Some people think that those of us who live in the land of permafrost have lost our minds. Those of us who enjoy winter activities a hop, skip, and jump away like it when the snows come.

We’re prepared for the change of season, and the way the landscape is transformed after a fresh snowfall. Behaviors and dress are modified to keep us warm and safe as we go about our day, whether work or play.

A major challenge in the technology space is that change is ever present. Yesterday’s must-have technology is tomorrow’s door stop.

One thing is for sure: If you are trying to stay up to speed, you don’t get bored.

Search engine optimization (SEO) epitomizes this continual evolution more than most. There are very good reasons why these changes occur on a regular basis.

SEO Primer for Insurance Pros

SEO can seem like a dark art to the uninitiated. We hear that it is critical to a website’s performance. But how and why?

It seems that everybody has an opinion, and few of them match. To make matters worse, there aren’t any shortcuts. Website progress is incremental, and typically takes lots of time.

Search engines are the focus of incredibly talented teams of developers at the big tech companies. Google, with their eponymous search engine, Yahoo, and Microsoft has Bing.

Search engines are big money too. Advertisers want to be in front of you when you are searching for whatever you’re looking to buy. Being there costs lots of money, to the tune of billions of dollars.

The competition between search engines for users (like you and me) is predicated on giving us what we want. What we want is the best possible result to our search. If we get good results, we’ll continue to use that search engine.

If we start getting spammy information, or completely improper results, we’ll switch search engines to see whether the ‘other guys’ can get us more accurate information.

Searchers using a search engine turns into revenue from advertisers. In 2017, Google claimed 41% of total  digital advertising dollars and they dominate search revenues by claiming 78% of the annual total.

At its most basic, SEO is the science and art of getting your website to be seen by consumers who are looking for the products and services you provide. The ultimate goal is to get your webpage onto the first page of a search. A simplified explanation is that the higher on page one, the more traffic you will attract.

For example, if you want to sell personal umbrella coverage, and you want a searcher to find your offer, you need to get to page one. But everyone else is trying to do the same thing.

Therefore you need to focus your efforts. There is lots of competition for a broad search term like ‘Personal Umbrella Insurance’. Narrowing the scope of your search term will reduce the competition for the term.

It will be easier to rank successfully for a narrow search term like Umbrella Liability for Home Based Business, or Umbrella Insurance, Mahwah, New Jersey. This is because when the searcher adds those terms to their search, other results won’t be as specific and therefore will rank lower in the results.

Context is key, and search engines are getting better at determining our intent.

In the examples above, insurance professionals know umbrella refers to an insurance coverage. But what if the searcher types the following question:

“What is the best umbrella?”

Are they looking for insurance, or protection from the rain? This is where the context comes into play, and the big companies have expended considerable effort into deciphering the searcher’s intent.

Make no mistake about it, more and more search is focused on answering questions and understanding context. This is because searchers are getting better at figuring out how to narrow down the options provided, and to get more relevant results on the first try by using very specific questions.

Why? Because we expect the right answer, and our patience grows ever shorter. A recent study from Microsoft indicates that our attention spans have decreased from 12 seconds in 2001, to 8 seconds in 2010 to 4 seconds now.

The search engines are responding by working hard to find the best answer. And the process of determining the best answer is always being tweaked.

That ‘tweaking’ is the reason that the rules of SEO keep changing. As the search engines get more refined, we have to follow suit.

Search Engines Respond

If one search result consistently gets more searcher interaction: clicks, additional page views, time on site, etc, then the search engine company knows that result is the best of the options. And now the search engines are rewarding those consistently ‘best’ pages.

The ‘answer box’ is one of Google’s experiments to refine the results and reduce the effort required for the searcher to get the answer to their question.

When Google has identified a consistently ‘best page’ for a specific query, they will present a synopsis of that information at the top of the search result. The intent is to give the searcher the answer without them having to click through to another website.

Get the answer. Get on with your day.

Unfortunately, this isn’t all good news. By putting the information in front of the searcher, the amount of traffic to the featured website may be reduced. More ominously, it can stop the searcher from even scanning down the page to see the other listings.

Always testing and tweaking, Google is experimenting with their answer boxes. Recently, a scroll bar with a couple of different options has been seen by search experts.

From SEO to AEO

The situation is made more complex with the rise of the next wave in computing:

Voice.

Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant. Four different approaches from four of the biggest technology companies on the planet. Rumors have it that even Facebook is working on a version too.

Devices generically referred to as ‘smart speakers’ listen for your question or command and then do your bidding. These new devices are spurring changes too. Voice queries tend to be longer and more complex.

These longer questions provide more opportunity for the search engine to determine exactly what we’re looking for. “What is the best collapsible umbrella?” provides a clue that we’re not looking for insurance.

An additional challenge is that the difference between the way we process information in a visual vs. auditory way  is striking.

When presented with a list of options on the screen, we can quickly scan each to see what might be best option, quickly skipping those that don’t apply.

Stack up a half dozen options to listen to, and the process gets lengthy quick. The efforts to get to the BEST option described above are crucial. Those smart speakers are providing ONE best option.

Add to that our natural habit of verbally asking questions, and the requirement to make certain that the best content answers the question succinctly and directly.

This is a great service to the searcher, but creates distinct problems for businesses. If there is only one option, there are lots of providers left out. Competition to be the single, best answer will probably start a money-fueled arms race.

These trends are all combining to create a new sub-genre of SEO called Answer Engine Optimization aka AEO. The broad strokes are the same as SEO: create great content and get people to share it. The primary difference is that the content is written to answer specific questions, rather than being an overview.

I was on a conference call the other day with Duke Williams, a long time industry friend. Duke is the president of EchoSage, a technology partner to the IA channel, and he’s been on the leading edge for a long time.

Recently he has been developing voice and chat applications for insurance. He mentioned something that was eye opening to say the least, so I reached out to get more details.

Amazon has determined that differentiating between similar names in a voice request is difficult so they they are limiting the numbers of closely related names for skills.

In contrast, on the web, we can have three different sites: ainsurance,com, aainsurance.com, and a-zinsurance.com. Initial indications are that Amazon isn’t going to allow their skills to be named that similarly.

For example, EchoSage has developed an Alexa skill called Simply Easier ACORD Forms. When they created a skill designed to help the user called Simply Easier ACORD Forms FAQ, Amazon declined to approve the name, because it was too similar to the existing skill.

As Duke asked: “What this means for our industry is an open question. How many skills or actions (Google) will they allow to be named some variation of insurance?”

What happens to your business if you don’t have a ‘site’ in the new search environment?

If you want to check out insurance skills, you can search the ‘alexa skills‘ on Amazon.

Long Story Short

The rise of voice computing is driving major changes in the way search engines deliver information to searchers. The competition to create the defacto standard for voice search is intense. Billions of dollars are at stake.

Each of the major technology companies is taking a slightly different approach, and is integrated with varying services such as smart technologies (e.g. lights and thermostats). The environments are different and the participation requirements are unique to each.

Brands will compete just as hard, trying to create and defend their position as the ‘best’ answer to the searcher’s questions.

The technology landscape is being transformed.  As it changes, we must modify our processes and behaviors to maximize our successes.

Successful insurance organizations will keep learning and implementing, because none of this is going to slow down!

Good Selling, Marty

If you’d like to explore how the latest technologies are impacting the insurance industry and the strategies your organization can deploy to ensure you continue to thrive, please contact me directly.

marty@magather.com

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