Why is Structured Data Important? SEO, Voice Search & Google AI
The world of search and search engine optimization is changing. In 2012 Google stated that they were processing an estimated 1.2 trillion searches annually. This figure has since grown and is now estimated to be around 2 trillion. As this number increases, so do the complexities of search. Search engines are now looking more and more towards structured data to answer your queries.
SEO is Evolving
SEO is continuously evolving. Once upon a time, your optimization efforts were focused on keyword meta tags, which then gradually shifted to long tail queries, but over the past few years, it has become geared towards quality and user experience. High-quality backlinks and exceptional content that engages and educates the user are vital for the success of any modern SEO strategy.
Much like technology, our behaviour and how we search evolves over time. Mobile usage is continuing to surge past desktop; coupled with increases in conversational/voice search, is changing the way we approach SEO. It is thought by 2020 50% of searches will be done through voice.
In steps implicit queries. If you think about it, the goal of the search engine is to provide you, the user, with the best result possible for a particular search. To do this it tries to understand your intent when carrying out a search; What is your expectation? What is it exactly you are searching for? And, what results will be the most appropriate? The traditional model of a keyword query no longer stands strong, search engines can now analyse a user’s profile, their location and other variables. This data then determines what answer to return.
Voice Search Experiment
I carried out a little experiment on this to show the different results by searching for “Hair Salons Dublin” in two different locations. Rather than returning a list of hair salons located in Dublin, the search engine looks at the underlying context of the query – Android phone user, on the street in “location”, and also a number of other variables. This then should determine what answer it returns.
The first voice search I carried out was in Skerries, in North County Dublin. The second voice search was done at Chatham Street, Dublin 2.
As you can see, two very different results. These, you can probably guess are largely based on location.
However, if you change the search slightly to “Best Hair Salons in Dublin” and carry out the query from the exact same locations, the results are different again. Google still takes into account my location, but because I searched for the “Best” hair salons it emphasises on the reviews and ratings to determine its answers.
The first result was from the same location in Skerries and the second from Chatham Street again – as you can see, both very similar results.
So how is Google doing this? And why? At the heart of it is structured data and Google’s quest to provide the best user-experience possible, all while becoming an increasingly advanced artificial intelligence system.
What is structured data? And why does it matter?
In a nutshell, structured data is extra code added to a web page which in turn, can help search engines understand the content on your site. A combined initiative driven by Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Yandex, led to the creation of Schema.org. This initiative was driven by the desire to promote the standardisation of data markup on web pages.
Structured data markup can be implemented for a range of topics and page elements such as;
- Creative Works
Using a universal language to identify such elements means that search engines can clearly understand not only the content of your site, but the context. This can help improve rankings by allowing search engines to give more accurate and relevant results for user queries.
As I mentioned in a previous article SEO Trends For 2017, rich snippets are extra pieces of information that appear in the SERP. The clue really is in the name. By displaying extra “rich” information such as images, lists and extra text, it not only provides more information for the user but provides more real-estate space on the SERP, which in-turn can increase the click-through-rate.
Essentially a rich snippet provides a short summary aimed at answering the user’s query.
Rich snippets have since evolved to more creative and informative forms of display such as Rich Cards and Knowledge Graphs. What was once only commonly seen for recipes and movies, rich cards can now be displayed in mobile friendly carousels for any amount of various queries.
Knowledge graphs provide a slightly different result and are, again, used by Google to further enhance and improve search results. They appear on the right-hand side of the SERP and are designed to provide further information about a company, product, person or place.
It is difficult to guarantee the obtaining of a rich snippet or knowledge graph, but you can help influence your chances. Search engines rely on rich data to return the most relevant results to the user. As Google’s ultimate goal is to become increasingly intelligent and provide the best user experience possible, it is essential that all of your necessary business information is optimised correctly. This could be your address, phone number and blogs to restaurant menu details.
