Voice interfaces are changing habits dramatically. Those of consumers, who increasingly dictate their requests to their smartphone or their smart speaker. But also those of SEOs and other digital marketing specialists, forced to grasp this evolution whose consequences on SEO are already being felt.
In June 2017, a British study found that 42% of Google users made voice requests every day. On this occasion, the web giant relied on the curve of the rapid adoption of digital vocalizations to recommend to brands (and digital agencies) to take Google voice search seriously. It was premonitory. Meanwhile, voice search has grown in popularity. We can say, now, that it has settled in to last.
An observation that poses a weight problem in terms of natural referencing. Because a user does not formulate his request in the same way orally as in writing. By getting rid of the keyboard, it also changes the way it queries search engines. Your pages optimized for traditional Search are not necessarily optimized for Voice Search. And therefore cannot be placed as well.
Concretely, what is the impact of Google voice search on SEO in 2020? And how do you adapt to it?
A brief history of modern voice search
Without going back to the true origins of voice recognition, we can date the birth of modern voice interfaces to 2007 and the creation of Siri Inc. Offered for free in the App Store in 2010, the application Siri is bought by Apple and integrated into the iPhone 4S for its release in 2011. Subsequently, Microsoft has developed its Cortana (from Windows 8.1 and on Android devices), Samsung its S Voice, Google its Google Now ( which Google Assistant is an extension based on the use of artificial intelligence), then Amazon its Alexa.
Today, voice interfaces exist on smartphones, tablets and computers, but also through connected or smart speakers (Google Home and Amazon Echo). These different devices have become entry points for voice searches in homes. With some success.
Voice search in numbers
The CEO of Google announced in May 2016 that 20% of requests made in the USA from the engine’s Android application were made orally. Things have moved on well since then. Here are some numbers that show the growing popularity of voice search worldwide:
- More than a million voice requests were made during the month of January 2018 alone.
- 46% of daily voice searches concern local companies and brands. In one year, 58% of consumers used a voice interface to find information about a local business.
- 72% of owners of connected speakers have integrated their devices into their daily routines.
- 400 million devices embed Google Assistant.
- 30% of digital searches will be done without using a screen by 2020.
From Mobile First to Voice-First?
Mobile-First Index is there from Google, and the question arises: are we going towards a search experience giving pride of place to the voice?
Three arguments give food for thought:
- The Mobile-First Index aims to give more space to mobile search in the results, by considering mobile pages as the main versions of websites.
However, as we know, voice search (and in particular Google voice search) is largely done on mobile devices and using tools devoid of screens (smart speakers). The two indexes are therefore linked.
- Google is very interested in the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence. It is probably no coincidence that the company changed the name of its blog dedicated to R&D to go from Google Research to Google AI.
It turns out that AI is precisely one of the engines allowing voice search to work, through one of its bricks: the automatic processing of natural language, that is the way in which machines apprehend the subtleties of human language to better respond to voice requests!
Google is increasingly incorporating data from Google Voice Search, Google Assistant and Google Home speakers into its ranking algorithms.
The group has also started (early 2018) to send messages to publishers to encourage them to optimize their content (including news, podcasts and cooking recipes: the information most sought after by voice Internet users) for Google Assistant.
From there to wonder if Google is not preparing a shift to the Voice First experience, there is still a long way to go. Nevertheless, many search specialists point out that there are strong reasons to believe it, even if it is not necessarily for tomorrow.
One thing is clear: Google is betting that tomorrow’s users will prefer to dictate and listen rather than write and read. This will first be the case for some very specific content, such as cooking recipes (not easy to read while the vegetables are being minced!), News (which you can listen to while having breakfast or in the car) and podcasts (whether you are on the move: traveling, playing sports, etc.). Subsequently, however, more and more content could be affected.
What impact on SEO
Therefore, it makes sense to prepare your website now for the voice search revolution, rather than waiting to feel the wind change – when all of your competitors do so simultaneously, blocking your chances of winning first place in the SERPs.
