The thought of speaking into a smartphone or mobile device to find information from a virtual assistant is something most people, years ago, never would have imagined. Fast forward to the present day, and not only are half of all searches being performed on mobile devices but searching by voice queries has increased by more than 30%.
“By 2020, half of all searches will be voice searches.” – ComScore
Virtual Assistant Technology Drives Voice Search
In addition to the adoption of speech-to-text technology onto our phones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the rise of virtual assistants is another key driver of this new search style. Currently, the major personal voice assistance services are Apple’s Siri, Google’s “OK, Google,” Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa.
Top 4 Virtual Assistants
- Siri (Apple)
- Google Now (Google)
- Alexa (Amazon)
- Cortana (Microsoft)
Apple was the first big player to equip its iPhones with Siri, a voice search and personal assistant technology. Google introduced Google Now, an app that aims to serve up information before you even ask by using cues from your daily browsing history, phone use, and even geographic location.
For instance, if you leave work at 5:00 pm and typically take the same route home, Google Now will automatically display traffic updates and commute time every day on your phone, right around 5:00 pm.
The recent release of Windows 10 debuted Microsoft’s new personal assistant, Cortana. Amazon took it a step further and developed its Amazon Echo device and virtual assistant, Alexa, that works with your smartphone to answer questions like, “Alexa, what’s the weather?” and handle requests such as, “Alexa, reschedule my 10:00 am meeting.”
How Many Searches Are Performed With Voice Search?
Every day, 3.5 billion searches are performed on Google, alone. With voice searches making up almost a third of those searches, this topic needs to be on your marketing radar.
How Do People Use Voice Search?
Virtual assistants are often called upon for fulfilling informational requests or answering questions. Here are two quick examples of how people use voice search, and the goal or type of the queries:
“OK, Google. Find coffee shops near me.”
Finding nearby stores and restaurants
“Siri, what is a fidget spinner?”
Asking basic information (i.e. directions, facts, weather)
What Does Voice Search Mean for SEO?
Digital marketing is geared toward generating leads and converting them into customers, regardless of whether the lead is acquired via voice- or text-based search. To continue growing your business, digital marketing must be optimized to account for the effects of voice search on SEO.
Since the advancement of voice recognition software, this “voice-to-text” technology has been integrated in as a basic feature on all modern day mobile devices and recent studies show that consumers are using mobile voice search for local queries three times more than text searches. This rapid rise of voice-driven searches continues to evolve and shape the future of SEO.
While we don’t recommend changing your H1 tags to, “Find Auto Shop Near Me,” or stuffing voice search terms like, “Auto Repair Shops Open Now,” it would be regrettable not to incorporate best practices for voice search into your marketing strategy.
The Changing Search Query
Virtual assistants and speech-to-text are changing the dynamic of search queries. Below are examples that show how voice search incorporates longer queries that more clearly identify user intent.
Text Search Query
Pizza in Raleigh
Voice Search Query
“Where’s the closest pizza place?”
“Find pizza delivery open now”
Auto-corrected Search Queries
Sometimes what a user types in isn’t what gets searched. Virtual assistants can revise and auto-correct queries. Before it submits the request to the search engine, the virtual assistant may add in keywords or re-phrase the speech-to-text query to depict user intent.
Short-handing a query like, “Closest gas station,” may result in Google Now automatically tweaking the phrase to one more commonly used and best matching user intent, such as “Where is the nearest gas station?”
Some SEO professionals may argue that traditional text searches are still your best bet, since spoken word gets converted into text and auto-corrected before it gets processed by the search engine. This is obviously not the case. Marketers and businesses need to actively make improvements in voice search optimization.
RankBrain and AI
Search engines like Google and Bing are taking measures to accommodate the use of virtual assistants and voice-driven shift in user search behavior.
As far back as 2013, with Google’s initial release of the Hummingbird update that focused on natural-language, algorithm advancements are being made to facilitate this trend.
Cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology has been developed to help process the more complex, longer voice queries and question-phrased terms. Google RankBrain, a machine-learning AI system, launched in 2015 and is now recognized as the third most important ranking factor.
Only 1 Spot: Search Results Limited
Virtual assistants like Siri will highlight the top search result that best matches the search query – it can even read it back, so the user doesn’t have to look at their screen and may not even ever see the content in positions #2 and #3. This makes the ranking for the coveted #1 position even more valuable (and challenging!).
How to Rank #1 in Voice Search
As voice search continues to revolutionize the search engines and SEO, there are a few future-proof steps to follow that align with Hummingbird, RankBrain, and Google’s projected strategy for rankings:
- Use natural language over basic keywords. Include questions and phrases that your audience may ask or want to know, and present them in a way that makes sense and flows well.
- Make it easy and clear for Google to understand the topic and how best to serve it up to users. Virtual assistants may pull excerpts from your page to answer a user’s question, so include content that would best fit this.
- Provide content that matches the user’s search term intent. The more relevant and useful the content is, the better.
Feel like you missed something? Don’t worry, you didn’t. That’s because these steps aren’t as clear-cut as typical best practices such as including page titles, H1s, and so on. But really it is this simple to gain favorability among search engines.
Google’s goal is to have more people conduct more searches and use their products. To do this, user experience and intent are vital and will play a major role in future SEO. These two components are so wide-ranging and dynamic, with so many variables that depend on your target audience, that the big feat is to understand your prospects and customers better than ever. Getting to know this information intimately and keeping the user in mind will refine the specifics of the voice search optimization practices that you should employ.
Most people are looking for a quick solution to make multi-tasking more effective, making speech-to-text the perfect candidate. The use of voice over text is also attractive to those who can’t be bothered with typing. With an error rate of only 8%, voice search is going to change the way people search.
The rise of voice search impacts how customers search for products and services, making it relevant for digital marketers to ensure their content is visible from every type of request (voice search, question queries, etc.). As people begin to search differently, websites formerly optimized for text-based searches will need to be optimized for voice-based queries.