Note: This post has been updated for Voice Search in September 2019.
In a video from 2016, we mentioned that 55% of teens and 41% of adults are already using voice search on a daily basis, and that number is only going to continue to grow. We were right. Statistics from DBS Interactive show that, as of January 2018, there were on average, 1 billion voice searches per month, and ComScore predicts that half of all online searches will be by voice by the year 2020. The reason? Most people use voice search on their phones and smart speakers to look for local businesses, weather, get the news, answer questions and get directions. As we mentioned before, voice chatting and search are faster, hands-free and allow you to multi-task. Additionally, voice search results are becoming more and more reliable and accurate.
The Effectiveness of Voice Search
In 2013 Google’s voice search word rate error was over 20% compared to the 4.9% it is today. But advancement in this area seems to have slowed according to a Venturebeat publication in May of 2019. Maybe the cost to get to perfection is cost-prohibitive.
Since voice search is vastly different than a typed search query, and online businesses relying on search need to be aware of the way voice search query results occur, so that they can prepare landing pages accordingly. Voice search is changing SEO and this is dictating a more conversational layout for landing pages.
In this post we will explore:
- The history of voice search in SEO
- SEO tips for voice search results
- Local business listings and voice search
- Predictions for voice search and SEO
The History – How Voice Search Began Impacting SEO
The future seems to include smartphones and voice-assisted AI devices, and as these grow in popularity, Google’s search algorithm has been changing to recognize the different ways people are searching.
In 2013 Google updated its core search algorithm to “Hummingbird”. Sometimes Google names its search algorithms with animal names, and in this case, “Hummingbird” aimed to make search interactions more human by assessing phrase differences used when people search with voice and want to listen to a response rather than type a search and read a response. “Hummingbird” considers context and meaning over individual keywords. It allowed internal pages with “better answers” to be shown in search results, rather than just showing the website’s homepage.
This algorithm change was one of the biggest up to that time and focused SEO more on the meaning of a search query and the resulting conversational answer. Not only did SEO page content change to be more informative, but website navigation had to change to lead Google quickly and accurately to the right page to answer a question.
While “hummingbird” forced changes in the keyword phrases and the language used on landing pages that SEO targeted, another change to Google’s algorithm, “Rank Brain” added Artificial Intelligence (AI) decision making to the results. “Rank Brain” identifies and categorizes phrases and in doing so can predict outcomes to deliver appropriate webpages with matching answers. “RankBrain” allows “Hummingbird” to quickly and accurately choose the best content for any search phrase. It also means that depending on the country and language of the origination of the search query, Google can deliver better results, specific to quirks in speech, for instance, someone in the US will get personal trainer listings if they search “trainer” while someone in England will get athletic shoe results. Black Hat SEO was no longer as effective at gaming this system and SEO began to become much more about creating better content that answered questions after the “Rank Brain” update in 2015.
The “People Also Ask” results delivered by Google are a good example of AI working to anticipate the next voice search a person may make. Many of these results are triggered by voice searches. These answer box summaries (usually displayed at the top of the search results) also are the spoken answer Google assistant and Google Home provides. An analysis by SEOClarity of these Google voice search answers showed 20% of featured snippets are triggered by a set of 25 words such as How, What, and Best. This means that many of the top search results now answer questions triggered by voice searches, and SEO has evolved accordingly to provide content to answer these types of queries.
Voice Assisted Speakers, Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant
In 2018 there were over 1 billion voice-assisted devices and the most-used voice assistant on smartphones was Siri, while Alexa and Google Assistant were the most popular smart speakers. As more and more people use AI-powered smart speaker devices, voice commands in cars, and wearable devices like smartwatches and fitness wristbands, voice search functionality will become increasingly important.
All subsequent Google algorithm updates have had some relation to the increasing amount of voice searches, whether the update was to speed up website load time and make pages easier to scan on mobile phones, remove content that is duplicated across many pages, or improve the validity of content, searches that begin with voice continue to impact the Google search results.
Just How Important is Voice Initiated Search?
A really great post with a few pertinent voice search statistics lays out just how important the future of voice search will be. In April of 2019 99Firms.com published this post listing 35 statistics about voice search and voice-assisted devices that illustrate the quick growth and acceptance of voice in all of our everyday lives.
SEO Tips for Voice Search Results
- Choose long-tail keywords that reflect the way people speak. Where before optimization was more about making sure wording on a page exactly matched the search phrase, Google’s Rank Brain AI tool now understand topics and associates synonyms like attorney and lawyer, so there is no need to keyword stuff pages in order to rank anymore. Additionally, Google doesn’t want to have thousands of duplicate or almost similar content in its index, so make sure your pages are focused on a topic and unique. Think more words, accurate grammar, and providing the best possible information necessary for a decision. Google now has a much better understanding of how spoken language works.
- Now you should try to write all your content in a conversational way. Remember that conversational search queries performed by voice search usually ask questions beginning with “who, what, where, why and how”. This translates easily into an FAQ format for product and services pages.
- It also impacts your blogging strategy. Write blogs that answer long-tail keyword questions using titles and headers that begin with words like “how”, “what”, and “best”. These posts should link back to pages on the site with even more in-depth information on a topic. The blogs should use a question-answer format, and the website should focus on providing the best information on a topic.
- Use structured data because it helps Google bots find information about the content of pages on your website in order to rank them higher.
- If you are able to redesign to a mobile-first layout, this will help. Remember that mobile devices searches are rapidly rising in popularity and as such, may change the way searchers want to quickly find and scan information.
- Use tools like Google page speed to make sure your website speed is as fast as you can get it, particularly on mobile devices.
- Review your pages for any duplicate content and make sure to point out whether anyone has copied your content inappropriately to Google.
Local business listings and voice search
- Local business is most affected by voice search, particularly local service providers and restaurants. Sites depending on providing people directions should write more localized content. Recently there have been increasing searches for “Near Me” queries.
- Continually update and monitor the Google My Business listing making sure to respond to all reviews and add up to date photos, event posts, and new products and services.
- Try to get listed on all major local directories and industry-specific directories associated with your product or service.
- Take the time to review all your listings to make sure content, contact information and hours are updated.
Predictions for Voice Search and SEO
Digital Donut recently published predictions about the future of voice search in this post, where they discussed the high use and excellent outcome of local voice search as compared to searching with a virtual assistant. They cite the reason as a local voice search to find directions, hours, or local businesses are trusted, while purchasing online still isn’t fully accepted. The article states “Customers have reservations about the security of their data, providing payment information and not being able to see the product.” Obviously businesses need to pay close attention to voice search and voice-assisted devices, and to work to improve trust and user experience with voice search results.
You can no longer ignore voice search. Think about how to update your website and digital content to provide people searching with a voice assistant easy answers. Your pages will rank higher in Google as a result.
Check out our other Q&A videos and stay tuned for many more to come. I’m Jenna Steven and this has been another edition of Boomtown Keyword.