When searching for answers goes awry

Video: “The Meaning of Life According to Google”

We want information, and we want it fast. That’s why we love having answers at the tip of our fingers.

We search online, most often using Google, and can get those results faster thanks to our ever-present phones. And more of us are adopting “smart speakers” such as Google Home or the Amazon Echo.

We trust that information more: 64 percent trust search engines vs. 57 percent trusting traditional media vs. 41 percent trusting social media.

Only one problem … The answers are sometimes wrong.

A story in the Wall Street Journal dissects this information ecosystem and how heavily dependent all of us are on it. Because Google has altered how it determines what to display when we type (or speak) our search queries, the degree of accuracy has changed as well — not always for the better.

When we search on our computers, we get pages of results along with a snippet up top sometimes. That snippet has certainly saved me time for simple questions.

Google search results

Google’s snippet and “People Also Ask” box

But when we search on our phones, we usually don’t want to scroll through a bunch of answers on that smaller screen. And when we ask Google Home, we’re going to hear only one answer. Is it the right one?

For marketers, it adds a new wrinkle in site content and design. We’re already working on search engine optimization and relevant content. Do we also need to game our way into the snippet?

As challenging as it is to hit the moving target of SEO, we do have tools to measure our sites over time, such as Moz and Screaming Frog. They’re not perfect, but at least we can establish benchmarks and performance.

With snippets, we’ll almost likely never know if we make it. Even the slightest change in phrasing of search queries can affect the results, as the Journal article points out.

We may not be able to rely on our fans and customers to help us with search accuracy. Many of us are struggling to separate facts from alternative facts, news from fake news and common sense from nonsense.

And we can’t rule out the possibility of sponsored ads. If Google can puts ads in search results and YouTube videos, who says we won’t hear a commercial before Google Home answers our questions. At least we could then still buy our way to exposure.

It’s interesting to see how our thirst for knowledge shapes Google’s behavior and vice versa. We have but one way to develop our marketing strategies in this emerging instant answer economy.

Stay curious.

Wall Street Journal: “Google Has Picked an Answer for You — Too Bad It’s Often Wrong”

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y’all Connect. See his full bio.