The Top 5 SEO Trends to Watch in 2019

The Top 5 SEO Trends to Watch in 2019

Conversational AI at the center of your content strategy!

2019 will be the year of voice search. This article explores how conversational AI and voice queries are driving the top SEO trends for this year.

What are the top trends for SEO in 2019?

The trends for SEO in 2019, one way or another, are linked with the growth of conversational AI, voice queries and the emergence of knowledge graphs. Here are the top 5 trends you need to watch in 2019:

👉 1. Conversational user intents and long-tail keywords
👉 2. Featured snippets and answer boxes
👉 3. Structured data and knowledge graphs
👉 4. Google News Optimization and Content Discovery
👉 5. Technical SEO for less complicated and faster websites

We’re already living in a world where 13% of Google searches are voice queries (here is a good article to read by Rebecca Sentance on what the future of voice search holds for us). The very enthusiastic supporters of the voice search bandwagon might even say that by 2020 one every two searches will come from voice but predictions, as we know, are very hard to make especially in the marketing world.

What we have seen for sure in 2018 is that voice search is shaping the entire SEO industry. As SEO Expert Aleyda Solis pointed out recently, voice search is driving “a bigger shift”, from specific “results” to “answers” that become part of a continuous “conversational search journey”.

Artificial Intelligence, though, is the real enabler behind this transition. It was back in December 2016 when, Andrew NG Chief Scientist at Baidu at the time, predicted that speech-recognition accuracy going from 95% to 99%, would have moved the needle in terms of mass adoption of voice interfaces.

As of today machine learning and semantic networks are being constantly used to provide a personalised user experience across a multitude of channels, to guide the user across different tasks (from driving directions, to cooking, from podcast discovery to news reading and “listening”) and to help us find what matters the most.

In 2018 we witnessed knowledge graphs entering the Gartner hype cycle as emergent technology forming the bridge between humans, knowledge and conversational AI. In 2018 not only researchers and universities, but also industry companies have been heavily investing in knowledge graphs and not only Amazon with its product graph, Facebook with the Graph API, IBM with Watson, Microsoft with Satori and Google with its own Knowledge Graph but also Internet startups like Airbnb, Zalando and many others have committed resources for the creation of functional knowledge graphs meant to support general-purpose reasoning, inference and above all an improved search experience.

In conclusion, we don’t expect the entire world to shift to voice but we can predict that conversational AI and a combination of voice and touch interactions will drive SEO in 2019.

In 2019 SEOs and marketers have to prepare for a more human-driven and conversational web. Voice search will not disrupt every business but it is a driving force in the entire content marketing sector. The 2019 trends for SEO, one way or another, are linked with the growth of conversational AI and the emergence of knowledge graphs.

1. Conversational user intents and long-tail keywords

Focusing on the user intent is going to be strategic. We expect that the user search intents will be likely expressed in a more advanced range of sophisticated conversational queries. Focusing on long-tail keywords that target a specific user (in a specific context) will be simpler (and wiser in most cases) than going after a broad keyword.

When and if, we decide to go broad and to target a more general intent (ie. “business model“) we shall provide enough structure (and data) to help users (and machines) find the winning answer by further refining the initial request as if they were having a dialogue with the website (“Are you interested in the business model of Apple or of a startup?“).

Imagine preparing content as if the user would be always asking their questions to a Google Home or another voice-first device. We need to prepare all the possible answers that a conversation around that topic might trigger. We need to guide the user from the initial request to a deeper discovery of the available content and we need to match the format the user is looking for (some might like to activate a video, while others might prefer a long-format article).   

2. Featured snippets and answer boxes

As a result of the information overload, and due to the growth of queries carried out via smart speakers (statistics talk about 26.4 million daily voice queries) machines will constantly need to sum up a vast amount of information, find what is really relevant for us and provide a decent speakable version of our content. While parsing language remains one of the grand challenges of artificial intelligence good results are today being achieved by Google Featured Snippets, Bing Expanded Answer and the alike. Visibility across the SERP and throughout the AI-first user experience is very much dependent on answer boxes and featured snippets. Once again, this is currently an aspect of SEO that involves mobile as well as the desktop but it is fueled by the growth of conversational AI. We shall prepare content that can be easily summarised and read aloud; we also need to leverage on structured data to help machines disambiguate the context and to support the meaningful summarization of it.

