Hey, Alexa — is anyone going to read this?
Most content creators always wonder this after posting something — will anyone read/watch/listen to what I just made? We’re told SEO hacks and Social engagement tips to help with this problem. But what if Alexa/AI is burying SEO as we know it? What’s the best-targeted keyphrase for that?
Google: One Reality
Amazon has already sold over 100 million Alexa devices — she’s in homes, offices, schools. Everywhere. And what do users really love Alexa for? Giving them one answer to one question.
How is the rise of Voice search and AI affecting the classic Google query? Since 1998, Google has trafficked in providing millions of answers to your question. Two decades later, the inverse is happening. It’s no longer about options — it’s truly about optimizing your search, narrowing the seemingly infinite funnel of possibilities to the one perfect piece of information you’re after.
But this glacial sea change towards one-off responses is killing the internet as we’ve come to know it. The old-school web, with its tedium of pages and links, is being quietly usurped by a more conversational internet with chatty AI cutting through the chatter and ruling over the rest of us.
Google’s new M.O. is no longer to give us a deluge of data after a query; they are now in the business of minimizing clicks. In 2014, the company spent over half a billion dollars on the AI company DeepMind. Google’s holding company, Alphabet, has since bought nearly 40 AI businesses. As machine learning quickens, so does AI’s capacity to answer increasingly complex questions.
Which leads to another complex question: What happens when providing information to your audiences is obsolete? Because they won’t be asking you, they’ll be asking —
Alexa, Your New Best Frenemy
When you ask a friend a basic question, do you want them to rattle off dozens of possible answers? No — that’d be super annoying. You want a surgical response. That one name. That one date. That one number. That one place.
In that way, Alexa and other AI of her ilk are the perfect (albeit limited) friends. They give you exactly what you want when you want it. And they don’t talk back — yet.
Google has taken this cue. Think of what happens when you Google something now — what comes up?
- A dictionary definition
- Related phrase(s)
- Wiki snippet
You might think, a Wiki snippet will always take the top spot for search results but actually, Google itself is taking its own top spots. They’re doing everything in their power to answer your question before you ever actually arrive at any real content. If fact, half of Google search traffic doesn’t even result in a click. For perspective, your SEO can rank well while only netting a 1% click rate.
Requiem for a Search Query
Almost all of your (and our) traffic is entirely from one entity. You don’t have to Google it; it’s Google.
In all likelihood, Google is not only your primary driver of traffic but your top source for email subscriptions and newsletters (Gmail) — which for some organizations is the channel that brings in the most revenue. Expect the future of the internet to resemble this:
- Steady Decrease in Traffic: Search traffic keeps declining as Google takes the top slots for search queries.
- Less Engagement: Fewer users consume and share your content.
- Fewer Conversions: Revenue dips as your audience size wanes.
In an act of desperation, you’ll sink more money back into Google and Social for ad buying and marketing in the hopes this will keep you relevant.
Alexa, why are you the worst?
The New Optimization
Even though this all seems bleak, organizations need to recalibrate and focus on another way to be optimal: Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). If SEO alone isn’t going to suffice, CRO acknowledges the fact that since you’re getting less traffic, you want to maximize the user experience and offer worthwhile content. Ostensibly, quality over quantity.
Lost and Found in Digital
When thinking about all of this, you have to ask yourself — what kinds of questions do most people ask on the internet? The basic tiers of queries follow the basic journalistic model of:
- What is … error guessing? pansexual? the weather for today?
- Who is … the next bachelor? the next bachelor 2020? the owner of tiktok app?
- When is … memorial day? the bachelorette finale? mothers day?
- How is … almond milk made? alex trebek doing? the weather?
At the time of writing this, these were the most popular queries for each kind of question. We’re clearly obsessed with the Bachelor — and the weather.
But now you’re probably asking, “What about why?”
Exactly. Why? is the most important question of all, always. It’s the line of questioning that gets at the substantive truth — one that ideally provides incisive insights on issues and clarifies concepts for the greater good. Even though the top Google why? queries currently just cover Game of Thrones, bathroom dysfunction, and literally why the sky is blue — it’s still the best question to ask. More aptly, why? is the kind of question Alexa can’t answer — yet.
And this nebulous grey area of why? is how you and your organization can stay a step ahead of Alexa, for now. Meaning, your content has to transcend just being an information-delivery system. The one advantage humans have over AI is our capacity for emotion, and your content needs to leverage that. Yes, AI has written some not half-bad fan fiction — but for the moment, people are still more artful storytellers than bots. Here’s what you need to do to have a fighting chance against AI:
- Diversify Content: The internet’s increasingly post-text landscape, i.e., you can’t just rely on blogs anymore (I know), means podcasting and video content creation are becoming more and more necessary for engagement.
- Be Active on Social: Engaging on the top platforms, particularly LinkedIn and Instagram, are ideal ways to build brand awareness, generate leads, and convert.
- Make Audiences Laugh: You know who’s not funny? Alexa. Humor well done is rare, but it’s one of the most potent weapons for a content creator.
- Voice your Opinion: Whether it’s a personal anecdote, an insider’s confession or a bold tirade, showing your humanity is always a worthwhile risk — as long as it’s on-brand.
All of this is not meant to say your organization should abandon an SEO strategy altogether — but it has to adapt to a world where good SEO as an idea and reality will become less valuable and relevant. A storm of change is hitting the SEO-scape, and by now you surely know her name.
In the meanwhile, focus on optimizing conversions and creating diversified, nuanced content. The real answer is asking the question, “What can’t Alexa do?”
Then that’s what you should do.