How to future-proof for positive search visibility

August 14, 2023

Heather Rist Murphy
The search landscape has never been for the faint of heart. As AI-powered results and non-traditional engines become an integral part of today’s search experience, marketers must learn how they can keep pace and secure positive visibility for their brands.

How to future-proof for positive search visibility

As AI-powered results and non-traditional engines become an integral part of today’s search experience, marketers are stretching to learn how they can keep pace and secure positive visibility for their brands. Stated simply, this is easier said than done. To secure positive visibility, marketers must overcome several hurdles such as siloed search efforts, a lack of helpful content, and stagnant search strategies that do not account for the expanding search ecosystem that is inclusive of search engines, answer engines, and various non-traditional platforms. Yet, savvy marketers are finding it is possible to secure visibility today, tomorrow, and beyond when a holistic approach is adopted.

Lessons from the evolution of the search engine results page

While the next chapter of the search story continues to unfold, brands are closely examining the current ecosystem and looking to lessons from the past to help develop an effective strategy. Previous waves of change have addressed how searches take place, but one of the most significant learning opportunities can likely be found in changes that transformed where results are viewed. Marketers seeking to future-proof their content strategy should look no further than the changing face of the search engine results page (SERP) to understand why a holistic approach to search marketing is more important than ever before.

Marketers who have been keeping track of SERP updates know that years ago, the glory days of the “10 blue links” were replaced by features such as the knowledge panel, local packs, and other results designed to provide an at-a-glance response to user queries. This display experience, often referred to as position zero results, drastically changed the world of search by suggesting that users would no longer have to leave the SERP to find relevant and satisfying answers to their questions. Although marketers initially expressed concern related to the impact on search traffic, the lessons learned from this change proved to be invaluable in the context of content strategy. Today, we understand that a comprehensive SEO plan must include the creation and optimization of material that supports zero-click search results and provides content that anticipates every level of the customer journey. One-size-fits-all content is a thing of the past and has been replaced by a flexible and future-focused approach that is centered on both topic authority and variety.

AI-powered results & the changing search ecosystem

In addition to sourcing lessons from the history of search, the new horizon of SEO strategy also requires marketers to address the rapid changes occurring in the here and now. Without question, one of the most buzz-worthy recent developments — AI powered search results (for example, Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), an AI-powered snapshot in search results) — has produced a number of points that should be addressed before moving forward with any strategic plan. How does the new AI-powered search experience change content and SEO efforts? What content and experiences need to be optimized to feed AI tools the most accurate, and up-to-date information? If these questions sound familiar, you’re not alone. Future-proofing your search marketing approach requires a consistent gut check of how your brand is optimizing for success.

Google’s search engine results page for “how to choose a couch for your space” inclusive of the “opt-in” Search Generative Experience (AI-snapshot).

Natural language processing & conversational search

Recognized as one of the cornerstones of generative AI, natural language processing (NLP) refers to the ability of a computer to recognize the written and spoken speech patterns of human beings. This feature allows users to search using the words and phrases they feel most comfortable with, enhancing their own experience and providing greater ease of use within the tool. As platforms like ChatGPT and Bard continue to refine this model, the importance of word choice within content creation cannot be understated. Simply put, the brands who will earn the most search visibility may be those who can come the closest to speaking the same language as their target audience.

Much like the NLP model, conversational search within answer engines generating AI-powered results is yet another method designed to mimic human interaction and provide a more nuanced experience for users. This search model, powered by user input, is based on providing a string of queries that were built off an original question, allowing AI to refine its response until the needs of the user are satisfied. Brands who wish to succeed in the world of conversational search will need more than a single piece of content to thrive. A conversational approach that leads to additional questions or searches appears to be an inevitable phase of the AI-powered search experience, meaning that marketers must be more proactive than ever when it comes to creating and optimizing content to meet the demand.

Keeping your brand one step ahead

There are several ways to position your content and ensure that your search strategy can stand the test of time. For those seeking to cement their brand’s search visibility within traditional engines, AI-powered results, and across the search ecosystem, look to these four tips to keep pace with the evolving search experience.

1. Optimize your branded content

In the changing world of search, one of the most fundamental steps all marketers must address is optimizing existing and new content for maximum search visibility. Branded content should remain priority number one, with emphasis on material that provides informational or educational value to users. Think of what type of information is essential to the foundation of your brand. Content that speaks to products, services, locations, or the “about us” section of your website should be regularly audited to ensure no critical optimization or expansion opportunities are missing.

