Voice search has been around for a while now. You’ve used it when most of your attention is directed elsewhere. It serves us when flossing through dense traffic on the highway, when in the shower or bath, or when otherwise preoccupied.
As much as I enjoy the feeling of keys being depressed on the pads of my fingers, I too have begun to use voice search more than not. It’s the convenience and simplicity. I ask my personal robot a question, and it provides me with the best result. I don’t have to dig through endless Google search results. The answer to my question is right there. Bam.
Two hundred and thirty million Americans have smartphones and over 39 million have smart speakers. We can expect webmasters, SEOs, and marketeers to start thinking about different ways to get noticed in the world of voice. But what has changed?
Before, we would type in a query and, based on our location and previous searches, we would get the traditional search results page. While it is nice to have options, you may have found that Google is getting pretty good not just at finding what you’re searching for, it’s becoming idiot proof. If your result isn’t on the first page or two, do you even know what you’re looking for?
Now, you can still sift through the pages, but who isn’t completely dazzled by a nice infographic or table? Plus, if your answer isn’t given in the SERP table (we will get to this later), it’s either in the first few web results or you’ve stopped caring and navigated away.
So who is using voice interaction, and what are they looking for?
Vocal interface is not limited to search. Personal assistants like Siri and Google Assistant can text your mom or set an alarm for you. It seems like most devices are connected today on the Internet of Things (IoT). I can tell my phone to turn on the lights in my house or start my washing machine. From anywhere. Voice interaction is on the rise, but why now?
More and more people are discovering voice interaction. Voice search analytics estimate 60% of voice search users just started using it this past year. It’s no wonder that some estimates put voice search at 50% of all searches by 2020. Asking for what you want is just so much easier and human. Major tech companies are paying attention to the voice trend; Facebook has even hinted at their own AI for voice interaction.
I opt for voice search on my PlayStation because their keyboard is a pain to use. I use it on my phone and computer just because it’s so easy. For those moments when our hands are tied, we can prompt passive devices to activate with an “OK Google!”, “Hey Siri!”, or, often in my case, “Dang it, PlayStation!” It’s great when we need a simple question answered. In my college days, asking questions like “how to wash jeans” and “internal cooked temperature of chicken” basically kept me alive.
How will voice search affect the way people find you?
This is probably where voice search is most complicated for web developers and business owners. Traditionally, one only needed some good content and a decent SEO strategy to get on page one. A user would punch in some key words, and they were provided with more results than they could shake a stick at. With the rise of voice search, people aren’t going to be checking those top few page results, or they may not even make it to page 2. Why?
Because of SERPs, or Search Engine Results Pages. SERPs are Google’s attempts at answering the user’s questions without having the user look around the results. These results are always in the coveted “position zero,” or above the first link on the results page. Say, for example, you want to know how many licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop. Let’s find out. You ask your device the question, and:
Wow, 617,000 results! But what’s this? My answer, in a clean table with keywords bolded and sources cited? Thanks Google! That’s all I needed.
For a lot of searchers, this is the end-point. Why go on when the answer is right there? The above SERP example is known as a “featured snippet,” and is a very basic example of what a SERP can look like and do. SERPs heavily favor and link back to Google’s own content, reduce third party visibility, and limit user interaction with the results page. SERPs, like “Knowledge Graphs,” contain much more focused information in a densely packed (but neatly done) box. For example, A search for the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation results in a knowledge graph and scrolling horizontal carousel. As I mentioned earlier, Google often links to their own property within SERPs. Try clicking around these results and pay attention to how much Google real estate you’re being navigated to.
How can I optimize my information for voice search?
Well, what if you’re not the most popular result? Even if you’re in the top 5, are people still going to be visiting your site when they have their friend Google presenting them with a “best” or SERP option? How will I be found by someone searching on a voice device without a screen?
This prospect has been frightening for SEOs, some even hailing it as the millionth death of SEO. If your SEO strategy hasn’t changed in years, then your site deserves to slip through the cracks anyway. Not everyone can predict the latest search trends, but we do have a chance to conform to Google’s changes.
SEOs will need to adapt, for example by optimizing for questions, which will become the more common method of search. Instead of “Roundpeg Carmel”, a voice searcher may ask “Where is Roundpeg?” or “What does Roundpeg in Carmel do?” Answering the whos and whats with your content will become increasingly more important. We know that SERPs are the way to get attention on voice searches. You need to present accurate information in a way that it will be noticed, grabbed, and reformatted by Google spiders. Longform content is still the way to go, but make sure to be as succinct as possible with the content you want grabbed, as the average voice search result is about 29 words. Helping the spiders identify what they’re looking at with schema also increases the likelihood of your content getting SERPed by Google.
As if all of this wasn’t hindersome enough, advertising is being rethought for smart speakers. You can’t very well see a headline advertisement on a speaker, nor does a pop-up have the same effect. Voice devices yield spoken results, making it difficult to naturally incorporate ads. To make things harder, Amazon placed tight restrictions for ads on their Alexa and Echo devices, as they detract from the friendly tone and feeling of their products.
What’s interesting about the rise of voice search is the lack of visual aspects. Traditional marketing was all about catching the eye with the right colors, textures, fonts, language, etc. What we are seeing now is the need for businesses to be innovate in the way that they interact with their customers. Even further, they’re thinking about way for their content to align with the voice medium and seem natural.
And so it goes…
You made it to the bottom! Let me wrap up with a few quick bulletpoints:
- Voice search is on the rise because of smart speakers and simplicity.
- Voice searches often take the form of a question.
- Questions are yielding more and more Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
- SEOs are starting to optimize for SERPs and vocal search.
- Marketers are starting to develop strategies for smart speaker advertising.
Now you can sleep well knowing you’ve at least begun thinking about what some are calling The Voice Search Revolution.
As always, you can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter (@sefroyms). Disagree with anything I said? Have anything to add? Let’s keep the conversation going.