3. Structured data and knowledge graphs

Linked data, knowledge graphs and schema markup helps us connect content with a specific search intent using usage patterns that are now embedded in the search experience. A vast variety of Google SERP features are already dependent on structured data and more will come in 2019. Here below a quick overview highlighting in blue the SERP features that are linked with the use of structured data.

Google Search Features powered by Structured Data

Google Search Features (the original list is from BrightEdge) in blue items that have some connection with schema markup.

Structured data is foundational in the conversational era as it provides well-defined information for a wide range of encoded user intents. Machine learning needs to be trained across a vast amount of semantically relevant datasets. This is true for commercial search engines, for smart assistants and for our own internal user experience – once again our website needs to become capable of answering to specific intents by guiding the user where it matters the most.

When was Andrea Volpini born?

Knowledge Graph Entities are being used by the Google Assistant for answering simple questions.

4. Google News optimization and content discovery

Pre-emptive knowledge delivery and content discovery have been a trend for a few years now. This basically means helping users discover content in a serendipitous way and without searching for. In September 2018 Google introduced the Google feedto surface relevant content […], even when you’re not searching for”.

Being able to predict the information need in a queryless way is a major focus in Google’s future of Search and it will be strategic for all major consumer brands (Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple). If we focus on Google alone we can see that, content being proposed in Google Discover is made of three types: youtube videos and fresh visual content, evergreen content like recipes and news articles. As we have seen in the checklist to optimize for Google Top Stories being present in Google News has become an important asset since the explosion of the fake news scandal (Google News content represent a selection of somehow validated and authoritative content that Google – and other players – can trust). While not all websites are eligible for Google News, if you are producing fresh content for your industry this is definitely a time to consider Google News as a new distribution channel. This becomes even more strategic these days since Google announced an upcoming voice-driven version of Google News for the Google Assistant.


5. Technical SEO for less complicated and faster websites

In 20 years we failed in building a simpler Web. Websites are becoming more and more complicated with an endless number of (sometimes useless) routines that run every time a browser hits the first page. I am not going to get into the topic but there is a brilliant article that you should read to learn about the importance of simplicity and why (the article is titled The Bullshit Web and is by Nick Heer a front-end developer from Canada) we now have to invest on technical SEO. Once again the key aspect in technical SEO – in relation with the conversation AI – is speed.

As highlighted in a study done this year by Backlinko – content that is brought into the Google Assistant is only the content that renders super fast.      

A Voice Search study by Backlinko

A Voice Search study by Backlinko on the importance of page speed.

Page Speed has effectively become a mobile ranking factor as announced by Google this last July and will continue to impact on SERP features (featured snippets, top stories etc.)  and voice search in 2019. Another major aspect that we expect to keep on driving organic growth is the support for Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Search in 2019, besides these key 5 trends, will be once again about building relationships, providing valuable answers to people needs and keeping the audience at the very center of the content strategy.

By creating exceptional content and using artificial intelligence tools for SEO you will keep your website ahead of the curve!

Still have a question? Want to go in-depth with more insights and tips? Book a call with us and get ready to dominate SEO in 2019!

Bing launches new AI-driven Intelligent Search Features

Bing launches new AI-driven Intelligent Search Features

Bing is starting to provide, across the world, a brand new Intelligent Search features for its SERP, powered by AI, to provide immediate answers with a new and comprehensive look and feel. In this article we’re presenting few tests of the new search capabilities and some guidelines on how to improve the visibility of your content on Bing.

Bing, with the help of machine reading-comprehension and deep neural networks, is aggregating facts from well-known data sources to provide end-users with enough confidence on the information being displayed on its search results.

Let’s start with an example based on a super simple Ego Search about myself. This panel has been around for sometimes in the US but it is now richer and it can be accessed also (when the language is set to English) from other countries.

In this specific example, the data is sourced from LinkedIn, Crunchbase and the good old Freebase. Now these are exactly the same webpages (and the datasets in the case of Freebase) that I reference in the entity about myself that is used to annotate articles on this blog. This is why, I assume that Bing, is using structured data to detect relevant data sources around entities.

Knowledge Panels 

Here is how Bing can help you boost your personal branding  

Here is how Bing can help your customers find out more about your company 

Below the knowledge panel that Bing has created around the entity WordLift.

Instant Answers

Bing is using a machine reading comprehension technology, backed by what they call Project Brainwave, to generate the equivalent of Google’s Featured Snippets by analyzing billions of web pages to provide users with the answer they are looking for.

Let’s try with a couple of queries to see what Bing knows about WordLift. Let’s ask in the first place – “What is WordLift?” 

