The latest trend in search is virtual assistants.
You likely know about the earliest virtual assistant tools – Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, voice activated tools that can help you find answers for things quickly. And while they often seem out of place to many, Google says that already 20% of all mobile search queries are made by spoken request, and the biggest adopters of this new type of search are younger users.
But while voice queries, in themselves, are a point of interest, the next significant shift we’re likely to see in search is more of an amalgamation of traditional written and modern spoken requests.
This will come in the form of messenger bots – text-based assistants that can understand the context of your request.
Rise of the bots
Early in 2016, Facebook announced their new Bots for Messenger platform, which enables businesses to build their own Messenger bot services that can answer basic customer queries without manual intervention.
Part of this new framework is built on Facebook’s advanced artificial intelligence, which they’re training to understand written queries – Facebook even has an AI bot system built into Messenger, though it’s only available to users in certain regions.
But more recently, Facebook’s been building these new detection systems into Messenger more generally – for example, if you type in a word like ‘Congratulations’ into Messenger now, the system will show you possible graphics you could add to your message to accompany that term.
You can try this yourself - post ‘Happy New Year!’ on Facebook as a status update and the system will recognise this and give you a celebratory spark of virtual fireworks across your screen.
Facebook’s also working on text recognition tools that will remind you when you owe people money (as per agreement made via message), when you should seek recommendations from friends – basically, the system is learning the context of your interactions and its seeking to help streamline the process of connecting you with relevant resources.
This will eventually mean that these virtual assistants will recommend businesses - a whole new form of SEO.
Google’s also getting in on this – built into Google’s new Pixel phones is a service called ‘Google Assistant’. Google Assistant is billed as ‘Google for your world’ and is readily accessible at any time as you use the device.
An example use case might be that you’re heading to a new town for a work event – you can ask Google Assistant what are some good restaurants in the area and it’ll show you a list.
Of course, as a business, you want your restaurant to show up on that list – but virtual assistant optimisation could actually be more difficult because the recommendations are based on your personal networks and registered preferences.
As their usage and application expands, it’s not hard to imagine virtual assistants becoming a significant SEO consideration – and given the rate at which both Google and Facebook are looking to implement such tools, that’s likely to happen sooner, rather than later.
So how do you ensure your business shows up at the top of virtual assistant recommendations?
Optimising for virtual search
In both the Google and Facebook examples, the results displayed within assistants are becoming more personalised – if you regularly go to McDonald’s, that’s more likely to show up as a recommendation than an expensive restaurant. In this respect, the way to boost your potential of being shown to users of virtual assistants if to ensure you’re boosting your appeal to your target audience.
That, of course, is sometimes easier said than done, but this next evolution of search is more aligned to each person’s individual interests and behaviours – Google learns based on your search history and interactions on your phone, while Facebook refers to your social network and makes recommendations based on your activity.
This makes virtual assistant optimisation more complex, in that there will be fewer hard rules on how the process works, but it underlines the need to engage with your online communities and build affinity within their networks, ensuring these systems understand your relevance to each user.
It’s another consideration. It’s not widespread yet, but given the trend towards new forms of search, and the rapid development of text recognition and individual recommendations, virtual assistant optimisation will become a bigger consideration for many brands in the near future.