Last week, the U.S. Patent Office approved Google’s latest patent for natural language search results for intent queries.
The very next day, Bill Slawski, of SEO By The Sea, and I were discussing an upcoming SEO Best Practices Series PDF on Featured Snippets when he tipped us off to the new patent. (Note how I casually name-dropped Bill Slawski like we’re old friends.)
At first blush the patent is the latest in Google’s drive to interpret queries and deliver answers in natural, human language. But is it also one more step toward eliminating organic search results all together?
One conversation that keeps popping up is how long Google is going to remain a search engine, before it can become a “knowledge” engine, and Google’s latest patent might be another brick in that wall.
Google prefers providing its own answer to clear intent queries whenever it can, to “provide a better user experience” … and to keep users on their SERPs longer (because ad revenue). They started doing this with the Knowledge Graph, but that data is largely curated by real, live humans and they simply cannot keep up.
Featured snippets started to appear. They required Google to recommend users to another page, but at least provided the same great user experience as an answer box or Knowledge Graph panel when Google’s data bank couldn’t provide a clear answer. After some initial caution, SEOs are now clamoring to optimize content to try to appear in those featured snippet spots – conforming content to the mold that Google has created.
And now we know that Google is parsing and storing that information in a separate data bank—a kind of algorithmically assembled Knowledge Graph.
Might it be that Google is storing and aggregating data—data that content creators are generously formatting for them—in order to expand their answer box offerings? Will they continue to provide organic results if those results become obsolete? As mobile internet usage continues to climb, and IoT devices remove screens from the equation entirely, will users even care if organic listings disappear? Do they want options or answers? The trend has been swinging toward answers for years.
Same thing we always do: roll with the punches.
First, keep focusing on featured snippets. The new patent does not, of course, say anything about removing organic results from SERPs. (The internet would explode.) One sketch of how the natural language search will change SERPs shows an expanded featured snippet box at the top of the page:
Where there is currently one featured snippet, there are three in this example. That means two things for your SEO strategy:
Second, keep building your own audience. Coordinate your social channels and build your email list. If Google ever does get rid of organic search results, you’ll need to be able to connect with your audience on other channels.