The Machines Are Coming: AI and Google Search for Contractors

The Machines Are Coming: AI & Google Search for Contractors
Footbridge Media
Footbridge Media December 10, 2019

Over the last few weeks and months, Google has been making what many consider to be substantial algorithmic changes to organic and local search.

Touted as "neural matching," "bidirectional encoder representations from transformers," "natural language processing," or "artificial intelligence" search updates...these big words and high brow concepts look incredibly intimidating. And they are scaring the heck out of a lot of people.

Does that mean the robot uprising is upon us? Is Skynet here? Are the machines coming for us, starting with our Google search results?

A Not So New Concept

While the biggest splashes in the news as far as "AI" updates to Google have been felt more recently, this has been a long time coming process. Google (via a tweet from their Public Search Liason Danny Sullivan) had noted back in 2018 that it was starting with "neural matching" over 30% of search to try to understand better what users are trying to communicate when they Google something.

Again in 2018, the AI teams at Google (yes – they have a dedicated AI department) posted research on Deep Relevance which is related to improving basic search function based on the information itself and not the network around the information, i.e., ranking content on its own merit instead of what is linked to.

And again in 2018, the AI teams at Google were talking about BERT before the big October 2019 announcement.

The writing has been on the wall for a while that this was coming. My guess is that it was the likely next step to get a little more complex and more scalable method to determine content quality – a more consistent alternative to human "quality raters" working off of the "Search Quality Rating Guidelines."

Didn't They Already Have AI with "RankBrain" – What's the Difference?

BERT isn't the first bit of AI assistance around Google. Back in 2015, Google announced RankBrain, which helps to figure out concepts. Instead of having a major dependence on specific keyphrases or keywords, the idea behind RankBrain is that is it basically "understands" what you are talking about. It parses page content and determines the overall concept for your page.

This affects marketing and SEO in the sense that we assumed "over-optimization" would be a problem, and that we needed to speak a little more naturally in web content to help RankBrain understand what we were talking about without looking spammy.

For example, instead of saying "AC Repair" 10 times on a page, you'd want to talk about common AC repair problems, how to diagnose if you need AC repair services, discuss air conditioning ongoing care, etc. RankBrain determines what a page is all about to assess if a page is relevant to a particular search.

What Do I Have to Do About BERT and Neural Matching

BERT and Neural Matching are more about figuring out precisely what people are searching for. It tries to understand what your search really means. To oversimplify things, BERT and Neural Matching are trying to figure out context – the relationship between the words and phrases you are searching for.

For example, if you type in the word "kernel" into Google, you could be looking for lots of different things. If you say "corn kernel," you're clearly looking for something food-related. If you say "computer kernel," you're talking about tech and computer science. If you say "military kernel," you probably meant to say "Colonel."

The more Google understands about your search, the more likely it will get your search right the first time.

How Does This Affect Me And My Business?

More likely than not, if you are already doing your content and online marketing right, it won't affect you. With overall marketing and optimization, the goal is that you create a presence that people will find useful and relevant.

In that regard, the 2018+ AI updates do not impact your content. The update does impact users, and how they search – helping users to get to the result they are probably looking for.

For Organic Optimization – Continue to add useful content that helps to demonstrate your expertise and educates your customers as to who you are and what you do.

For Local Optimization – The same song and dance of NAP consistency and increased reviews remain the most effective ways for a contractor to actively assist in their local map pack presence.

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad AI

It is entirely understandable that people were taken aback by these updates. Being proactive (either with your own team or with a marketing partner like Footbridge Media that reviews and monitors for such changes) is the best response to these types of situations.

When you use optimization and marketing practices that are genuine and work within the ruleset, you usually don't need to make significant shifts in your practices when changes like this happen.

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