Just two weeks ago, I got back from I/O—the Google Developer conference. It was my second year going. To give you some background, I’m the marketing guy for a web and app developer of health, fitness, and recipe platforms: SparkPeople.com. They pony up to send me to I/O because it gives them an advantage when planning out our initiatives for the next year: SEO, ASO, PPC, app development, analytics, and all kinds of other stuff come up at this conference. Like most businesses, all of these categories affect us deeply, and any little advantage we can grab now can pay off in a big way.
I/O is an incredible conference, full of abstract concepts, brilliant initiatives, and very real tech.
But before I start let me be very upfront with you: this is not a summary of all of the projects that Google announced at I/O this year. If you’re looking for and exhaustive list, you can find it here.
This is a summary of the two major themes that dominated I/O and how they’re about to change your lives, your processes, and your business forever. Yes, I’m talking to you.
Things are about to change, and for real. So buckle up for the ride and let’s get going.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
If you’re like me, when you hear the words “artificial intelligence,” you think of this:
But while Skynet may still be a long way off, AI is here now and it’s useful. Google has been using AI internally for a few years now to deliver search results, and it’s gotten to the point now that even their engineers aren’t exactly sure how the results are generated. (You read that right. Let it sink in a minute.)
The most pervasive theme at this year’s conference was that Google plans on baking AI and machine learning into everything they do.
Using AdWords to drive sales or customer acquisition campaigns? They’ve had AI-driven campaign options for over a year now for mobile app acquisition, called Universal App Campaigns. My company was in the Beta last year and we continue to use them. Universal App Campaigns are an important driver of installs for the SparkPeople Mobile app (on Android and iOS), and they’re incredibly easy to set up. Expect to see more machine learning integrations come to non-mobile app campaigns this year, into the next.
Don’t use AdWords? Don’t worry, machine learning is coming for you too. Google announced expansions to their Cloud platform, bringing some of their most effective machine learning tools to small businesses like yours. And if you think the cost of entry is too high, you’re mistaken. We use one of the products—Big Query—for large data exports and our monthly bill clocks in at a princely sum of $2. (Yes, you read that right: the decimal falls directly after the two.)
If you’d like to give some of these tools a spin to see if they’re a fit for your business, Google is running a promotion that allows anyone with a Google account to get a free $300 credit for their Cloud Platform. Claim it, and then spend that money on automatic text translation. Toss a few pennies towards a better understanding of what your data can tell you about your business. Or drop a dime on speech recognition and get ready for the other massive change coming down the pike…
Google Assistant and the conversational interface
Google just went all-in on voice search and it’s going to affect how potential customers will find your business. This will have very real consequences for you.
Chances are, you have an Alexa, or an Amazon Dot, or you know someone who does. According to the Motley Fool in a post they pushed out earlier this year, Amazon has sold upwards of 8.2 million Echo devices since they launched the product in 2014. Even if you don’t have one of the Amazon devices, you’re probably familiar with the concept—you’ve probably played with Apple’s Siri, Window’s Cortana, or Google’s Home device.
Until recently, most people have thought of these devices as a novelty, as something to poke and prod and see what kind of responses they can eke out. But voice search is so much more than a novelty.
comScore predicts that in just two and a half years, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches. Just to give you a little perspective: two and a half years ago, it was January 2015. Doesn’t feel that long ago, eh? Well, that’s the time frame we’re talking about here.
Mary Meeker, the Queen of the Internet, devoted slide after slide to the coming growth of voice search in her annual report this year. Of all the slides for me, this one looking at historical trends stood out the most:
Voice search is growing, and the company who has perfected search thinks voice has the potential to be more. And not just for search results, but for content created by non-Google companies too. At I/O, Google opened up their Assistant to third-party developers and launched a voice app—they call these apps “Actions”—store that seems pretty similar to the Google Play store they launched years ago. When you pair an incentivized developer community with the leader of all things search, you know that conversational queries are going to get real weird and useful super quickly.
How can you take advantage of these macro trends to prepare for the future?
Don’t stress out. There isn’t a right way to wrap your arms around voice search yet. We’re in the bottom of the first and there’s a long game ahead of us. But if you figure out a few things now, you have the chance to leapfrog your competition. Start with these steps:
Take some time this week and really clean up your Google Place page for your business. (And if you don’t have one yet, stop reading this blog and go set one up here.) It doesn’t matter if you provide a service or sell a product; when your potential customer is looking for you, they’re going to do a Google search. Right now, the place page has a prominent position in the search result pages, but with voice search, it could be the only result. Get and respond to reviews. Upload pictures and videos. Do anything you can do to get your listing to the top of the results and you’ll be sitting pretty for voice search.
It’s time to do an audit of the meta and schema markup on your site. Google’s voice search results are highly dependent on how you craft your content. I ran a few tests, but this piece from a guy who ran over 1,000 voice queries will give you something to think about—primarily featured snippets and the knowledge graph. And this week, Google flat out said that we better mind our P’s and Q’s when it comes to meta descriptions. If you try to take the easy SEO route and half-optimize, hoping to show up somewhere on the first page of the SERPs, things are about to become uncomfortable for you. So be certain to mind your SEO as much as your content.
Take some time to learn about the Knowledge Graph. If you’re not familiar with the Knowledge Graph, it’s time to get familiar. If you can work within the knowledge graph structure to float your own content over that of your competitors, you’ll be head and shoulders above your competition.
Buy a Google Home device or download the Assistant app. Get to know Google’s voice assistant and what it can do. Try searching for your product or service and see what turns up. Remember that voice search—though it has been around for a few years now—is still in its infancy. Sometimes your result isn’t going to be the right result. Sometimes the Assistant won’t understand you, and sometimes the response won’t even make sense. But the results are changing and getting better) every day. If you can start figuring out how to fit voice search results into your marketing plan now, you’ll be good to go.
Track your data. Make sure your Google Analytics account is implemented properly. Learn how to use the Google Search Console effectively. If you’re a little more technical, spend some time getting to know Google’s Tag Manager and how to use it for your site. Dig into one of Google’s newest free tools, Data Studio, to ease the burden of ongoing reporting from all these services.
I’ll leave you with this thought: every single day, the marketing tactics you use to position your business can change. That’s just the nature of the interconnected, internet-saturated time we live in. But there are moments that you can look back on from the future to see where monumental changes rolled out, and see changes that modified how everything worked from that point on. We’ve seen Google I/O do this in the past with mobile operating systems, with measurement, with augmented reality and more.
This is one of those times.
Don’t miss the opportunity that is presenting itself to you. This is the time to get in on the ground floor and take the express elevator to the top of the search results. You can do it, and I believe in you.
Joe Robb is the digital marketing director for SparkPeople.com. While his work focuses these days is on mobile growth, PPC, SEO, and SEM Marketing, his life focus is on his family, hiking, reading, and cooking. If you’d like to keep up with Joe, you can find him on Twitter or Linkedin.