It doesn’t seem like five minutes ago that the idea of speaking conversationally to a computer and getting an answer back was the stuff of science fiction. But seemingly overnight, AI platforms like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana have made it a part of everyday reality.
Not to be outdone, Google got in on the act early on with the introduction of Voice Search. The combination of the world’s most powerful internet search engine and voice technology is the kind of recipe which usually spells seismic shifts in general online behaviour. Google claimed some time ago that 55 per cent of teenagers in the US used voice search on a daily basis.
If voice is the future of search, this means yet more upheaval to SEO. Just as we’re all getting to grips with the switch from keywords to semantic search, from desktop optimisation to mobile first, it looks as if everything could change again.
What choice do we have but follow? Google’s track record shows it will always base its ranking criteria on consumer behaviour. If voice becomes the most common way people conduct internet searches, Google will favour voice optimised sites in its algorithms.
What does SEO for voice look like?
The good news is, the direction of SEO in recent years has already laid a lot of the ground work for voice optimisation, and especially the two trends already mentioned - mobile and semantic search.
Voice search is an ideal partner for mobile browsing. People use mobile devices on the move when they are also busy doing other things. The ability to speak into a smartphone or tablet as we multitask is just very convenient, especially as it is not particularly easy to type into a mobile.
Because of this synergy between voice and mobile, if you have optimised your site for mobile (and by now you should have), you are already part way there. This is simply a numbers game - if people use voice to search more on mobile, they will see the top ranked SEO sites for mobile in their search results.
The question of semantic search is a bit more tricky. The reason keywords dominated SEO for so long was because it reflected how people input searches when they type them into a web browser - short, sharp phrases broken down into the bare essentials.
However, search engines eventually realised keyword algorithms were something of a blunt instrument. Even with short typed phrases, there can be a lot of variability in what people are actually looking for, due to context, regional variations in language use, miscues and the fact that sometimes, people don’t really know what they are looking for and a lot of guesswork is involved. To improve their service, search engines set out to become a lot better at interpreting the intentions behind a search, and picking up on subtle variations to improve the quality of the results returned. Hence the concept of semantic search.
This becomes a lot more important with voice. People don’t talk into a computer the way they type - there is no breaking things down into keywords and phrases, they are much more likely to speak in full, fluent sentences, which creates a whole new set of requirements for interpretation from the search bots.
This leads onto the idea of ‘conversational keywords’ in optimisation. Instead of simply stuffing in words and phrases, the websites which perform best in voice search will be those which reflect the conversational language people use, give direct answers to the most common questions they ask, and in general make it as easy as possible for the algorithms to match the spoken work of someone conducting a search to the content of a website.
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