Instant Answer on Bing - What is WordLift

Instant Answer on Bing for “What is WordLift?”

…and then let’s get even more specific with a query like “What is an entity in WordLift?”  As you can see, results – on these very narrow queries – are indeed very impressive!

Instant Answer Bing - What is an entity in WordLift

Instant Answer on Bing for “What is an entity in WordLift?

More helpful in understanding facts about the world

Bing is also providing more ways to read facts about the world. We saw in December last year the new Perspectives Answer Box around highly debated topics like Coffee as well the new Question & Answer panel.

Now, as announced by Bing a few days ago, answer boxes also feature a descriptive tooltip for complex terms that appear in the text of the answer. Have a look at the example below where the term “Liter” is explained when highlighting the word “microliter”.

Intelligent image search

A lot has been done also to improve the image search of Bing that now uses a built-in object detection algorithm or let the user pick up a specific detail of the image with a manual crop. This really makes images way more interactive. See below an example of a photo where Bing is highlighting the two subjects.

The automatic object detection of Bing for images

The automatic object detection of Bing for images

2018 is definitely the year when publishing data becomes a business imperative as search engines become truly capable of providing direct answers rather than a set of web results. In this context, Bing is bringing significant innovations in the search industry by leveraging on machine reading-comprehension and deep neural networks.


Needless to say we’re particularly keen on following how search engines are starting to use artificial intelligence and how semantic rich structured data help them improve their services and in return, can help publishers improve their online visibility.

Read the full history of the SERP to learn how search engines had become capable of answering questions using natural language.

How to optimize your content for Bing’s Intelligent Search Features

Now let’s have a look at what we learned from these experiments to help you get the best out of Bing’s latest update.

1. Start using Bing Webmaster tool

It has been significantly improved and there is a lot that you can do to ensure proper indexation from Bing, to measure search traffic and even to improve the user experience on your website by using Bing-powered interactive widgets. Bing, with these widgets, works quite similarly like WordLift. It uses NLP to analyze the content of your webpage and adds an interactive widget using data from its graph. It’s a ground breaking feature and I’ll get deeper on it in the next blog post. For the time being you can preview it by visiting this example webpage.

2. Curate your entities

In the web of data, information is scattered across multiple websites and it can be analyzed and reconciled to provide a more comprehensive overview of a person, a company or a product. By curating your profile on LinkedIn, for instance, or on trusted websites like Crunchbase, GitHub or Stackoverflow you are actually publishing relevant data that Bing can effectively re-use in its knowledge panel.

3. Use structured data to help Bing reconcile content with data

As seen in these initial experiments we’re conquering a significant estate on personal keywords, branded keywords as well as questions related to our product. As algorithms start to analyze more in details the content that you have published using linked metadata and the schema.org vocabulary you can help search engines properly disambiguate these entities to find relevant information across multiple data sources and websites. By publishing articles under my name with a direct reference – in the metadata of these articles – to my LinkedIn profile I am helping Bing (and the other semantic search engines) reconcile and connect the content I write with the data that describes me.

Remain up to date with the latest news from Microsoft by visiting windowsreport.com.

Try WordLift for FREE and get in touch to improve the search visibility of your website!

Bing has confirmed to use the JSON-LD Schema markup

Bing has confirmed to use the JSON-LD Schema markup

While in the official documentation of Bing still appears as if they prefer more Microdata and RDFa formats, Bing has now confirmed that:

  • they are using JSON-LD to interpret and analyze web pages
  • they are preparing a verification tool to help webmasters check the schema.org markup that will also support the JSON-LD format

Bing has been a founding member of the schema.org initiative along with Google, Yandex, and Yahoo! to help webmaster markup their content using a shared data schema.

We’ve been intercepting and sharing, along with other Semantic SEO lovers, the following tweet from Jon Henshaw, Senior SEO analyst for CBS Interactive:

And today the confirmation arrived also from Christi Olson Head of Evangelism at Bing via @MichelleRobbins who published an article on .

 

“Yes, Bing does support JSON-LD.” Christi said.

What is schema markup?

Schema markup is metadata that you add to your website to help search engines provide more informative results for their users.

Before the arrival of schema.org back in 2011 (the initiative started in June and Yandex joined in November of the same year), there were way too many standards for marking up different types of content on web pages. While the variety of different vocabulary still exists and it is of a great value for the scientific, the academic and the librarian communities it was of little or no help for commercial search engines.

As a result of the diversity of languages, it was difficult for webmasters to decide on the most relevant and supported markup standards to use.

