Windows Cortana, Siri, Google Now, Alexa, Facebook\u2019s M \u2013 these and other digital assistants are clearly game changers for search. But how, exactly, are they altering the rules and the turf? What \u201cgame\u201d are they changing, specifically, and how are marketers like you supposed to react?Before getting into the wonky details, let\u2019s take a step back and look at the big picture. Digital assistants: what are they, and why do they matter? Here\u2019s a great working definition from TechTarget.com:\u201cA digital assistant, also called a virtual assistant, is an application program that can understand natural language and complete electronic tasks for the end user.Such tasks, which might have been performed by a personal assistant or secretary in previous decades, include taking dictation, reading text or email messages aloud, looking up phone numbers, anticipating requests, placing calls and reminding the end user about appointments. Popular digital assistants currently include Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Cortana, the digital assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1.Today’s digital assistants are programmed with artificial intelligence, machine learning and voice recognition technology. As the end user interacts with his digital assistant, the AI programming uses sophisticated algorithms to learn from data input and become better at predicting the end user’s needs. Tomorrow’s digital assistants will be built with more advanced cognitive computing technologies which will allow a digital assistant to understand and carry out multi-step requests and perform more complex tasks such as making a plane reservation.\u201d How are these assistants different when it comes to search? Let us count the ways.They look at data beyond the internet.For instance, Windows Cortana will root through the files on your computer to get answers to certain types of questions and then use web-based searches to answer other queries.They learn from your habits.Like an obsessed ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, assistants pay close attention to what you do online and off. Google and the other SEs of course also stalk you and adapt their magic accordingly. But Cortana and Siri and friends take this to another level. For instance, let\u2019s say you create a lot of Excel documents. Your assistant will learn that your searches for Excel-related terms are not queries for user tips but rather for files and spreadsheets you have on your computer or email. They cut to the quick.When you search using a traditional interface, like Google, the assumption is that you want to read information and get educated. Those using digital assistants don\u2019t want a bedtime story (in general): they want fast, simple answers. You don\u2019t ask Siri for think pieces about the Donald Trump candidacy or insight into the state of the pollution problem in Beijing. You ask her for quantifiable stuff: “Which exit do I take to get to Applebees?” “What\u2019s that Taylor Swift song my 4 year old loves?” “What are my odds of winning the PowerBall?” “Can eating a bad banana give me a headache?” They talk like you talk. Digital assistants are programmed to be adept at being conversational. They\u2019re not yet super-smart AI, but they\u2019re getting closer all the time, and they\u2019re able to tease apart the meaning of strange sounding searches (based on subtle conversational clues) in ways that Google and other SEs can\u2019t yet do. How should you alter your marketing strategies to accommodate the SEO changes wrought by Siri and her pals? Stop offering as much generic information in your content. Go deeper and niche-ier.In the near-past, it made sense from an SEO perspective to fill your site with lots of overly obvious insights about your industry and service. But the advent of these assistants changes things \u2013 digital assistants don\u2019t need you to weigh in on questions like \u201cWhat is IP?\u201d and \u201cWhat is probate?\u201d and \u201cWhat is a muscle car?\u201d and things of that nature. They can bypass your content and deliver the answer directly, cutting you out of the circuit. Instead, focus on writing valuable, hard to duplicate content that speaks to a niche and that can\u2019t be bypassed.Multi-media it up. Add videos, photos and infographics to your site. When you include this type of content on your site, you make yourself invaluable and avoid getting cut out the loop.If you haven\u2019t already done so, STOP writing stilted, keyword stuffed content that sounds like a non-English speaker got paid $0.02 a word to write it.There are many reasons to keep your content conversational and to give it a personality. First off, Google et al are getting increasingly good at punishing sites that try to SEO-hack their way to prominence (as opposed to earning that prominence by providing outstanding content worthy of high ranking). But now that digital assistants are in the picture, you have even more reason to keep it clean and stay away from gross keyword stuffing.Don\u2019t panic or throw out the baby with the bathwater.Yes, digital assistants will reshape the terrain, but they\u2019re not going to destroy everything you\u2019ve built and force you to start over from scratch. If you\u2019re building content that\u2019s attracting the right people at the right time to the right places, keep \u2018er going. If you notice your content marketing strategy fall off, consider optimizing more for digital assistants as a possible solution, but don\u2019t jump to conclusions. Yes, it could be that your content isn\u2019t conversational or that your blog posts are too simple or that you don\u2019t have enough pretty pictures. But that might not be the main constraint. Bear in mind the 80\/20 rule, and drill down to discover what\u2019s really holding back your online marketing \u2013 and your business in general.Finally, remember to take a broad view of search and online marketing in general.The hurly-burly of our industry (at least in 2016) creates a background of confusion. Lots of things are changing online. For instance:Mobile searches are becoming more popular than desktop searches, and this fact alone has game changing implications. While Google remains the 800 pound gorilla of the search engine jungle, competitors like Yahoo! and Bing and other pee-wee SEs are evolving and refining their methods. Some analysts predict that while SEs will retain distinct flavors, the trend is towards homogeneity.Video search will grow in importance, as well local SEO.The point is that the effect of digital assistants on the landscape is impossible to disentangle from the effects of these other forces. Does that mean we should wave the white flag and surrender to chaos? Not at all. But just recognize that this complexity exists, and pay attention to business and marketing fundamentals (e.g. understanding things like your Cost Per Client Acquisition and Lifetime Customer Value), even as you set your sites on building the perfect honey trap for 2016 searchers.