From 10 Links to 1 Answer: The Coming Trend of Discovery Marketing and What It Means for SEO

When I was in the fourth grade, I had to do a report about the moon. My dad handed me the Encarta CD-ROM to do my research, and immediately, I wanted to talk to it. I needed to find information about the moon and specifically how it affects tide cycles, so I wanted to just ask like I saw them do on Star Trek, e.g., “Computer, cross reference X and Y…”

Of course, I couldn’t do that.  The technology simply wasn’t advanced enough yet for Encarta to be spoken to, or even, proficiently recognize natural language queries such as “How does the moon effect the tide cycle?”

To find what I needed, I had to type “moon” and wade through the article looking for the relevant parts.

Fifteen years later, technology—led by Apple’s virtual assistant Siri and Google’s predictive search program Google Now—are helping us realize a world in which computers not only understand natural language queries but predict what you may be searching for and present it to you before you actually search for it.

Other than creating epic science projects for today’s fourth graders, these developments will likely have a very significant impact on the process of SEO, and on how companies will have to position themselves in order to remain relevant in a world of “answers, not links.” 

The Biggest Players in Discovery Marketing: Google, Apple (& Facebook?)

Apple and Google have been carefully positioning themselves to be the biggest players in the new discovery marketing playground—both technologies let searchers receive information in new and intuitive ways. The major disruption to the current search market is the keyword in the last sentence—receive.

Instead of making users search for information by typing it in with keystrokes, Siri is a virtual assistant that delivers information to users that verbally ask questions whereas Google Now actually anticipates users’ needs.

While there certainly are differences between Siri and Google Now, they have a commonality in that Apple and Google both want searchers to be immersed in their platforms—and their platforms only. They don’t want consumers to access their tool for one thing and another tool for something else. They strive to be a one-stop shop for all consumers’ needs—search, calendar, email, contacts, etc.

This means that the more accurately and effortlessly the two can deliver relevant data to users, the more engaged their users will become. In fact, it was reported this week that Apple is in talks with FourSquare about a data-sharing deal that will integrate local data from FourSquare into Apple’s mapping application. If this partnership pans out, it will be a huge step in making Apple (and Siri) into a seamless app that users never have to leave when they’re making plans for a night out.

Users that do not buy in to these kinds of all-encompassing systems, which use information they learn about a user to make recommendations or deliver better results, will likely find that mainstream and non-personalized search results are becoming increasingly rare. Brands will also find a point of diminishing returns; they won’t be able to effectively advertise to those consumers that don’t opt in to all that the technology platform offers.

Facebook is very relevant here as well. Even though it does not yet have a category-killer search app like Apple and Google, it already knows the most about its users and has the most user buy-in into its ecosystem; therefore, the platform has the most relevant user information to leverage.

Although Facebook’s brand new Graph Search is not a category-killer in search, or even a direct competitor to Google’s brand of Web search, it is a definite indication that allowing its users to discover as well as be “discoverable” is a major priority of the company.

In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tellingly called out that the new feature is designed to “return to you the answer, not the links…”Facebook also rolled out a local search service just last month, which seems to be another step in that direction, as well as a major play in local.

Imagine the following scenario: I enter the location “Dallas, TX” on my Google calendar and Google serves up ads for car rental and hotel deals in the area. Furthermore, what if I were served ads and offers based not only on my location but also on search history and geographic region?

While the above scenario is still speculative, it’s a good hypothetical example of discovery marketing: A world in which brands must work to make themselves known and “discoverable” to their users.

Here are the key takeaways for marketers ready to be “discovered”in this new search environment:

More than ever, you need to really know your customer.

In a world where not showing up via a virtual assistant or predictive search is the equivalent of showing up on page 2 or below of Google, local businesses must work to engage their customers, specifically encouraging user-generated content such as reviews which will create the kind of natural language relevance that will help their site stand out.

This new kind of search relies on the mobile device “knowing” the spoken language of its users, which would not include the typical marketing jargon one would find on a website. Businesses have to know about their customers. What is important to them when they search for businesses in your category? Whatever it is, it may be beyond the scope of traditional keyword research, but will be more important than ever.

Beyond just mastering the art of being found, you need to master the art of being useful.

In-store maps and inventories are going to become more important than ever before, because people are going to be presented with buying options predictively. Brands need to truly think about the opportunities to share more “real time feed” data into these ecosystems, so the real-time answers that we demand are always in our pockets.

When all else fails, standard links results are still going to be relevant.

Traditional links on Google search results pages aren’t going anywhere for a long time. After all, it has always been and will continue to be the backbone of their core offering. However, Google is providing layers upon layers of information and possibilities in addition to these links.

When, for example, and iPhone user asks Siri a question, Siri then pings one of its many data sources as it looks for an immediate answer to the query. If, and only if, Siri cannot answer the question by pinging Wolfram Alpha, Yelp, or something else, she will then apologize and ask the user if he/she would like to use Google to find the answer. In this way, Google will remain crucial as the backfill to users when nothing else is adequate.

To stay relevant, marketers must position themselves in these new channels by encouraging user interaction and reviews and working to remain top-of-their-class in local and mobile—even as the landscape is shifting all around them.

Boris Zilberman
Boris Zilberman is the Local Search Manager at 360i where he is responsible for managing all local SEO efforts for the leading digital marketing agency’s clients. For more information on 360i, please visit or follow on Twitter @360i.


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