Most internet users use search engines three or more times per day, making it easy for search habits to quickly become ingrained. What do these habits look like? According to Teknicks survey, 67.9% of searchers use Google, 10.7% use Google Assistant, 9.8% use Siri, and 5.3% use Alexa.
In addition to preferring specific methods of search, users also tend to stick to first-page results. About 60% of users are satisfied or extremely satisfied with the first page, and most people would rather try a new search, source, or engine than go to the second page. In fact, more than 20% of users say they won’t scroll down to the bottom of the first page.
If users are so set in their ways, what is changing about search? In most cases, it’s the information users are seeking. Instead of using Google to answer simple questions with one-line answers (such as “What time is it in Paris?”), users are asking in-depth questions that they used to direct toward human experts. Recognising this, Google is working on an algorithm update called Multitask Unified Model (aka MUM) that could change search (and your work as a marketer) forever.
Moving into phase MUM
Using Google is like having access to every world expert at once, so it makes sense that the search giant is trying to tap into that potential. For example, say you are going fishing and want to learn more about catching bass. Right now, you might type “best lure to catch bass” into Google. But with MUM, you could ask “how to catch bass,” and Google would pull information about the best locations, season, lures, weather, and more.
What MUM does is look at multiple pieces of content. If Google can’t find an article that fits the query exactly, it’ll try to synthesise that answer from multiple sources rather than just the top-ranking page. In the bass query example, it will notice that geography and seasonal considerations are relevant, and it will use artificial intelligence and your IP address to figure out what you need to see as an individual searcher. After all, catching bass in New Jersey in October is way different than catching bass in Florida where it’s 90 degrees outside. MUM will consolidate data from across the globe to supply searchers with the most useful answer.
Translation takes centre stage
MUM is how Google will answer complex queries with more informative, nuanced, and human-like answers. The announcement explains that MUM is 1,000 times more powerful than its BERT predecessor. It can understand and produce language, allowing it to compile data from various sources instead of making users responsible for pulling it together. MUM can also work within 75 different languages, breaking down search barriers between different parts of the world to produce the most useful results.
As a marketer, you should try translating your best-performing content into other languages to take advantage of this. MUM can recognise a piece of content’s global value and “tag” it accordingly, classifying it as more authoritative. And the more credible and helpful your content is, the better your chances are of showing up in search results across the globe. Think about what markets your business reaches, and then prioritise languages from there. For example, if you’re based in the U.S. but draw a lot of Canadian customers, you could translate your content into French.
The death of affiliate marketing?
Because MUM will allow Google to deliver smarter search results, the display and affiliate marketing model is at risk of becoming less viable. Right now, ad space on websites that rank in the top ten for certain keywords is extremely coveted. Businesses pay for advertising spots on these websites in hopes of pulling from some of their traffic; it’s a traditional digital strategy. But Google’s MUM algorithm could potentially ignore the best-optimised pages in favour of alternatives with more valuable information. If MUM decreases the importance of page optimisation (and, through that, display and affiliate marketing), then marketers across the board will need to focus on creating great content.
Relying on spammy marketing won’t work after Google rolls out MUM. Rather, you’ll need to serve up high-quality images, video, text, etc. in order to earn a top spot. Pull data on your best-performing content to see what people are most interested in. Can you repackage the message for a different medium? For instance, could you make an infographic out of the data you compiled in a blog post? Doing so would net you traffic from visitors who are not only interested in written content, but also visual. Remember: This will only work if you have great content that adds value. Poor writing and over communicated ideas won’t cut it.
The future of search
Google has already flexed MUM’s capabilities to identify more than 800 keywords related to COVID-19 vaccines across more than 50 languages. It’s a highly specific use case but valuable to the people relying on the search engine for the latest, most trustworthy information. As MUM is trained and optimised, user search habits will evolve based on Google’s new capabilities. Marketers will need to adjust by producing content focused on quality over keywords and working to capture their audience’s attention.
For the purpose of this article, let’s put SEO tasks into two categories: creative work and research. The creative tasks, such as content creation and strategy, require a human touch. But the latter are easier to automate. Because you’ll need to focus on creative work even more after MUM rolls out, consider investing in software to help lighten your other responsibilities. It takes a lot of time research keywords, topics, and competitors and put together detailed reports. If you can skip the footwork and secure better recommendations, optimisations, and reporting capabilities, you’ll have more capacity for content-related tasks.
Google used to find single answers to specific questions, but those questions are becoming more complex. With the incoming rollout of MUM, search could become entirely different – a method that compiles the best information available from disparate sources around the world. When users can ask more complex questions, Google will only become a more critical part of our daily lives.