A huge drive in improving search results, especially local, is centred around displaying customer reviews and ratings. Getting those 4 or 5 stars can drastically increase your CTR, and the best part is, you don’t even need to be in position 1! It is always going to be difficult to sustain if even ever get that first position in any SERP. Combine this with our natural habit of reading web pages in an F-shaped pattern, means appearing in position 3 or 4 and having visible star rating reviews may mean more click-throughs if positions 1 and 2 don’t have them.
Structured data is one of the key components in how search engine optimization is evolving. One such example of this is Voice Search.
Voice search has been gaining momentum in recent years. We all remember the introduction Siri from Apple in 2011. The novelty of saying “Hey Siri!” into your iPhone and getting the wrong search result or even getting it to understand your voice seems somewhat dated now, and it is. Speech recognition has become increasingly advanced, with errors now as low as 8%. Now we have access to technologies such Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana.
But how did we get here? And what is the point of this technology?
The key drivers for search engine optimization have changed dramatically over the years. In 2013, with the introduction of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, we saw a shift from exact match keyword queries to more semantic and topic based searches. This was driven by the desire to get a better understanding of the user’s intent. Since then we have seen the introduction of RankBrain – Google’s artificial intelligence system. Which is part of its overall search algorithm that is consistently striving to improve search results for the user.
It seems not only logical but the next natural step was always going to be Voice Search. Its sole purpose is to make our lives easier. Think about it – no typing, far quicker, just easy and effortless search. It should be noted that adoption of this technology will only be successful if it can be seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives, and it’s happening already with Google Home and Amazon Echo.
Voice Search and Search Engine Optimization
The importance of having natural, conversational content on your site is becoming increasingly important. This is due to the increase in mobile searches and voice search. People prefer written content that is easy to read, understand and in a natural language – this is after all how we speak on a daily basis. Also, being able to ask questions to, what is essentially an inanimate object and get an answer, is always going to be easier and more natural if you can speak to it like you would a person.
- “What’s the average temperature in Texas in August? Vs. “Temperature Texas August”
How Do I Optimise My Website For Voice Search?
- Create content that uses long tail keywords, that is natural and conversational.
- Create content that is based on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Implement Structured Data on your site.
Implementing structured data for voice search is important in two aspects.
Search engines will understand the context of your website, and therefore should be able to provide more relevant answers to its users.
However, and more importantly for businesses to note, when it comes to voice search results from technologies such as Google Home, sometimes only a single and the most relevant answer will be provided. This means that competition for that top SERP position will become even greater.
Having the most highly rated reviews, an updated address and all content marked up correctly is what will determine this result. It is the structured data that feeds the answer to search engines and therefore this markup will be not only seen as useful but will also be rewarded with a higher ranking.
Voice search is not only changing how we, the user, receive our query information but it is shaping how businesses approach SEO.
Structured Data and Google’s Artificial Intelligence
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai made a statement earlier this year in May, saying that mobile first is evolving to A.I. first. This poses new challenges for business owners, as it will be increasingly difficult to succeed in an environment where technology is making more and more decisions about what to present to the user/customer.
Artificial Intelligence is becoming better at understanding the user’s intent – the who, the what and the where? It does this through our previous actions, our user preferences and adapting to our habits. This is combined with Google’s search algorithm, Hummingbird, which relies on well-structured data and is based on the Relevance, Proximity and Prominence of a search.
Search engines and Artificial Intelligence rely heavily on rich, accurate and real-time information so that they can provide users with exactly what they are looking for.
If the answer provided is wrong, users won’t blame the search engine they’ll blame the business for this discrepancy. UK research was carried out on consumers encountering incorrect location information online, which showed results of 49% of consumers would, in fact, hold the business accountable and only 20% the search engine or app for the mistake. This is a perfect example of the importance of well-structured data for something as simple as a business’ location. The more information you have, relevant to that query, the more likely you are to appear in the top result
It’s important for businesses to look beyond the challenges posed by AI and Voice Search, and try and see this as an opportunity. Essentially we know what is around the corner, so why not get ahead of your competitors and start optimising your site.