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The End of SEO as We Know It

Meet Siri. She'll write your emails, check the weather, update your calendar"and potentially disrupt the way future customers find your business.

One of my kids snags every new iPhone. He has a 4S and has been playing with Siri almost nonstop.

As a result I've learned two things:

First, listening to incessant chatter between another person and their "personal assistant" is irritating for the third wheel.

And second, Siri, and the tools and apps to follow from Apple and later from third-party developers, will forever change what we see as "traditional" SEO.

Skeptical? Before I explain why, let's get something out of the way.

Siri is a voice recognition app, but voice recognition is just the underlying tool that drives the app. Even though it does appear to work better than other voice recognition software, the key to Siri is what it does with the voice it recognizes: It can update your calendar, check the weather, set reminders, play music, and write and send emails and texts, etc.

My kid already uses Siri to send most of his texts and emails (except when he's in school; there he still uses the "hands under the desk while pretending to listen attentively" move perfected by students everywhere.)

Overcoming the initial use threshold meant he quickly started using Siri to do more things. Now he doesn't open as many apps since Siri chooses which app, service, or site will best handle the task he wants to complete. The result is a ripple effect where SIri will increasingly replace his use of apps and tools—including the likelihood he'll open a browser window and search using Google or Yahoo or Bing.

Does that mean the search engines are in trouble? Not really. Over time much of the data users access will still come from search engines. Siri doesn't use Google results, but similar Android-based tools obviously will. And Google will certainly adapt to changing user behaviors.

But what it does mean is that your current SEO strategies will have to adapt and change as well. For example, Siri and similar apps to come:

  • Will often bypass search altogether. Ask Siri to "find the closest Italian restaurant" and the result is based on your current location and data from Yelp. Clawing your SEO way to the top spot on Google for "Philadelphia Italian restaurant" won't matter.
  • Will place added emphasis on local. As a result, savvy small businesses that don't rely on e-commerce will spend even more time optimizing listings on Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook Places, etc. For example, Yelp recommendations are currently embedded in Siri responses, so Yelp optimization matters more than SEO.
  • Will make PPC irrelevant. Without a search engine involved, there is no PPC. If you rely heavily on PPC campaigns to drive traffic, your total ad serves could steadily decline.
  • May change the social media marketing landscape. Say you own a bed and breakfast. Your inn has a number of great reviews on TripAdvisor, partly because you offer incentives to guests who post a review. That's awesome… but what if the (eventual) Android version of Siri only includes results from TravelPost? If that happens, a major chunk of social media marketing disappears.

So what should you do?

If you run a small business, keep working to improve SEO results on major search engines but spend the majority of your time focused on optimizing listings on Google Places, Yelp, Foursquare, Epinions… because more and more, your customers won't be hanging out on search engines.

 

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Last updated: Nov 7, 2011

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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