Voice search is the latest development in SEO, delivering AI-driven search results to spoken questions, and it’s going to be a major player in online content. All inbound marketing agencies need to know how to make sure their business or agency is found online when spoken questions overtake typed requests in search engine results.
With the news last week that Amazon’s Echo voice-activated smart speaker range and Alexa smart assistant are now available in Ireland, it’s time for inbound marketers here to turn their attention to this development and figure out how best to optimise their online content to rank well in search.
Though the system has been rolled out across the globe since 2014, it has only now been optimised for the Irish market, and will meet the needs of a consumer base increasingly turning towards voice searches rather than typed ones.
Just as we don’t yet have to master AI, this development may not be something we absolutely need to be on top of in 2018, but it is definitely an emerging trend and something we should be considering, and understanding the basics of – the sooner, the better.
What are we talking about when we talk about voice search?
Powered by artificial intelligence, Alexa and other similar devices such as Siri, Google Now (and Google Home), Cortana, etc, can carry out a range of tasks, from answering questions to making calls, activating smart home devices, accessing news, and delivering search results based on the voice commands it receives.
With a simple phrase or question, the voice-activated software uses natural language processing (NLP) processing to understand your search intent. Based on past queries, context and frequency of use, it delivers increasingly relevant results.
We are no longer looking at a device carrying out our instructions, or bearing the brunt of our frustrations a la Captain Kirk here, but instead coming up with the solutions we are looking for.
Apple will follow hot on the heels of existing voice-activated search functions, to add to its existing Siri, with the release of its HomePod, and though we don’t yet know when it will be available on our shores, the influx of such devices means the task of meeting search engine requests with your own content has taken on a new element. In short, you need to consider the way in which people now search for information through speech, rather than text. That means using natural language across all elements of your content.
The use of voice search has been increasing steadily. In 2014, a study commissioned by Google found that 41% of adults and 55% of teens surveyed in the US said they used voice search at least once a day, and projections suggest that by 2020, voice search will have grown in popularity by 50%. And that’s not just in the US – it is now becoming a global trend.
A study by US SEO Agency Stone Temple shows that people are becoming increasingly comfortable with conducting voice searches in public. It wasn’t so long ago that people were reluctant to use their mobile phone when on public transport or in a public place, but we all know those days are gone (though I still won’t answer my phone on the bus, so if I don’t answer, you know where I am). Nowadays, people are happy to discuss the most intimate details of their lives in full hearing range of strangers, and this trend has carried over into voice search.
While the same report points out an interesting trend that voice search use at home is actually decreasing (perhaps a temporary anomaly), it’s those people on their smartphones, who are out and about and in need of immediate, relevant and useful information, who are using it most. Those are the very people all inbound marketers want to attract.
What does the rise of voice search mean?
Make no mistake about it, voice search is only going to get bigger, and is already having a major influence on SEO. As this article from Search Engine Journal points out, evidence suggests that search optimisation is strongly linked to Google’s featured snippets – those results that hold the sought after top positions in search results.
Google’s speech recognition is now estimated to be 95% accurate, so it’s near the perfection level for understanding human intent, and very close to pfffing any suggestions that voice search is not as effective as traditional typed searches. Through contextual understanding of a user’s location, search history and personal information, pretty soon voice searches will deliver an error-free set of results, and you need your business or agency to be one of those first results.
What else do I need to know about voice search?
A big, big change that voice search is going to bring to digital marketing and sales is that third-party ads will simply not work. If there is no human mediation in Google searches, there will be no pay per click advertising, if we don’t look at news headlines, there goes banner ads.
Just as consumer behaviour has changed to make intrusive advertising an annoyance we avoid rather than a useful message we flock to, users will not be fans of unwanted interruptions from a business trying to sell them something. Think of it like this: Voice search is like a person talking to their friend, asking them a question to get the information they need. Let’s say, for example, nice restaurants in the local area. They expect their friend to give them the type of answer they know will be useful and relevant to them. In answer, that friend is therefore not likely to break into an advertisement for McDonalds. If they did, we’d consider them pretty weird, and would be unlikely to trust their advice again.
Advertising and marketing will never die away though, it will simply have to learn to adapt. They will have to become more organic, just like other online content.
What do I do to optimise for voice search?
Keyword stuffing has of course gone the way of the dodo, but so too will titles, headers, and content that sacrifice legibility and relation to how we speak, in favour of keyword-heavy groupings of words. I’ve always winced at headlines and blog titles that seem to garble the English language just to fit in as many keywords as possible, because they simply don’t read as anything a person is likely to say, as I discussed in another blog. Now, with voice search, that will not just be an aesthetic factor, it will be a functional factor too.
Your content needs to tie in with how people speak, what questions they are likely to ask, and how they phrase them, and you also have to consider the many different ways in which they will say them.
I don’t mean that you have to mimic a teenager’s diction with headlines such as ‘So, um, what’s, like, the best place for tacos in, like, Dublin?’ I just mean you have to use phrase things in a more everyday fashion.
In order to respond to this development and to rank well in search results, your content will have to:
- First and foremost, be optimised for mobile
- Adopt a more natural, conversational approach
- Focus on long-tail keywords
- Provide direct answers to questions
- Include useful and relevant sentences and phrases, rather than just keywords
- Use variations in search terms in order to satisfy semantic search
- Use optimised video content a lot more
The tricky part comes in finding the balance, or a good mix, of detailed answers to common questions, and concise, clear and simple answers to questions. How do you do this? Here’s a few starting points:
- Ask a common question in your web page or blog headline
- Start the main body of your content with a concise answer or definition regarding the question.
- Expand upon the question, answer, and issue with further detail
The detailed section should appeal to the search engine ranking algorithms, while the top-of-the-page concise explanation will be perfect for voice search.
Rethinking the style and format of your online content won’t be something you can do overnight, but it is something you will need to look at in 2018. Simply put, if you don’t get to grips with voice search, your online content will fall on deaf ears.
In the meantime, use your voice to find out how we can help your business increase its lead generation and conversion by booking a call with us: