take advantage of structured data — Amazon details exactly what information it requires for products through prescribed detail fields, in a similar way to how search engine structured data works.
  • Conversion rate takes the place of site authority — whereas links make the difference in traditional SEO, Amazon pays attention to conversion rate as a ranking factor. That means ensuring compelling content in the form of images and positive reviews. Amazon’s new A+ Enhanced Marketing Content pages are another way to ensure compelling content.

Functional Search

There’s an endless amount of mind-boggling stats around YouTube usage, here are two:

  • Monthly desktop visits are 5.3% higher on YouTube.com than Google.com according to SimilarWeb.
  • Average YouTube mobile session is 40 minutes, and YouTube now reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds than any single U.S. cable network (source).

YouTube is the perfect vehicle for all of the functional “how to”-style content that brands are creating in order to reach consumers. If you were wondering how to make chicken katsu curry, or how to do a deadlift, would search via Google, or YouTube?

Key Advice: SEO for YouTube

  • Again, titles, descriptions, keywords and tags should be optimized toward relevant keywords.
  • Improve user retention with interactive end cards, YouTube Cards & annotations and playlists.
  • A big ranking factor in YouTube is view count as it looks to engagement as a yardstick for quality — a tactical use of paid YouTube support can help to set a video on the path to ranking organically.
  • Don’t rule out long-form content — a third of all YouTube viewing comes from videos that are 20 minutes or longer.

Informational Search

Google has confirmed that 20% of search queries on its app and Android devices are voice searches. Meanwhile, a recent study predicted that by 2019, 20% of all smartphone interactions will take place via virtual personal assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Cortana. Of these, only Google Assistant takes its results from Google, with the other three using Bing.

Key Advice: SEO for Voice Search and Virtual Personal Assistants

  • Optimize content for search engine answer boxes — voice search queries are typically longer and more question-led, in pursuit of a direct answer, so optimizing content to directly answer questions can help to position a brand in the answer box.
  • Embrace structured data — search engines use structured data to help understand websites by providing explicit directions as to the meaning of a page. For example, for a recipe page, structured data outlines ingredients, cooking time, calories, etc. Since voice search queries are typically seeking a specific detail, using structured data is a good way to signpost search engines in the direction of these details.
  • Think local — a Google study found that 40% of adults use voice search to ask for directions meaning brands need to ensure they’re optimized on all sources of location data, which takes us to the final point…

Navigational Search

Google search interest in “near me” has increased 34 times since 2011 as consumers turn to search in their “I-want-to-go” micro-moments. Search engines and VPAs prioritize local results as they recognize a significant number of searches contain local intent, and as such, it is important to ensure location data is accurate.

Key Advice: SEO for Local Search

  • Ensure consistent, widespread location data — search engines like consistency, so make sure address details are identical across all local listing platforms such as Yelp, Google, Bing & Apple Maps, Foursquare and Yahoo Local.
  • Provide as much detail as possible — include descriptions, photos and frequent updates to help search engines know what your business is all about.
  • Amass positive reviews — like with Amazon products, businesses which have strong engagement rates in the form of positive reviews are prioritized in search results.

What’s Next?

We have seen that search behavior has fragmented onto various platforms, and as a result, SEO strategy is moving away from a one-dimensional approach (which was sufficient for Google) to a new multi-touchpoint one. As technology and consumer behavior moves on, this is a trend that will only grow — and we’ll have to evolve our SEO approach on an ongoing basis as new search touchpoints emerge. The Internet of Things will also play its part. In a world in which your fridge can tell you that you’re nearly out of milk, you can ask your car for local restaurant recommendations and walk into a shopping center and have a virtual personal assistant direct you to the best deals, brands will need to ensure that they are present and stand out when consumers subliminally or consciously desire something that they as a brand can fulfill.

In the same way that, 15 years ago, brands learned to optimize their content to have it indexed and ranked in Google’s search results, new techniques will develop to ensure that brands can permeate this Internet of Things successfully.