Now that we’re eight months past the release of Google Hum­ming­bird, we’re start­ing to see the effects of seman­tic search tech­nolo­gies on SEO. These tech­nolo­gies offer amaz­ing poten­tial for improved user expe­ri­ences, and as SEOs and mar­keters, we’re happy about that. At the same time, there are poten­tial pit­falls that we shouldn’t ignore.

In their effort to refine and improve user results, the big search engines are using their seman­tic capa­bil­i­ties to gen­er­ate their own knowl­edge. These knowl­edge bases cull con­tent from sites the search engines index and allow them to return instant results to the most com­mon user queries. Google Knowl­edge Graph and Bing Snap­shot are the two ini­tial exam­ples of this.

While these tools have clearly enhanced the user expe­ri­ence, in some cases they’re result­ing in fewer clicks to web­sites in the SERPs, and this presents SEOs with a dilemma.

On the one hand, we’re being encour­aged to mark up our con­tent seman­ti­cally so it’s more read­able by seman­tic search engines.  I’ve writ­ten about this myself. On the other hand, we’re now see­ing that mak­ing our sites eas­ier to index also means an increased chance that our con­tent will be used to fill up an answer box and poten­tially lower CTRs. What’s an SEO to do?

It’s too soon to tell how this will play out in the long run, but for now, I think we’d be wise to keep some strate­gies in mind.

The first is stay on top of the trends and mea­sure your own site’s per­for­mance. In this arti­cle at Search Engine The­ory, Michael Mar­tinez says any­one using seman­tic markup should mon­i­tor traf­fic com­ing from search engines against their vis­i­bil­ity in the engines’ knowl­edge bases. Do the two cor­re­late? What you learn could be very help­ful in decid­ing whether there’s a prob­lem and, if so, what to do next.

Trend aware­ness includes keep­ing an eye on alter­na­tive search engines—and I don’t just mean sites like Yahoo and Ask.   I espe­cially like the lay­out, meta­data, and con­text dis­played by Wol­fram Alpha.  There’s slow-burning inter­est in other engines that don’t track per­sonal data, as well as ver­ti­cal search tools within spe­cific niches or indus­tries. While nei­ther of these cat­e­gories is going to over­take “core search” engines any time soon, the field is volatile enough and there’s enough inter­est in them to make them worth watching.

The sec­ond strat­egy is to diver­sify your sources of traf­fic. This seems really basic (and it is), but the truth is most enter­prises still get the bulk of their traf­fic from search, whether paid or organic.   And social traf­fic con­tin­ues to increase as com­pa­nies get more pro­fi­cient with their social strate­gies.  Another alter­na­tive that’s get­ting a fair amount of atten­tion right now is mobile apps. Peo­ple behave dif­fer­ently on mobile than at their desks—we can see this in dif­fer­ent query types, lengths, and con­ver­sions. And search engines are test­ing, refin­ing, and plan­ning strate­gies now for the tip­ping point when mobile search on tablet and smart­phone over­takes stan­dard search.  There’s grow­ing evi­dence that users are choos­ing apps to ful­fill what are basi­cally search functions—especially for place-based queries.

The third strat­egy is to dig deep into improv­ing your website’s user expe­ri­ence. Because Google and Yahoo/Bing now pro­vide direct answers through Knowedge Graph and Snap­shot in addi­tion to sources of answers, it’s not hard to imag­ine a day when our web­sites will need to com­pete with search engines for doing the best job of meet­ing users’ needs. Some would say that day is already here.

The approach is to offer such a great expe­ri­ence built off of a strong brand story that users think about going to you first. Then, once peo­ple are on your site, work harder to get them to come back with­out going through search. For starters, this could include tac­tics like:

  • Mak­ing it easy to sign up for a newslet­ter, sub­scribe to your blog feed, or fol­low you on social media.
  • Offer­ing a free, high-quality app.
  • Mak­ing sure your on-site search func­tion is robust, rel­e­vant, and mobile-friendly.
  • Pay­ing scrupu­lous atten­tion to tech­ni­cal SEO, espe­cially site-wide errors, multiple-hop redi­rects, and site speed (for mobile).

A lot of the ideas I’ve out­lined here are pretty basic to any mar­ket­ing ven­ture, and my guess is you’re already using a lot of them. But the fact remains that search mar­ket­ing can be dizzy­ingly dynamic, and SEO has taken some hits in the last year. Diver­si­fy­ing your traf­fic sources and dou­bling down on user expe­ri­ence are solid prac­tices that will stand you in good stead no mat­ter what the search engine giants serve up in the future.