Creating a schema shared and supported by all the major search engines made it very easy for webmasters to add markup, and in return made it easier for search engines to create a better user experience for their users (with all different sort of enriched results, knowledge panels and other semantic powered goodies of the SERP).

Hey Google! How are people using smart speakers?

Hey Google! How are people using smart speakers?

The rise of a new market

In late 2014, Amazon launched Amazon Echo, a voice-activated speaker powered by the artificial intelligence of Alexa. With this move, the e-commerce giant launched a brand new category of products, the smart speakers.

It took two years to Google to follow Amazon, releasing Google Home in October 2016.

Two more years later, in 2018, the market of smart speakers is growing fast and many new players have entered the market. Just to name a few, Soros launched One, powered by Alexa, and Apple launched the Siri controlled Homepad.

Nowadays, according to a study by NPR and Edison Research16 percent of Americans own a smart speaker. We are talking about around 39 million people in the USA only. A recent study from Juniper Research forecasts that voice-activated speakers will be installed in over 70 million U.S. households by 2022, reaching 55% of all homes.

How you can use voice-activated speakers

From playing a playlist to more complicated tasks such as setting an alarm or a timer or even booking an Uber ride, smart speakers entered into our homes and offices as digital butlers, ready to assist us in – almost – everything we need.

They can be extremely functional when they help us interact with smart home devices and appliances, but they can also become funny, telling a joke on command and challenging the entire family with games.

Their main purpose is to assist you with voice search and help you access to many kinds of content from websites to audio books and music. Each smart speaker has slightly different functions and can interact with a certain range of third-party applications.

Are smart speakers becoming a habit?

Smart speakers are replacing traditional media for family entertainment. 30% of users say that they spent less time in front of the tv and more time playing with their favorite voice-activated artificial intelligence.

Moreover, as people get used to the robotic voices of smart speakers, they interact more often with their voice assistants in their smartphones. For 44% of the users interviewed by NPR and Edison Research, smart speakers trigger the use of other voice-activated assistants.

People are becoming accustomed to smart speakers, putting them in the very heart of their homes.

In the infographic below, based on Google‘s data, you are going to find out how smart speakers are used, how this technology affects online shopping and consumes, and what kind of relation do users have with this technology.

It’s not a surprise that voice search queries resemble natural language more than web search queries, but you may find intriguing that so many people feel like they are talking with a friend.

Is Gartner research right when it states that in 2020 we are going to talk more often with virtual assistants than with our partners? 😅

Smart Speakers - Infographic

Content writing and voice-activated devices

If you are a web writer and you are trying to figure out how voice technologies are going to impact on your content follow Teodora Petkova’s webinar on how you can engage your readers on screenless devices. Enjoy!

Top trends for SEO in 2018

Top trends for SEO in 2018

As we approach the end of 2017, it’s time to prepare your digital marketing team for the year ahead and look at the emerging trends that will rule the search world in 2018.

This is a summary I’ve created with bullet-proof strategies and tested practices that I’ve gathered from the gurus of the SEO industry after attending as a speaker at SMXL Milan 2017. If you, like me, want to make a real difference in 2018 with SEO, this blog post is for you.

What are the top trends for SEO in 2018?

There are a number of aspects in the world of content findability that we have successfully tested in 2017 and that will become even more prominent in 2018. Let’s have a close look at  the top 5:

👉  1. Structured Data and Semantics
👉  2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
👉  3. Mobile-first index, Accelerated Mobile Pages and Progressive Web Apps
👉  4. Search is Everywhere
👉  5. Voice search, chatbots and personal assistant search optimization

1. Structured Data and Semantics

This November at PubCom Gary Illyes from Google confirmed that semantic markup is used, way beyond the search snippets, to better index your website and to rank content in Google’s search result pages.

“add structure data to your pages because during indexing, we will be able to better understand what your site is about.”

More interestingly Gary suggested to go beyond the markup recommended by Google on their developers guides for semantic markup.

“and don’t just think about the structured data that we documented on developers.google.com. Think about any schema.org schema that you could use on your pages. It will help us understand your pages better, and indirectly, it leads to better ranks in some sense, because we can rank easier.”

Here is all you need to know about schema.org markup and how to use it to organically grow the traffic on your website. The talks from Richard Wallis, Martha van Berkel and… myself 😎  are a great starting point to learn what is schema.org markup and how you can use it on your website to improve engagement metrics, CTR and a lot more (from semantic analytics to building your own chatbot).

