Four of the largest companies in the world – Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft – have now brought out “digital (voice) assistants”, in Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana.
If voice search isn’t quite the everyday present for the majority of us, it is definitely going to be part of the future, with Gartner, the world’s leading IT research and advisory company, predicting that by 2020, 30% of all web browsing sessions will be done without a screen due to the rise in the aforementioned digital voice assistants. Google currently processes over 2 trillion search queries per year, which puts the 30% into some perspective. In 2014, the search giant commissioned a study on voice search and unsurprisingly, teenagers were found to be the heaviest users with 55% surveyed saying they use voice search more than once a day. Desktop users too, are also getting in on the act with venture capital company KPCB’s “internet trends report” announcing that 25% of Windows 10 searches are now done via voice.
The graph below nicely portrays the rise of voice search and our interaction with our phones by showing the global increase in queries for the terms “navigate home”, “call Mum”, and “call Dad” (all standard mobile voice searches).
The rate of growth for the yellow line (Mums) is still around 800% over the 4 year period – it is just dwarfed by the other two search queries. As to why we prefer to call our Dads via voice search 5 times as much as our Mums, I don’t have the answer..
Due to the growing numbers of voice searches being made, the way websites are optimised and the content they create need to change in order to adapt.
Algorithms of previous years drove searchers to enter short, sharp queries containing only the relevant keywords devoid of all sentence structure. And because this is how people were searching, that is how websites were optimised – unnatural phrases, such as “iPhone repair Rickmansworth” would be crammed into Meta Data and site copy with intentions of capturing that search traffic, but it just never looked natural to the eye – no matter what the technical SEOs kept telling us.
We all, as users of Google, adapted our online written language for this way of searching, but the introduction of Hummingbird in 2013 bought semantic context to the table, deciphering the meaning behind the queries we were asking, allowing websites to optimise for longer tail phrases. People of course still do use the concise form of search string, however, many are now using more natural sentences when looking for answers – “where can I get my iPhone repaired in Rickmansworth” for example, would be the voice version of the above shorter, typed phrase. “What is the weather like in Rickmansworth now?” rather than simply “weather Rickmansworth”, would be used. You get the gist.
Predictably then, voice search queries are longer than the text equivalents and tend to unambiguously ask a “who, what, where, when, why” question that would be expected to be answerable by the search engine (more on this later).
Speaking is easier than typing, after all, thus, content optimised for voice, therefore, needs to take into consideration this important facet of the nature of voice search.
On mobile and desktop, Google has a global search engine market share of around 78%, compared to Bing’s 8%. Things are slightly different, however when it comes to voice search as Siri uses Bing to provide its answers, as does Microsoft’s Cortana. So, for users looking to use Google, they have to actually ask their devices to use Google. Questions like “Siri, can you ask Google where I can get my iPhone repaired in Rickmansworth “are predictably less common than“ Siri, where can I get my iPhone repaired in Rickmansworth”, and thus, Bing gets some voice search traction.
So, do you need to worry about optimising for both Google and Bing? In a word, no. As of the third quarter of 2016, Android dominates the Smartphone Operating System market with a massive 87% share of the pie. And yes, Android phones use Google to answer voice queries.
We know long-tail phrases are in, but what else?
Being mobile friendly has been a requisite for any site serious about ranking for a couple of years now, so there really is no excuse for this not to be the case. Google’s “Mobile Friendly Test” tool will let you know where you stand, but with Smartphones being the primary device upon which people use voice search, it’s more important now than ever to get your site up to speed.
Like above, you should really already be locally optimised anyway, but when you consider that a lot of voice search is done whilst people are either looking for directions, phone numbers, or shops (especially whilst driving), you are missing out on potential custom as voice search can help both physically and metaphorically guide people to your business.
You will need to ensure you follow the basic local SEO rules of having your name, address, and phone number in text not image form (so Google can crawl and read them), local directory links pointing at the site, customer reviews, verified Google My Business profile, Rich Snippets in action, and more.
Voice searchers often reference microdata such as location, opening hours, prices, etc. so you can help out by making this data easily accessible to the digital assistants by creating a comprehensive sitemap for your site.
Voice search via mobile is three times as likely to be locally-based than text, which is closely tied to the fact that the majority of smartphone searches are also local, too. So get optimised or miss out!
We have already touched upon the importance of moving to longer tail keywords, but there is also the tone of these to consider, too. People are unlikely to ramble on to their digital assistant, so whilst using more words, they are quite likely to be more to the point and specific as you would assume a specific question would lead to a more accurate, relevant answer.
Businesses will want to optimise their websites for content that is both intuitive and unambiguous. “Find an iPhone repair shop near me” with a user location enabled gives an opportunity for a website to target that phrase, with the shop’s location at the end exactly.
FAQ pages or blogs that answer the kind of questions that those in their target markets are asking is a great way of doing this. Research needs to be done into what people are voice searching, but as long as you provide useful, relevant information, you can expect Google to take note and rank it accordingly.
Naturally, if you want an answer, you have to ask a question but when typing a search query, we don’t actually ask one properly – “iPhone repair shop” would be expected to provide the answer, versus “Where is an iPhone repair shop?” if you were using voice. Thus, question phrase growth continues year-on-year, at 60% on average.
When deciding which keywords to go for, try to think about the questions your (potential) customers will be searching for and the intent that those questions imply.
“What is Chicken Pad Thai?” versus “Where can I get Chicken Pad Thai” are two related search queries but the outcomes the user wants from Google are two very different things – information vs satiating! Again, be sure to optimise accordingly.
Whilst this may all seem a bit intimidating to some website owners and businesses, it should actually make things easier for those optimising their sites around voice search. Complex keyword research takes less importance and providing useful, interesting content that answers the questions your customers and site visitors are asking is the order of the day.
This version of SEO actually accommodates itself to a very natural way of searching, so by understanding this now and adapting your website to make it as easy as possible for digital assistants to crawl and comprehend, you are putting yourself in good stead for the future.