Learning Hub | Content Marketing

Long-Tail Keywords, Smart Homes and the Uncertain Future of SEO

March 10, 2017 | Jon Teodoro

Not to take away from our well-thought-out title, but SEO’s future has always been uncertain. That’s simply the nature of tech.

That’s why we are looking ahead to the next big industry game-changer that will have a huge effect on how we search: smart homes.

Feel like you’ve stepped into an episode of “Black Mirror?” Well, fasten your spaceship seatbelt, and let’s take a look into the future of SEO.

How Will Smart Home Technology Shape SEO?

Unless you live off the grid (props to you!), you most likely have some sort of smart appliance in your home. You probably don’t have to look too far away to see your cell phone right now, but there are several other smart gadgets popping up in markets currently.

People are buying smart refrigerators, ovens, thermostats and alarm systems as well as newer technologies like Google’s Home and Amazon’s Echo, which control several devices in your home and complete actions by responding to your voice – totally hands-free.

Because voice-activated technology seems to be growing in popularity, we are wondering how SEO, and thus the Internet’s makeup as a whole, will change when search is dominated by vocal cues rather than written ones.

I’m going to assume that all of us know someone who types full, correctly-punctuated sentences into the Google search bar, prompting the obligatory eye roll and laugh (Newbs!). Most of us, however, have figured out that perfect mix of typing enough to get our answer without having to type too much, often resulting in search inquiries that are keyword phrases more than they are sentences. Think:

  • “Tips for lower water bill” opposed to “Do you have any tips for how I can lower my water bill?”
  • “Leo DiCaprio movies” rather than “What are all of the movies that Leo DiCaprio has acted in?”
  • “La La Land showtimes 48220” versus “What are the showtimes for ‘La La Land’ at all of the movie theaters in Ferndale and the surrounding areas?”

No matter your search style, you’ll get your answer because search engines are most-aptly designed to return results based on various keyword entries. It’s these entries that SEO tries so hard to nail down and replicate in copy all over the Internet.

This prompts the question: How is SEO affected when digital devices rely on capturing voice commands and not deliberate strokes on a keypad?

Conversational Inquiries: Speaking With Machines

Think about your last search inquiry or text. Chances are you were not as conversational in either as you are when you speak with someone.

We’ve adopted this on-screen pseudo-language that ignores grammatical correctness all together.

However normal this feels to us on-screen, it’s still completely foreign to actually speak with people in this way. Thousands of years spent cultivating a language are not thrown over for robotic talk so quickly.

So, why would we assume conversational cues would change when speaking with a smart appliance?

As Jayson DeMers writes for his contribution to Forbes.com, “Consumers aren’t going to be typing in individual keywords; instead, they’ll be asking questions and giving commands, which means the importance of long-tail keywords is going to skyrocket.”

SEO pros are paying close attention to that last part about long-tail keywords. These keywords are defined as “A phrase that contains at least three words (though some say two or more is considered long-tail). Long-tail keywords are used to target niche demographics rather than mass audiences. In other words, they’re more specific and often less competitive than generic keyword terms.”

When you’re optimizing a site’s SEO, you want your copy to match long-tail keywords where competition is lower than with short-tail. Examples:

  • Shoes (short-tail) vs mens basketball shoes size 9 (long-tail)
  • Movies (short-tail) vs movies with strong female roles (long-tail)
  • Bacon (short-tail) vs how to make bacon crispy (long-tail)

If you want your webpage to show up in the top three results of a SERP by targeting short-tail keywords…good luck! In some cases, it simply can’t be done. This is more of an area reserved for the household names of the world – the Coca-Colas, Kleenex and Band-Aids.

So, you target long-tail keywords where the competition is more spread out – that is, for now.

As conversational queries increase, so too will long-tail competition because we speak in sentences, not just one-word blurbs. This means SEO strategy will have to adapt yet again.

Furthermore, as DeMers points out, products like Google Home will return results differently. They don’t have an interface so they can’t return a list of results like the SERPs we’re used to today. Instead, they’ll provide one result at a time unless the user chooses to go and look for another one on a linked device.

This could perhaps be the biggest future challenge for SEO.

Whereas being in the top few spots or on the front page of results is considered a success now, if smart home technology increases in popularity, being the top result will be crucial to success. This will create a stringent kind of competition we haven’t seen.

This also prompts the following questions:

  • How will these devices treat paid ads that we see at the top of SERPs now?
  • Will they relay the paid results to their users before others?
  • If so, doesn’t this put businesses with higher ad budgets at an advantage?
  • Would they be able to dominate the market, making it even harder for small competitors and creating a sort of search monopoly?

Smart Home Technology and Personalized Search

These smart products also change the search environment in another way: Personalization. They are so connected to their user’s other devices and daily life that they can collect quite a bit of data from him or her and apply it to searches in ways that SEO professionals would never be able to.

Imagine for a moment that you have Google Home, and that it’s linked to your smart fridge. It sees from the fridge camera which brand of milk you buy. It can also tell when the milk is getting low based on recipes you’ve searched or how many times you’ve taken it out of the fridge to use.

You come home one day and ask Google for a mashed potato recipe. It returns the top result along with a suggested ad for the milk you happen to buy. Hey, maybe even a reminder that you need to get more – “You’re running low!” Oh and “Hey, here’s a coupon I found for your nearest Kroger!”

How could even the savviest SEO professional keep up in the intimate world created by these machines? Even the best copywriter and strategist can’t see inside your fridge.

Questions to Ponder:

  • What are your thoughts on the future of SEO or marketing practices in general in light of such smart home technology?
  • Will people be into it or weary of it?
  • What kind of privacy issues are involved with such technology?
  • How could small businesses compete for result spots in such a search environment?

Please share any thoughts in the comments below.