Google’s MUM (Multitask Unified Model), an AI-driven technology, is going to dramatically change the way people search online. We don’t know yet the whole scope of the change, but what we do know (look here and here) suggests Google is on the cusp of yet another transformation. While any change in how Google operates is of interest to content creators and marketers, two aspects of what MUM can do are especially intriguing.
MUM Can Answer Very Complex and Specific Queries On Its Own
What does this change mean? It means fewer opportunities to get people off of Google and onto webpages. In much the same way that Featured Snippets and People Also Asks allow searchers to get answers to their queries without exiting Google’s SERPs, MUM’s ability to process complex queries on the SERPs has the potential to cut into organic traffic. Google searchers will no longer have to take several runs at the search engine to get expertise that builds on knowledge gained through previous searches. Instead, searchers will receive answers to complex and multi-layered questions on the first page of the SERPs, and Google will direct searchers off the SERPs to answers it thinks searchers’ will be seeking next, answers which may bear only a passing, albeit a related, resemblance to the original query.
In Google’s example of how this could work, a searcher who hiked Mt. Adams wants to find information on how to prepare to hike Mt. Fuji. Instead of doing research on each mountain, the ways in which they are the same and different, climate differences, gear needs, etc., the searcher could just pose their full question to Google: “I’ve hiked Mt. Adams and want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall. What should I do differently to prepare?” Answers would appear on page one of the SERPs (e.g. “The Yoshida trail is one of the easiest routes,” “Altitude sickness can be an issue,” etc.), and Google would then direct the searcher to subtopics such as gear or training exercises.
MUM Can Interpret and Make Use of Images in Search — Not Just Text
What will this change mean? It means that mobile search is about to require a lot fewer words. With Google Lens, users can take a photo with their smartphone and then type in (or speak in) a query related to the photo they just took, regardless of whether or not they include — or even know — the name(s) of anything in the photo. MUM will then go to work and hunt down applicable videos, photos/images, blogs, etc. that can answer the user’s image-based query. Thanks to MUM, searches on Google will no longer require the searcher to type in “key” keywords at all.
Here’s a recent example Google gave of how this will work: Say someone has a broken part on their bicycle and wants to know how to fix it. Whether or not they know the name of the part that’s broken, they can take a photo of the broken bicycle part, type in: “how to fix” then press Search. Google will then source results that point to how to answer the searcher’s image-based query. (Interestingly, in the example used, the bicycle part Google returns visual results and how-to-fixes for — the rear derailleur — is not actually in the original photo submitted by the searcher. Take from that what you will.)
Same ol’ same ol’ — and then some
In many ways, what Google is about to transform and leverage in search has already been true for a while: Mobile already drives the majority of search engine queries. Video and images are increasingly mediums of choice for internet users. Topical authority beats keywords like rock beats scissors, like paper beats rock, like scissors beat paper.
The difference that MUM brings is that now, all three of those vital players in search — mobile, image/video, topical authority — are overlapping, whereas before MUM, they only related.
How Content Marketers and Content Strategists Should Respond to MUM
For 2022 then, content marketers need to position themselves and their clients in the following ways.
Optimize for mobile
Responsive design is ubiquitous, but we all still routinely come across sites that aren’t designed with a mobile-first mentality. Whether it’s developing an app, working out clunky or hard to load on mobile code, or creating a completely new site that doesn’t give mobile users second billing, optimizing for mobile is essential to winning or placing in both the current and upcoming search wars.
Go all in on topical authority
Topical authority is already essential to ranking, regardless of how good someone without it is at their keyword game. Its importance will increase even more now that MUM is on the horizon. Google wants to — needs to — consistently provide correct answers to increasingly complex queries, so be the long-winded expert they’re looking for.
Invest in relevant images and video
Even before image- or video-based queries, having and not having relevant images and videos affected site and page rankings. People want to read less and less. (Bemoan it if you must, but it’s still true.) Invest in high-quality, relevant video and images, and be sure all of it loads quickly, looks great across platforms, screen sizes and browsers, and has optimized alt text, too.
There’s a lot more change on the horizon for those of us who work in content marketing and this initial look at MUM’s effects is introductory. Still, adapting early to how MUM is revolutionizing search will make the future for ourselves and our clients more secure.
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