Data & Intelligence June 25, 2018
From Mobile-First to AI-First Indexing
For the last two years there has been a clear trend. In preparation for the mobile-first index, the emphasis was on making websites mobile friendly. Yet now we find that this doesn’t cover all the implications of mobile-first development. Try as we might, there is no escaping artificial intelligence (AI) – or the fact that it is playing an increasing role in search results. But how do you shift your focus from mobile-first to AI-first indexing? What are the latest developments at Google? And, if you are an SEO consultant, how do you leverage the opportunities of the AI-first index?
First let’s look at how SEO used to work. SEO originally focused primarily on domain-related aspects. So technology, keywords and links always featured prominently in Google’s algorithm. Yet, while it is understandable to want to stick to methods that are known to improve Google rankings and generate more website traffic, in 2018 it seems this is no longer enough to ensure SEO success. At Dept, we are increasingly asking where we need to invest our resources to continue to maximise your findability in 2018.
This is where AI and Machine Learning (ML) come in. For, as we have seen, mobile-first requires more than simply transitioning from desktop to mobile, especially now that Google is increasingly basing its search engine results on AI and ML. When it comes to mobile-first, it seems that simply making your website mobile-friendly is not enough to retain a high ranking in Google’s organic results.
At the recent Google I/O conference, the company showed how it is using artificial intelligence to better understand the content and purpose of a website. Here are some of the most interesting AI developments at Google.
Last month the search engine launched a new version of Google News that uses “the best of artificial intelligence to find the best of human intelligence”. In other words, Google now uses AI to organise and assess the quality of the endless stream of news on the internet. It offers publishers a strong platform, but makes it clear that it is capable of recognising and analysing text-based content.
The Google Duplex chatbot is a next-generation voice-assistant feature. Want to book a hair appointment? Or a table at a restaurant? The AI assistant will make the call for you and speak in a natural voice.
Gmail also includes more advanced features, such as Smart Compose, which uses AI to more accurately anticipate language and predict what you want to write, making interactive suggestions while you type. Yet more evidence that ML is built into the core of Google products.
The developments at Google show that it is increasingly using AI to meet users’ information needs faster. But how does this affect SEO?
Google click-through rates for organic listings on mobile devices have fallen from 65.6% to 38.9% in the last three years.
Recent data published by Rand Fishkin suggests that organic mobile search results are getting fewer and fewer click-throughs. This is mainly because the answers are found within the search engine. Besides the direct answers on SERPs, booking and shopping options also keep visitors within the search engine platform. In other words, search engines increasingly seek to meet the user’s needs within their own environment. And you won’t be surprised to learn that this too is partly enabled by the use of AI. This reduces the need to navigate to a website. And if your job is to generate more traffic to your website, this is frustrating.
So, as an SEO consultant, what specifically can you do to capitalise on AI indexing?
- Optimise your rich results. These are AI-powered results, such as recipe carousels, images and local packs that create more visibility on the results page.
- Bear structured data in mind. It plays a critical role in enabling Google to better understand content and display interactive results. It is relatively easy to implement and improves your findability within the ever-changing SERP, ensuring that you are included in the following AI-generated results:
- Above all, pay attention to developments such as voice search, PWA and AMP. These are the disrupters in the turbulent SEO landscape. Prepare by testing and allocating development resources for these technologies.
Voice search – Want to book a table at a restaurant or order a pizza? Voice Actions allow you to complete the task with voice commands. Featured snippets are increasingly used in voice search responses. So optimise for voice search by using structured data and conversational content. Read the tips on Search Engine Land here.
PWA – Progressive Web App technology delivers an app-like user experience within the browser. PWAs improve performance, increase engagement and also include offline functionalities. After a few interactions you can add an icon to your start screen to access a frequently used website. Dept has also taken steps to respond to this new technology.
AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages ensure that content loads faster and is immediately displayed on the search engine results page, partly through the smart use of pre-rendering and prefetching. The latest developments in AMP have been summarised by my colleague Jason.
PWAMP – Combining PWA and AMP enhances both performance and engagement, allowing you to:
- Include PWA features in AMP pages
- Use an AMP page as an entry point into a PWA
- And, if you have already implemented AMP, use an AMP page as a content and data source for a PWA
Expand your focus
Google is clearly applying AI-first thinking in all of its products and therefore also in its search engine. A set of algorithms are now used to display more relevant and personalised search results. So, rather than simply fixating on making your website mobile friendly, be sure to also invest in new technologies such as PWA and AMP. And consider creating rich results and voice search content to leverage AI-first indexing to your advantage.