In the same vein, carefully review current technical SEO strategies to ensure that your website content can be easily crawled by both search and answer engines. Regular technical SEO audits are an important step in evaluating a website’s current performance and can help confirm that you are leaving nothing on the table in terms of visibility or ease of use.

2. Support the audience journey with helpful content

Considering the functionality of both conversational and traditional search, marketers should be prepared to expand the scope of what constitutes an effective content strategy. To do this, content must be both relevant (meet intent) and helpful (provide the best content experience/structure). These are the modern-day content ranking factors and need to be at the core of your content audit, strategy, and creation efforts. This can be done by paying sharp attention to the questions asked and language used throughout a user’s journey, as well as the sentiment they experience along the way. Understanding what your audience does, thinks, and feels along their journey is critical to providing helpful answers to those questions. This is why the audience journey is more important than ever before and should be supported by content that can simultaneously guide, inform, and demonstrate value.

How can this be accomplished? The secret starts with data. When identifying what type of information will be helpful to your audiences, it’s critical to not rely on one single source of data to inform your strategy. For example, when trying to enhance the visibility of your content, you will likely want a combination of keyword research, social listening analysis, customer care insights, and internal search analysis to help you identify the specific topics and questions that need answering. Taking a multi-insight approach to your content strategy can provide a more holistic picture of your audiences’ needs, so that you can create the most effective content possible.

3. Take a holistic approach to search (co-optimization)

It is well known that both traditional and generative AI results are not powered by a single data source. SEO, paid search, media relations, influencer, and social media efforts all impact a brand’s search visibility, meaning that a successful strategy cannot be achieved without a holistic approach.

When thinking about how to do this, co-optimization and a shared content strategy is the answer. Core questions to consider:

  1. Do you have a shared content strategy across marketing and communications?
  2. Do paid and organic search teams share data and prioritized initiatives?
  3. Is there a line of communication between content marketing and media relations efforts?
  4. At a more micro level: Do your media relations activities follow the guidelines for SEO best practices?
  5. Will your social media content include topics and target keywords you wish to rank for?

Questions like these will not only help identify potential synergies within internal teams but will also help secure visibility by having a more holistic marketing and communications plan.

A holistic search strategy that accounts for both paid and organic search efforts is no longer a “nice to have,” but a “need to have” as Google continues to make updates that merge the two together. For example, Google announced at 2023 Google Marketing Live that paid ads will be a part of the Search Generative Experience. In addition, Google is launching many conversational search elements to the Google Ads platform. This is exciting news for marketers and for co-optimization efforts. Why? Utilizing the paid platform’s conversation search elements like keyword creation, ad creation, and other campaign set-up types could be a good way to pressure test how Google views a website and how AI-powered results might be served organically. This means taking note while setting up a campaign of what Google is or is not recommending and using it to fuel wins and gaps in a brand’s content/SEO strategy.

4. Integrate non-traditional search vehicles into SEO efforts

From what we know about Gen Z’s searching habits, gaining positive search visibility today requires thinking outside the box and expanding past the focus on traditional search engines. With more and more time being spent searching in platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, developing a strategy that is well-positioned across various platforms will be critical to success. For marketers, this will likely include optimizing your brand’s online presence in a more comprehensive search ecosystem that includes not only answer engines but social platforms, too.

Ensuring your brand has positive visibility across the broader search ecosystem requires identifying both where your audiences search and where your content lives. When evaluating your brand’s presence within non-traditional search vehicles, ask yourself: Does your brand have an appropriate social presence? Is your existing content (posts, reels, video, etc.) optimized for maximum visibility? Keeping a close eye on changing search trends and maintaining content accordingly will go a long way in ensuring search and optimization efforts are just as effective today as they will be tomorrow.

What this means for marketers

As we look toward the future of search, marketers who wish to stay one step ahead must remain open to change and keep a close eye on the lessons of the past and present. In 2023 and beyond, a holistic search strategy should be used to help anchor marketing efforts as user behavior and technology continue to evolve the search landscape and shift where content is discovered.

Solidifying branded content, responding to the customer journey through relevant and helpful content, co-optimizing across all open marketing avenues, and expanding optimization efforts beyond traditional search engines should be considered the building blocks to developing a holistic search strategy that is future-proofed. But at the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is to pause and remind yourself that change does not happen in one day. Start small and focus first on optimizing your branded website content and understanding where your audience is searching today. From there, you can create optimization and content strategies to ensure content can be found throughout the user’s search journey. If you tackle priorities one by one, and keep one eye open for the next development in the world of search, you will secure positive visibility for your brand now and into the future.