I remember the time when there was no Google and cluttered Web portals were the rule.
Simplicity was the key to Google’s success, along with the quality of results. People rejected information overload and chose a clean interface and search result structure. Google also succeeded because it didn’t mix sponsored (paid) results with organic (non-paid) results.
The uncluttered, clean and ad free days of Google search result pages are ancient history by now. Google results resemble the very same portals they replaced more than a decade ago.
Google is replacing search results with:
- sponsored listings
- local directory entries
- scraped snippets from third parties
- its own services
- Google Now-like assistant features
There are barely any “natural” search results left in many cases. Will Google search users notice once those vanish, too?
As a website owner, you will for sure.
First of all, don’t rely on Google for traffic. Make sure your site and infrastructure aren’t dependent on an obsolete business model.
It’s like with cars. It doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore to invest in building a gas station. The future is about electric cars and, at least in cases like Tesla, they get their electricity for free. Buying gasoline will be a thing of the past that only old people will remember. That said:
- There will be cars and drivers will still have to take a break.
- There will be roads and people will still need to eat, pee or sleep somewhere when traveling far enough.
The Internet will not go away either. People will still attempt to find things on the Web in future. But they won’t search for or find them the same way that they do now.
The majority will ask Google for an item and their Google assistant will serve it to them right where they are, via voice probably, likely by the way of Google Glass. The use cases where it’s necessary to look at a screen will become fewer and farther between.
Until then, people will use the Google.com portal — as intended by Google’s accountants, at least. That is, by clicking any “results” that make money for Google.
Google is an advertising company, not a search company. They only offer search to get people to click on their paid results now. The 10 blue links on a white page model is already a relic.
It’s been clear for years that almost half of the people click only the top result on a search result page. As soon as Google finds better ways to lure users to Google and make them click paid links only they will abandon search as we know it altogether.
That’s why the Google assistant will offer the one result that matters in the form of an answer just like Apple’s Siri does.
To remain relevant in the future you need to be that one result.
Make people look for you
You have to make people actively look for you, not stumble across you from a generic phrase.
You have to make people aware of your existence and make them ask Google to lead to you. For example, in the future, when you ask Google to search for Facebook, they can’t show you the latest article about Facebook, they need to let you go to Facebook directly.
To become future-proof you have to focus on:
You have to stop relying on Google to bring you new visitors each day. You have to become the destination for dedicated users who seek you out on purpose. These people do not just visit you because you happen to be on top of a list. So building up an audience of regulars who return to you is crucial. An audience of subscribers is best. Email is going strong today, especially because RSS feeds have lost popularity in recent years. AWeber or MailChimp is your friend.
To make people look for you in particular they need to:
- be aware that you exist,
- remember you; and
- be able to spell your name more or less correctly.
Put another way, it’s all about branding. Initially, a customer may find you via Google ads. But the next time they need to be aware who you are and what your name is. Ideally, your URL is unique and memorable enough to get remembered as well. It doesn’t have to be .com these days anymore when the combination of name and TLD make sense. My favorite example is the service who.is.
I won’t repeat any of the content marketing clichés. What’s important to keep people coming back is that you deliver something regularly. That’s true even for products or services that aren’t sold or consumed on a daily basis. You buy a car once a few years, for example. So you need to publish updates and meaningful or entertaining content during the time you’re not actively selling to a particular person. Convincing someone to buy your product may take months or even years now. That makes blogging a must.
In case search engine optimization as we know it now gets killed by Google — in that they stop showing organic results altogether — your site and content will have to be findable nonetheless.
Your brand and content has to available where people expect it to be.
Onsite, bad navigation can make content hard to find, especially from the homepage. For example, often meaningless menu items like “Work” or “Services” provide no clues whatsoever what a website offers until you click the link. Why not call the menu item “Marketing Services”?
Offsite, consider being findable on social media networks. And if you pay to play, you must make sure that your ads work. I often see Google ads that lead nowhere or to 404 “not found” pages.
People do not like to engage with businesses. They prefer to engage with other people. They also tend to remember a person with charisma more than a bland salesperson. On the Web, you can’t be generic and be memorable at the same time. Random stock images get ignored completely — most people know that the smiling woman on the telephone doesn’t really work for your company.
Now, Internet users want to see the actual people who are behind a website or project. So do not hide behind your brand, site or product. Show yourself, too. Be charismatic. Meet the team pages are a great way to start, but not the end at all. Display names, images and contributions of your team members throughout the site.
Images by Smudge 9000 (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons