So Long Local Search — Hello Machine-Directed Discovery

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Are you finally understanding how to get your business locations to show up properly on the Internet? Are you using a great marketing service that manages your online local visibility? Well whatever you thought you knew about getting your business found online and on mobile, or whatever you are currently learning, is already obsolete.

The way consumers interact with search technology today is on its way out. Why? Autonomous cars, artificial intelligence and voice commands are all transforming search into something we can only begin to imagine.

Machine-Directed Activities Permeate Our Daily Routines
Recently I was at a store and was struck by how many of our actions — even involving simple day-to-day transactions and interactions — are literally being dictated by machines. The point-of-sale machine instructed the cashier on every step of the process, including turning the machine toward me, the customer, so I could follow similar step-by-step directions, including removing my card and turning the machine back to the cashier. I wondered, what comes next?

I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences with automated phone attendants whose aim is to take you step by step through your call transaction, with as little human interaction as possible. You know the drill: “If you’re calling about ABC, press 1.” Or, “I see that you are calling from phone number 234-555-6789. Is this phone number connected to the account you’re calling about?”

With this increase in our interaction with machines and machine-dictated direction, predictive interaction even, and on the cusp of even more automated interactions with the advent of autonomous cars and who-knows-what next, the idea of the all-important SEO expert, keywords and phrases, parameters and website rankings, and concerns about unique content, back links and off-page optimization seem destined to go the way of command code and the online fetch service.

I know there are some of you picturing Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo and nodding your heads. But what I’m talking about goes beyond even that kind of voice-activated search. Voice and anticipation of next query are far more likely to represent the future. As the publishers (e.g., Google, Yelp, Uber – yes, Uber is becoming a publisher of mapping, business and location data) become more specialized, their ability to anticipate queries increases, thereby reducing searches.

Imagine getting into your vehicle at the end of the day and it, “knowing” that on Tuesdays you routinely head to the gym after work, and you happen to be low on fuel, suggests to you, “I see you’re getting low on fuel. If we’re headed to the gym, there is a <insert preferred fuel brand> gas station along the way. Shall we head that way?” Or perhaps, “I see by your calendar that you have dinner plans with friends. Have you considered <insert name of trending restaurant that everyone is talking about>?”

You may already be experiencing the beginning of this transition if you use Google and Waze or automation apps like EasilyDo on your smartphone. It’s all about patterns and knowing what you have done before, and what you are likely to do again and next.

When you book a plane ticket and the next time you log into your email or social media and there is an ad or a prompt for a hotel in the city you are traveling to, you experience that predictive aspect. A machine has seen what you have done and knows what your next steps are likely to be.

Recommendations Based on a Community of Shared Knowledge
Another aspect of this looks at your own data and then looks for patterns, deals, good reviews perhaps, to offer advice based on the community at large. This interaction with the greater community exists to some degree already with Waze. The app integrates with your Google calendar to know where you are going and when you need to be there and then prompts you along the way with cues to get you there on time. It also ties into the network of other Waze users who may have contributed data about traffic or road blockages to influence its advice.

All of this means that the concept of people actually searching for and finding you or your business through traditional search engines and apps disappears. The concept of discovery becomes almost obsolete. When artificial intelligence is pre-empting the user’s search to make recommendations and suggestions, your business being found won’t be by accident. You will need to either change consumer patterns (hard) or convince an algorithm that your business is a fit and should be displayed to consumers.

The development of the AI and autonomous ecosystem of the future requires good data to be shared between applications and businesses. Otherwise, a handful of companies, like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Uber and a few others will be able to lock out both media competition as well as product or retail competition, because it will become too hard or expensive to reach an audience if you don’t have the rich data to predict buying behavior. 

Helping Machines – Not Just People – Find You
For those coming late to the table, or new companies trying to get in, it will be difficult to break into consumers’ preferences and habits if you aren’t there from the start. It will be critical for all players, but particularly those arriving late, to figure out how to differentiate themselves from the noise so they can be found.

Forget keywords and SEO. Think instead, algorithms and decision points. And have a gold rush mentality of needing to be there first in order to stake your claim and become part of the process.

So when and how do you start focusing on becoming immersed in this new ecosystem of machine-driven presence? The short answer is now. Because Rome wasn’t built in a day and changing your marketing platform and developing your presence isn’t going to happen in weeks or even months.

If you understand that “seek and you shall find” now comes with the underlying qualifier, “what the machine directs you to find,” then you’re on the path to existing in the next phase of the search and discovery evolution process.

Gideon Rubin is CEO and Founder of Local Data Exchange, a connected data network which connects local media companies, via a single API, to a world of data, facilitating the launch of new products based on existing assets and open access to an ecosystem of developers.