How Will Voice Search Affect SEO?

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Jul 2016
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Author : Pete Peranzo

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Search engine optimization is primarily about adjusting to new technologies and trends as they affect search. Over the years we have seen Google make hundreds of updates to its algorithms (though only a few are announced to the world), and SEO experts everywhere take note and change their strategies accordingly.

Voice search–speaking to digital assistants such as Siri, Google Now, and Cortana to carry out tasks for you–is just one of the many trends to which SEO experts will need to adapt. Given the rise of voice search, driven by the widespread availability of mobile devices, evolution of mobile software and the sheer convenience of being able to interact with Google hands-free, websites now need to cater to a slightly different kind of demand for content.

The indication that the amount of voice search is on an upward trend comes from a study by MindMeld, which found that 60% of smartphone users had started using voice-based search in 2014-15, and 40% of these did so over the last six months of the period studied. This was taken as a firm indicator of a burgeoning interest in voice search.

Digital marketers will now have to start considering voice search when it comes to SEO. Some of the most important ways of doing this would involve thinking about keywords, phrases and user intent differently.

Voice search is different than text search

The way we write is not the way we talk.

We speak in a far more natural way than when we type stuff into the Google or Bing search bar. “Spanish food + New York” on keyboard becomes “Where can I find the best Spanish food in New York City?” over voice search.

But if the syntax of a query changes, would that affect the results being returned?

Apparently so.

In the voice search era, the pages that show up in the answer to precise, yet full-fledged questions would be those that truly answer the query–not just those that contain specific keywords, but mainly those which understand the nature of the question and answer it to the best of their ability.

Are your web pages optimized for local SEO? Do they satisfy the most frequently made queries on part of your target audience? If not, that is where your SEO tweaking efforts should start.

Optimize for contextual queries, not isolated keywords

SEO has primarily been carried out by inserting chosen keywords in the content throughout a website or its blog. Initially it was about keyword stuffing; then it was about using them smartly, never going overboard and keeping it all legit. Still, a page did have to include the desired keywords in a way that would help it rank well on Google.

Users often enter certain keywords–and only keywords, never full sentences–in the search bar in order to gain more information on it, even if taking keywords literally would sometimes turns up ridiculous results. Google Images has been particularly guilty of this.

We have all cried out in exasperation at some point: Why can’t Google just understand what we mean? Well, it certainly is trying to do so. The thinking now is that the use of disjointed keywords, which is certainly not the way most people think in their heads, is a downward trend. Instead, Google wants to understand the user intent behind a query when returning pertinent results.

Google has, for example, been working to differentiate between homonyms for some time now, and when it does get it right, it’s quite smart and impressive.

The understanding of user intent differs from individual to individual and is based on one’s search history. The longer Google studies it, the better it gets at returning intuitive and relevant results.

Move from individual keywords to phrases

So if search results will no longer be based off of specific keywords, what exactly would drive them?

Just so we are clear, keywords haven’t become redundant, though a shift towards keyword phrases is firmly in place. But some experts in this field have suggested that pages will now be ranked based on the larger meaning of those phrases, not the particular sequence or literal meaning of them: ”Instead of using them verbatim, think of all the different ways someone might make an inquiry about the keywords for which your page ranks.”

What does this mean for local businesses?

For small businesses looking for greater traffic the results that voice search produces would take into account:

  • The extent to which the website is optimized for local search.
  • The extent to which the website is mobile-friendly.
  • The extent to which the website content satisfies user queries (though not in the form of sequential keywords but in terms of the overall quality and relevance of that content in relation to the queries).
  • The amount and nature of the business’ reviews on third-party review websites.
  • The robustness of its social media profiles.
  • The relevance of that business to the person making the voice search.

For example, a woman looking for apricot wine in northern San Francisco will not be given shop suggestions from a distant part of the city. The results will be of the shops located in her vicinity.

In its quest to deliver more relevant results to its users, Google is now moving towards looking at the holistic picture driven by an individual’s search history, his/her location and their preferences when producing SERPs for them.

What are your thoughts on voice search and its rapidly growing use? We feel this trend will remain in place and also influence other technology to keep up with it. SEO experts and businesses that move with the times remain relevant.

Is your Business Ready for Voice Search SEO?

How ready are you for voice search? Or have you been struggling with it? What about your local SEO and social media performance, both of which will also impact a business’s showing in voice search queries? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments, or contact us!

 

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