As Google anticipated already, we also expect to see the implementation of schema.org markup in different areas of the content industry. The Trust Project is a clear example of news organizations and tech giants like Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter converging on schema.org to markup high quality news and implement fact checking with semantic markup.

Another area of development for schema.org in 2018 is the implementation of Blockchain ID for schema:Person and Blockchain certificates that can enable innovative new ways to do SEO and to share value in the publishing sector.

You might have noticed that Bitcoin is continuing to grow in terms of adoption. What you might have missed, is that, most importantly, its underlying technology called blockchain (a digital ledger that transparently stores any value transactions in a peer-to-peer network) can have a huge impact on how value is re-distributed between search marketing agencies, content producers, website owners and advertisers.

New business models can arise by the implementation of smart contract agreements. In the publishing sector, we’ve seen already in 2017 platforms like Steem – a blockchain-based rewards social networks that monetizes content – using their own cryptocurrency (BitCoin compatible) and other initiatives that could greatly benefit from a broader adoption of Blockchain technologies.

While to this point there are only proposals to add Blockchain ID to schema.org, work has been in progress in the past months and this can really disrupt both the search engine marketing industry and digital advertising.

2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

A lot of the discussion on how AI is transforming SEO really has to do with RankBrain and other machine learning algorithms that are impacting how content is prioritized over Google search results — but also on the Facebook news stream, as well as Twitter search results. All these changes boiled down to three aspects:

  1. UX is king. Machines tend to prioritize content that is considered more engaging for the end users. To do so, they need to better understand and disambiguate content (and we’re back to the importance of schema.org and semantic SEO techniques) and to analyze the user behaviours by looking at metrics such as the dwell time (this is really how much time the user is spending on your page). RankBrain is an example here. This newly introduced algorithm, now considered the third most important ranking factor, takes in great consideration the time a user spends on your page. Google Senior Fellow Jeff Dean recently explained that the dwell time is when:
    “someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, before going back to the search results page”
    There are also now interesting studies documenting the dwell time and the correlation with rankings (see for instance an industry report from Search Metrics). On average, for a top 10 Google result, the dwell time is 3 minutes and 10 seconds. This is quite a lot of time if you compare it with the average time spent on a page and it’s clear that if a reader engages on a piece of content for so long, it’s most likely that he or she likes the page and finds it informative enough for that specific search intent.
  2. Click-Through-Rate is Queen. Just like dwell time, CTR is one of those metrics that computers can use to prioritize your content. This is true for organic search results as well as for paid advertising. When a user clicks on a content it means that he or she thinks that this content is good. When many users click on a page, above-average CTR for that query (yes, CTR is very relative), the content gets boosted and will stick to the top. This is particularly true nowadays on Google when advertising, featured snippets and knowledge panels make it very hard for a user to land on a webpage and… in 2018 this is just going to get worst.The real interpreter of CTR is Larry Kim and his advice on creating Unicorn content. Larry has been analyzing the polarization of CTR in organic search as well as in social streams and his marketing strategies are a must read for every digital marketers in 2018. Read it up from this article on Medium.What's a good CTR for organic search?
  3. Data is the new oil in SEO. As machines get smarter (or dumber in some cases), marketers need to adjust and from traditional SEO techniques need to move into the realm of digital marketing. From analyzing the correlation between the indexing of your website from Google with your social activity to using machine-learning to prioritize backlinks opportunities the so called “Modern SEO” is all about data.

Michael KingI had the pleasure of meeting in real life, during SMXL Milan 2017, Michael King (iPullRank on Twitter) and his deck on Modern SEO is your definite guide to become a data ninja in the search engine world.

3. Mobile-first index, Accelerated Mobile Pages and Progressive Web Apps

Speed gets bigger and bigger. Having a super fast mobile website in 2018 is not going to be an option but a key technical requirement for SEO. With Google that is about to deploy worldwide its mobile-first index optimizing the user experience on mobile devices is becoming crucial.

Remember that already 57% of the web traffic is coming from mobile devices as a recent report from BrightEdge announced a few months ago.

In mobile search, few factors really affect search rankings: a) context of the search intent (here once again, structured data helps) and b) accessibility of the content (this really means the speed at which the user perceives your content).

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages has been, in 2017 one of the most debatable web technologies, but, again, in a lot of cases, you cannot live without it. Believe me. Users reading Google AMP pages are spending 35 percent more time on average than users accessing standard mobile web pages. We’ve celebrated two years since the launch of the AMP project and in 2018 AMP will definitely get bigger.

