Talking the Talk: Conversational Interfaces and SEO





Blog Date

June 6, 2024


UK, Manchester

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Table of Contents

Talking the Talk: Conversational Interfaces and SEO

The Conversation Enigma

For years, I’ve been training people on the art of Boolean search, often framing the experience as a conversation. Little did I know that tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI were quietly working on making that analogy a reality. The rise of conversational interfaces, powered by the latest advancements in artificial intelligence, is poised to revolutionize the way we search and discover information online.

As I’ve often explained to my trainees, the initial search query is like a person saying, “Hello, database, can you show me results on ABCXYZ?” The database then returns its best attempt, and the user reviews the results, thinking, “Hmm, those were somewhat helpful, but I’d like you to look for _.”

This iterative process of refining the search, asking follow-up questions, and honing in on the desired information has always been the hallmark of an effective and efficient information retrieval strategy. But it’s only recently that tech companies have truly embraced the idea of a conversational search experience – one that feels more natural and intuitive for us humans.

The Rise of Conversational Interfaces

The writing has been on the wall for some time. As Professor Michael Wooldridge of the University of Oxford so eloquently put it, “Conversational search powered by OpenAI, Bard, and other similar solutions is shifting the paradigm of search in the right (more natural) direction.”

Think about it – when was the last time you typed a keyword-based query into a search engine and felt truly satisfied with the results? More often than not, we find ourselves rephrasing, adding modifiers, and trying to get the search engine to understand our true intent.

But with the rise of conversational interfaces, the search experience is becoming more akin to a natural dialogue. Rather than fighting against the limitations of Boolean logic, users can now simply ask questions in plain language and receive tailored responses. It’s a game-changer, and one that has significant implications for the world of SEO.

The SEO Implications

At MCR SEO, we’ve long recognized the importance of understanding user intent and crafting content that resonates with the way people naturally search and discover information. But the advent of conversational interfaces adds a new layer of complexity and opportunity.

No longer are we confined to the tyranny of the keyword. Instead, we need to think about the types of questions our target audience is asking, the nuances of their language, and the specific information they’re seeking. It’s a shift from simply optimizing for search engines to optimizing for human conversation.

But here’s the catch: while conversational interfaces may be the future of search, traditional Boolean-based optimization is far from dead. As Glen Cathey aptly pointed out, “the challenging part of search/information retrieval is the critical thinking involved in what to include, what not to include, and what to exclude – in other words, what to ask (query) for, and this isn’t something that AI-powered automated matching solutions magically solve for.”

The Balancing Act

So, how do we as SEO professionals navigate this brave new world of conversational interfaces? It’s all about finding the right balance between optimizing for natural language and leveraging the power of Boolean logic.

On the one hand, we need to deeply understand the conversational patterns and query formulations of our target audience. What kinds of questions are they asking? How do they naturally express their information needs? By aligning our content and optimization strategies with these conversational trends, we can ensure our clients’ websites are primed for success in the era of AI-powered search.

On the other hand, we can’t simply abandon the tried-and-true techniques of keyword research and strategic query formulation. As Glen Cathey aptly noted, the ability to craft effective queries – whether they’re Boolean-based or conversational in nature – is a critical skill that will never diminish in value.

It’s a delicate dance, to be sure, but one that the most forward-thinking SEO agencies are already mastering. By embracing the power of conversational interfaces while maintaining a keen eye for strategic query optimization, we can unlock a new era of search engine success for our clients.

The Future is Conversational

The writing is on the wall, my friends. Conversational interfaces are not just a passing fad; they’re the future of search. And as SEO professionals, it’s our job to ensure our clients are positioned for success in this brave new world.

So, let’s embrace the challenge. Let’s dive deep into the language and search patterns of our target audiences. Let’s hone our skills in crafting effective queries, whether they’re Boolean-based or conversational in nature. And let’s work together to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of search engine optimization, one engaging conversation at a time.

After all, as Glen Cathey so eloquently put it, “What will never die or diminish in value/importance is the ability of people to craft good queries (ask the right questions), regardless of form or name (prompts, chats, filters, Boolean search strings, etc.).”

So, let’s get talking, my fellow SEO enthusiasts. The future of search is waiting.

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