Eli Schwartz

There are two underrated – at least when it comes to SEO thought – tools from Google that I believe really highlight the future of Google Search. In addition, these tools give a peek under the hood at the extent of Google’s AI that is always in use for every search on Google.

Google Assistant

The first tool I want to highlight is the Google Assistant which powers Android phones and Google smart devices. For those that are unfamiliar with the Google smart device ecosystem the assistant is Google’s Siri or Alexa. (Sidenote, maybe they should give it a cutesy name?). While it is a key component of made by Google devices and operating systems it is also available to anyone who wants to conduct a voice search in Chrome.

The assistant is so much more than just a tool to avoid typing a query into Google. For example, on many queries you can watch in real time as it listens to what you are saying and then auto corrects itself based on the set of strings. For example, it might hear you say “Kobe” but then when paired with the word  it thinks it heard as “systems” it will assume that you meant Covid symptoms and modify the query.

This is so much more advanced than just spell check as if you added the word “lighting” after “Kobe” it will then determine based on your history if you meant “lighting” which is a Nike shoe or “19” which again is related to Covid. I think just the query correction shows just how powerful Google’s algorithms are both from a query intent/detection standpoint and of course matching content with the intent of the content. In my opinion, it shows how futile it might be to use obsolete SEO tactics like keyword stuffing.

However, the Assistant is even smarter than just a language processing tool. It can also do things that require more intelligence.  It can identify songs based on just tunes that you hum which shows that doesn’t even need actual words to conduct a search. It can also take strings and then understanding query intent change those into totally new queries. A query like “I need gas” will be translated to “gas stations near me” and “hungry for lunch” will be a combo query of places to eat near that also have lunch in the reviews.  

These are really simple queries because they add keywords to the query, but there are many that transform into an entirely new query. “Do I need a jacket today” will trigger a weather forecast and “is there traffic on the road to home” will bring up a map of directions towards your home.

Google Lens

The second tool that shows the power of Google’s AI is Google Lens. This is a feature that is a part of all cameras on Android phones, but it can be downloaded as a stand alone app for non-Android devices. This app allows users to point their camera at anything and Google can either search for that object or use optical character recognition to search Google for any words it sees.

Again, this stretches well beyond the way most people approach search. Whereas many years ago, it was deemed important to add image alt text to declare to a search engine what an image might be, more than likely Google knows exactly what an image regardless. Additionally, Google may even be reading text within images and adding that to database entries on a page to determine relevancy based on that content.

This is likely not widespread just yet given the high cost of recognizing every image and reading all text, but the capabilities are certainly built within the search algorithms. Once this is a common function of search algorithms we can expect podcasts to be indexed based on the words within the audio (similar to passage indexing) and video – not just YouTube – to be indexed based on the video content.

In short, the algorithms that power these tools are the exact same algorithms that operate with every query conducted via a search box on Google. The AI at work in the Assistant and Lens are so much deeper than the simplistic syntax and text matching database search engine that Google started with two decades ago. Therefore, the strategies and tactics to succeed in this SEO paradigm have to be just as complex.

Don’t fall into a trap of believing that visibility on Google is simply the result of a formulaic approach. Search rankings have always been dynamic and the inputs are more diverse than have ever been in the past. Google may only use a select number of ranking variables in their algorithms, but those variables are run against an ever expanding set of new variables.