If you want to master AMP and if your website is not already blazing fast do yourself a favor and study the precious advices of Aleyda Solìs on when and how to implement AMP on your website.

Britney Muller

In the technical SEO space there is a lot going on and a good start is to focus on the three principles of positional SEO by Britney Muller SEO & Content Architect at MOZ:

Start learning about Progressive Web Applications and all the tactics that Britney shared in her latest keynote 👇

Also read very carefully the slide deck of Nichola Stott (co-founder of Erudite): “Fast is the Only Speed” – on how to make the Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool follow in love with your website.

And remember – as Google points out – that 53% of your users will abandon your website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load!

4. Search is Everywhere

Think outside of the (search) box

Really the best way to find out how search marketing is evolving is to dedicate some time following the advices of Rand Fishkin who literally created this industry a long time ago. Meeting Rand at SMXL Milan 2017 has been truly inspirational.

In the year of the Russian Hacking and Influencing the US Election, Rand had the courage to start his talk on cultural biases and gender inequality.

Yes this is also SEO and it’s worth your attention.

As a pure AI-first approach moves forward and it gets harder and harder to gain organic visibility on search results, marketers need to revamp their digital strategies and look with new eyes to threats and opportunities.

Here is the deck on Cultural Conditioning by Rand Fishkin.

5. Voice search, chatbots and personal assistant search optimization

Last but not least we need to focus on voice ready content, voice search and personal assistant search optimization. Bing in 2017 has already introduced chatbots in their enriched organic search result as well as in paid results and will continue to make it easier for consumer to bypass websites and to hook directly to smart digital assistants and chatbots.

Few steps that you can follow can really help you build voice-ready content that engage your audience:

  1. optimize content for featured snippets,
  2. keep the focus on long tail conversational keywords,
  3. include question and answers in your content,
  4. use entities – structuring content using entity extraction can help search engines and chatbots designers effectively re-use your content within their conversational experiences.

Purna Virji, from Bing, is by far one of the most influential SEO experts in the emerging voice search arena and definitely there is so much to learn from her (including her views on marriage).

Chatbots in 2020

I have been happily coding and experimenting with both voice search and conversational UIs driven by semantically structured content and I foresee emerging techniques to do SEO in 2018 that specifically promotes ‘intents’ (what users ask to personal assistants) and help you analyze conversation metrics (a new area of analytics whose goal is to let you improve your own chatbot by reporting on previous interactions).

Here is an example of how I turned our website into a chatbot and how I plan to make your websites talk in 2018.

It’s been a real pleasure to spend these two days in Milan, learning and sharing knowledge with SEO world-class experts.

Adam Lynch, CMO from our close partner WooRank, was as excited as I was, and here is his final wrap-up for 2018:

It is clear that 2018 is going to be a seminal year for SEO.

The progression towards a customer centric approach and the focus on structured data as a way to achieve this will impact us all. We will have to be relentlessly focussed on the creation of user focussed, high-quality and semantically structured content to stand out from our competition.

I strongly believe the structuring and analysis of this data will become a day-to-day part of an SEO’s job…

Crafting Texts in the Age of Fragmented Reader Experience

Crafting Texts in the Age of Fragmented Reader Experience

Entering the realm of cyberspace, reading and writing change, changing us and the way we perceive text. New modes of interacting with the written word emerge and further exist in brand new environments, across brand new digital surfaces and spaces.

Given the bursts of thoughts and meaning exchange in the digital world, we as writers, are challenged to rethink reader experience and from there find answers to questions like: how can we write differently to meet our readers? where are we to meet our readers?

The answer to each of the questions lies in thoroughly examining and understanding the moving parts of a fragmented, multi-channel reality. One of the rapidly unfolding narratives and living intertextuality. One where our readers are constantly distracted by notifications and have increasingly shrinking attention spans. A reality where content needs growing at electric speed.

Talking about the fragmented reader’s experience,
the index below can help you navigate through this article.
Cool, uh?



Just click colored rectangle besides the names of the paragraphs on the left to skip to those passages, or click the ones besides the entities on the right to better understand the main concepts behind this article.

Readers and Writers: A Life in Fragments

Deconstructing the fragmented nature of today’s reader experience is key to crafting texts that will connect us to audiences in a meaningful way. And the nature of today’s reader very much resembles what Seneca described in one of his Moral Letters to Lucilius – On discursiveness in reading:

…reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.