But what exactly is the impact of voice search on SEO?
There are several main trends:
- More and more requests become questions. Voice research, which is readily local, is conducive to interrogative forms: “what time does my film begin?”, Will I need an umbrella today? What is the next show timing at Galway Theatre?”.
- The requests become real sentences. By typing keywords on the keyboard on Google, the user tends to erase everything that does not make sense for the search engine – articles, prepositions, determinants. Anyway, the engine does not take these terms into account.
But the requests formulated orally take the form of complete sentences: “Google, give me the weather forecast for this afternoon” or “who won the world cup tournament this year? etc.
- The requests are getting longer. As soon as the requests turn into full sentences, they get longer naturally. We move from generic keywords to long-tail expressions. People are less likely to search for “London Weekend Bakery” but “Show me which bakery is open on weekends in London?”.
- Formulation errors still exist, but differently. The big problem facing SEOs is spelling mistakes: they must provide that an Internet user can write “real estate sale”, or “real estate sales”.
The voice interface helps to eliminate these faults since it “writes” the request from the oral expression of the Internet user. But this transfer could lead to the appearance of other errors: misunderstandings, such as the fact of taking one word for another.
- The zero position is even more strategic. Popular with brands because it is displayed at the very top of SERPs, the famous zero position is also the one and only resource used by voice assistants in response to specific user requests.
Google Home will not provide you with a list of results by asking you to select the most relevant! It is, therefore, the interface that makes its own choice, drawing from this coveted position. In this sense, the first answer is the right one – and the first place is the only valid one.
It remains to be seen how to take these trends into account to optimize your website for Google voice search.
How you can optimize?
Several methods allow you to optimize your web pages with SEO to take advantage of voice search. Overview of the major levers.
Problems related to Google voice search is that it forces you to change the purpose of your content. It is now about:
- Answer specific questions in a clear, simple and detailed manner.
- Write content that answers users’ recurring questions, with information with high added value.
- Formulate the question in several different ways to cover all formal possibilities.
- Offer longer and semantically richer content.
- Publish educational and didactic content, easy to resume in the form of featured snippets.
- Rework the content structure to place a question in the title, provide a brief answer in the introduction and detail the subject on the rest of the page.
This last point has the double advantage of optimizing your introductory information for Google voice search, with a small chance of hitting the zero position, while guaranteeing better indexing of the page thanks to the more dense content that follows.
Through Google voice search, it is also your relationship to keywords that must evolve. And this, on two levels:
- By working with longer and more precise keywords (long tail), and by scattering the contents of terms and expressions semantically close to the main query. The long tail adapts to new forms of requests: interrogative and in natural language.
- By focusing less and less on keywords, to favor content with high added value capable of responding precisely to the subject of the request and satisfying users.
Structured data plays a major role in the quality of the user experience for voice search. Coded in the markup of your pages, this data is used to create enriched results (enriched cards, enriched extracts), particularly suited to local (and therefore vocal) search.
Even if structured data is not a ranking factor, you are helping Google robots to better understand your web pages and better position your content in Google voice search results.
At this point, it is undoubtedly obvious, but it is essential to offer web pages for display on mobile devices. Voice search is largely available on smartphones and tablets, and its use makes perfect sense in a mobile situation.
Voice search is also a way for businesses and brands to communicate more personally with consumers, reach them more effectively, and engage them more successfully. Consequently, you must orient your SEO strategy towards the consumer and understand their needs, expectations and problems in order to better respond to them through your content optimized for voice search.
Voice search is underway. If you don’t intend to stay by the wayside, it’s time to get on the bandwagon and rethink your SEO strategy!
Raunak is a Mechanical Engineer by qualification & Marketer by passion. He is the co-founder of Maiden Stride, a leading digital marketing agency that provides world-class search engine marketing services and website & application development.