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Discussions & Forums: Good or Bad for Business?

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You know what they say: a multinational tech conglomerate holding company’s work is never done—and in keeping with that axiom, Google recently unveiled yet another change to their search engine for English-language mobile users in the U.S.

This update surfaces more results from online discussions and forums. The new feature, creatively named “Discussions and Forums,” is populated with conversations from across the internet that are related to your query.

How does it work?

Why now?

How will it affect you?

Let’s dive right into this.

How “Discussions & Forums” Works

This new feature is powered by Google’s Knowledge Graph, and uses natural language processing technology to detect conversations about topics in online discussion and forum posts.

The data is sourced from forums such as Reddit, Quora, Stack Exchange, and so on—but more importantly, smaller niche message boards, with names like “Peanut Allergy Talk” and “Lean-To Building Planet.”

The end result of this AI curation is content that’s organized around topics rather than websites or URLs, which in theory should make it easier for search engine users to find what they’re looking for.

For example: If you search for “best treadmill to buy,” the Discussions and Forums results will pull up threads from forums where people are actually discussing and debating which treadmill is best. (In my test of this just now, all the Discussions and Forums results were from Quora and Reddit.)

A picture of Discussions & Forums: Good or Bad for Business? with The King Of Search

So, in addition to all the existing organic search results, you’ll get an extra layer of content that may have been previously hard to find.

Google’s been serving us a lot of extra layers recently, and according to them, we’ve been asking for this one for a long time. So this new feature is kind of like their Christmas present to everyone.

But will this present be a chunk of coal for your business? Or will it be a brand new Peloton bike, like the one in that marketing campaign that was relevant 3 years ago? Let’s find out!

Why this change—and why now?

This new feature looks awfully close to the “Conversations” box that also appears in search results.

Whether Discussions and Forums is intended to be a replacement for Conversations, or if Google considers discussions to be different from conversations in some way, is still unclear at this point.

The thing is, people like referring to online forums and other online discussion posts for advice, reviews, and plain old conversation from real, “regular people.” So much so, that many businesses find themselves trying to rank for high volume queries that include “reddit” at the end—for example, “best camera for vlogging reddit” or “what is the best car company reddit.”

With Quora and Reddit hogging the top spots, it’s easy for smaller boards to become lost in the noise. (Not to mention all the businesses in an SEO battle vying for those few spots on page one.)

So sourcing more data from smaller forums and message boards to make more conversations and discussions relevant and more easily discoverable in search is a big win for Google users.

You may have noticed a trend over the past decade or so where “small” forums, especially niche ones, have been appearing at the top of search results with great rarity. To the point that you can literally search for an exact quote from a forum post and still have no luck finding it via search.

This means those pages aren’t in the index, and thus not discoverable to a wider audience—until now.

A picture of Discussions & Forums: Good or Bad for Business? with The King Of Search

How Will This Affect You as a Business Owner?

For companies and brands, the most obvious change is that you’ll now be competing against more content from forums and discussion boards.

However, Discussions and Forums results don’t show up like other organic results; they appear in their own box somewhere within the SERPs. (In my testing, they either showed up near the top of the results or way down the page—even below the images, videos, and news results. So unless they’re testing something, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent placement.)

If a search engine user searches for a query that’s specific enough, some of these results could even include content related to your business.

This means that customers may find conversations about your products or services without ever visiting your website. Some of these conversations could be positive; others could be negative. As a result, you may now need to stay “extra” up-to-date with conversations about your company and products/services to ensure that you’re managing your brand’s reputation.

The majority of businesses rely on organic traffic from search engines to drive their sales, so any changes to Google’s algorithm can directly affect their bottom line.

With the addition of extra forum results to mobile search, it’s important to understand how your SEO strategy may need to change.

For starters, if people are talking about your product or service online, this could be a great way to get some free publicity—so it’s important to monitor these conversations and engage where appropriate (or perhaps show restraint, depending on the situation).

Additionally, if you’re active on forums yourself, it could now become easier for new customers to find your posts and conversations related to your business, product, service, or local area.

A picture of a phone with the Google My Business app installed.

And if you’re not, there’s no better time to start signing up and getting involved in discussions—but make sure you understand the rules of the forum and don’t promote your products or services too directly.

Let’s say you provide a fishing guide service in Florida. People searching for your services online may now come across more conversations from angling message boards or forums on sites like Tripadvisor that include reviews/recommendations about your business.

This could help drive more organic traffic to your website (if you have one) as well as increase brand awareness.

Or let’s say you manufacture a very niche product, for a very specific type of consumer.

Results from smaller forums related to that particular niche may now appear on the search results page, where they wouldn’t have before—which in turn could mean more exposure and business for you.

At the very least, it could be more reason to wp-signup.php the discussion about your product on Quora or Reddit, since these results will now be appearing in more than one place on page 1.

Forum content is typically more candid-feeling, and seen as more authentic compared to even the best marketing copy. (After all, if you’re trying to find the “best detailing service,” would you rather hear about it from someone who’s hired detailers, or from a company that’s trying to sell you their detailing service?)

As such, tapping into these conversations can be a great way to capture an audience and build trust with potential customers. If you’re able to engage with your people in these discussion forums in an authentic way that resonates with them, this could be a good opportunity to build relationships and trust between your brand and its customers.

Quora and Reddit may still be key players in search engine rankings for now—but as Google continues to use machine learning to refine and improve search results, more of a variety of forums will likely start appearing in the SERPs as well.

Business owners should stay informed about these changes and adjust their SEO strategies accordingly to remain competitive—and if done successfully, this could be an excellent opportunity for businesses to engage with customers on an even deeper level.

A picture of Discussions & Forums: Good or Bad for Business? with The King Of Search

Final Thoughts

Google’s bringing more content from forums and discussion boards to the forefront of its search results—but it doesn’t mean you’re out of the game. Think of it as an opportunity to gain more exposure, engage with potential customers in an authentic way, and build trust with your audience.

The main takeaway here is that it’s important for business owners to stay informed, and be prepared to adjust or bolster digital marketing strategies as needed.

With the majority of Google updates, even the really annoying ones, there’s some way that smart businesses can capitalize on the shift and gain an edge over competitors in the SERPs.

In this specific case, meeting your customers “off-site” on a more personal level could be a key to success.

Word of mouth was already a powerful thing—but now there’s the potential for that word of mouth to be amplified to a much wider audience. If you embrace changes like these, and adjust your company’s marketing strategies accordingly, it could be a great opportunity for you to step in and lead the pack.

If you do it right, you’ll be the one customers turn to when they need information, advice, or services related to your industry.

If you’d like to become more visible online and make sure your business stands out among your competition in a constantly-changing digital landscape, reach out to The King of Search. We specialize in all forms of digital marketing, from website design to SEO, from PPC to content marketing, and more. Contact us today to start conquering the digital world.

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