The full text is available at II. On Discursiveness in Reading

Further, the letter continues with Seneca arguing that ”eating” too much of a knowledge is “cloying the consumer rather that nourishing them”.

Similarly, a reader’s experience with digital media, mostly the Web-based one, more often than not appears to be “devouring” bits and pieces of fragmented content – a headline from Youtube here, a Facebook share from there, a piece of a Kindle book and a bit of a pdf, sent from a friend.

Acknowledging the essence of such reader’s experience can give us perspectives and understandings that will help us see and foresee what role our texts might play in such a fragmented environment. As writers, we are tasked to find the common thread in this cornucopia of content and present it to our readers giving them real food for thought and deep thinking. For time well-spent is one of the most valuable experience we can enrich the life of a reader with.

“The story of a shattered life can be told only in bits and pieces”, quotes Rilke, philosopher Zigmund Bauman.

In cyberspace, our texts reach readers converging before their eyes in all possible shapes and forms, surfaced and discovered in all conceivable ways. That is why the texts we write are (or should be) like a kaleidoscopic mosaic, made of various chunks. Chunks that can live separately without looking as if they are not part of our narrative. Such kaleidoscope-like approach, where content pieces are designed as to be brought together and form any picture before the reader, is radiant with possibilities for readers and writers alike.

Text on the Web: A Glorious Symphony of Interconnected Ideas, People and Things

On the Web, texts break boundaries and build networks, as glorious symphony of connected ideas, people and things. Our job as writers, diligently meeting our audience’s needs, is to orchestrate this symphony – with our imagination and with a baton made of technology.

Mixed with the right tools, our creativity would allow us to connect on as many levels as possible. For, remember, in a fragmented reader’s reality we are tasked with finding that common thread that will help the person on the other side of the text see clearly through the noise. We should also keep in mind that in a multimodal interaction with our readers we are not only content creators but to also content curators: we need to be able to assemble meaningfully bits and pieces of texts across social media, email communication, forums and other digital spaces.

To sum up, to orchestrate a good symphony, we need to:

  • find out what algorithmic audiences are all about (how and why they read us)
    seek to create a binding thread across devices, platforms and interactive systems through our writing.

We can accomplish both with a single conceptual shot: if we allow ourselves to conceive of texts outside the website boundaries, that is to think of texts within the context of application, a personal assistant, a chatbot, a voice search environment.

The Curious Case of the Networked Text in a Fragmented Reality

It is only when we as writers recognize and accept that we build worlds of words in an environment that pushes the limits of the written word outside the screen, that our messages will be able to make it to our recipients – on the other side of a screen or through the still awkwardly sounding robo voice of a personal assistant, the algorithms of which have just calculated the best answer for the user.

Impressive problem solvers, algorithms have been around since Ancient times. The oldest algorithm, being the one of Euclides (a method for finding the greatest common divider), as Marcus du Sautoy explains in his wonderful movie: The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms.

Very simply put, algorithms are “a set of defined steps to produce particular outputs”.

Algorithms search, collate, sort, categorise, group, match, analyse, profile, model, simulate, visualise and regulate people, processes and places. They shape how we understand the world and they do work in and make the world through their execution as software, with profound consequences.

Thinking critically about and researching algorithms

That explained, algorithmic audiences are the audiences of various programs that consists of algorithms reading your text in various ways, for a number of reasons – to analyze them, to search through them, to process them and feed them in a larger system. And before we slip into the utopian future of a your vacuum robot reading for pleasure in their spare time, and you thinking about the best text to please it, let me brace you with this first understanding: algorithmic audiences are important and knowing about them will give you a valuable perspective. On one hand it is the human to human interaction that algorithms ultimately serve, on the other, they are still far from being true readers.

The melons
I scolded him about last year,
I now offer to his spirit.
Oemaru (Blyth 1982)

[…] this spare and lovely haiku, can we even say for sure what it tells us? So evocative to a person, surely an eternity will pass before a computer can extract its essence. Let’s try something else.
This haiku was written by Oemaru (a Japanese person), was translated by R.h. Blyth (a British person), and appears on page 763 in Blyth (1982). Which is volume three of a set of books entitled Haiku. […]

Yes, this is more like it. We can represent this kind of information to a computer – specific bits and pieces about something definite.

Thomas B. Passin, Explorer’s Guide to the Semantic Web

As you can see, algorithmic audiences are nothing more than programs designed to make sense, to the extent possible, of our texts in order to better classify, distribute and serve them. Actually, algorithms can be also very helpful when creating content, as Andrea calls them (see WordLift for Digital Publishers and how to create an Open Database of Knowledge), the can be Our New Colleagues simply because they can interpret data and turn it into meaningful content.

And when a substantial part of our work gets algorithmic helpers, i.e. gets automated, we will have the time and mind space to envisage new ways of interacting with our readers, and connecting with them through the power of words. For the courage of creation and the spirit of imagination will never be a question of automation.

And this leads us to the second understanding I want to brace you with: the understanding of the value and the importance of a narrative.

Electronic text is connected on many levels, it is literally a networked text. With its hyperlinks and the openness it exists within it has the potential to give the reader the full benefits of the digital experience. Among the most prominent from these benefits is the benefit of interconnectedness. On the Web, a text is to be connected to as many parts of its story: to related facts, to contextual details, to a network of ideas, people and to the other texts it is made of and exists in. It is to be a network itself. When it serves as a hub for all kind of related media, it also serves the purpose of being a part of a narrative, while simultaneously providing new experiences, new ways of interaction, new ways of content discovery.

The Web Hitchhikers Guide to Thinking, Reading and Writing

To successfully create and nourish our relationships with our readers, hitchhiking, exploring and making the Web a better place to read in, we need to ask ourselves: What we can do for our readers to make their experiences rich and fulfilling?

Take voice search, for example. A growing number of our readers are accessing websites via Google’s voice search. So, there are a number of things we can do to make our texts suitable to be listened to.

As you might have experienced already for yourself text is being increasingly rendered the form of an answer when searched for in Google. So, here, the implications for us as web authors are clear. We are to aim for:

Clarity: Nothing new here. When writing content for the so-called informational searches, we are to use concise, neutral language and to straightforwardly answer questions. There’s no need for verbosity, what the user needs is as much information packed in one sentence as possible.
Reimagined interaction: This is where we need to imagine possible environments. We are to think about the most important information that a user would need to hear or see and the context they are going to be served that information in.
Narratives built of content chunks: We need to be fusionists here. We are to be able to very well combine a text with other content pieces that we believe will best serve the content need of the user.

For more practicalities, make sure to check Silvia’s 5-step checklist to write effective content for voice search.

And now, the hardest part, I am unwilling to skip: how do you write facts in a beautiful, engaging way. How do we combine them with the creative flow of our text, ultimately how do we present something dry in an immersive way?

Fortunately, I don’t know!

The answers to all of these questions are a matter of your own thoughts, feelings, your own “sequence of decisions”, your own intuition, and your own experience. It is up to you to envisage the interaction with the reader and craft the most appropriate piece to serve, delight and inspire them.

What I know is that passion, imagination and the need to express yourself and connect with your readers will never be a question of algorithms or technology. They will always be a question of the web hitchhiker’s hunch.

And Now, Writers, Please Step Up to the Screenless World of Your Readers

As revolutionary and novel this title may sound, I want to remind you something: solitary reading has not always been the primary way of “consuming” a text. Back in Ancient times there were “readers” that read the text from a scroll to an audience. They did not have the neutral voice of the Kindle reader, reading you your ebook or the “faculty” to search through text as fast as Google Voice Search, but they did have a similar role: to be a kind of a medium in this amazing process in which “we come to know a little more about the world and about ourselves to us individually, far away, and long ago”, as Alberto Manguel puts it in the preface of his book A History of Reading.

My point here is that no matter the medium our text reaches our readers through, be it a screenless environment or another “shiny object”, what counts is that we as writers are to be well-versed in this medium and at the same time not to be blinded by its features. We are to only use it as yet another vehicle for our writings to reach our audiences through the highway called intertwingularity.

We are to just keep doing what we’ve always done – weave webs of words, knowing that our message today is amplified on an unprecedented scale and in today’s culture the fragmented reader experience is the yin of shared understanding and our networked texts are its yan.

Wanna learn more? Join Teodora’s class!

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In this free webinar Teodora Petkova will teach you how to craft effective copy that will:

  • Bring more traffic to your website
  • Create an immersive experience for your readers
  • Connect ideas and people together.

Enjoy it!

 

Teodora Petkova is a philologist and a freelance content writer with an educational background is in Classical Studies and Creative Writing. She helps companies with content creation, writing for their blogs. Enthusiast user of WordLift, she wrote an inspiring, beautiful article about her interdisciplinary journey to structure her knowledge graph using our WordPress plugin on her blog.

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