The rise of voice search in a changing SEO landscape?

There is little doubt that the search engine optimisation (SEO) landscape is changing. With regular algorithm updates and new technologies, marketers need to stay ahead of the game to win real estate at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

One of the most important trends to be aware of is the rise of voice search – the increasing tendency for users to conduct search queries via vocal commands and personal digital assistants. Predictions have been made by several SEO experts which, if borne out, could change the face of search as we know it. According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report in 2016, voice searches increased more than 35-fold between 2008 and 2016 and furthermore, ComScore estimate that more than 50 percent of searches will be voice-based by 2020.

Yet, in spite of these predictions, many businesses are not adapting the way they market their products and services to maximise the impact of voice search.

So, what’s the catalyst for the voice search revolution and how is it impacting how we should approach SEO?


Smart speakers and Personal Digital Assistants

Though similar technologies have been around for years, in 2017, sales of smart speakers more than tripled according to Billboard thanks to the rise of both Google Home and Amazon Echo. Because these speakers are activated by voice, and provide spoken search results, users are getting used to interacting with search engine results with only their voices and their ears. This could drastically change the types of queries we see and reshape the way businesses think about search marketing.

Furthermore, with approximately 1.3 billion active devices worldwide, Apple’s digital assistant Siri is now widely used across the globe for voice search queries on the go. And the use of digital assistants on mobile devices goes far beyond merely search, becoming part of the fabric of how people run their everyday lives by enabling them to set reminders, give directions, or place orders without the need to lift a finger.


More complex search queries

When we use voice search, we unconsciously change our behaviour. Voice queries tend to be longer than their text counterparts, at three-to-five keywords in length rather than one-to-three, and characterised by words like ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘why’. These subtle differences can provide marketers with more context about user intent and about where they are in the buying process.

Accordingly, the traditional approach to targeting keywords for analysis and optimisation will need to change, favouring longer keyword queries and identifying specific keywords to match up search results appropriately with the correct stage of the buying process.


Shorter interactions

Voice-based searches are used for quick interactions, such as finding the name of a song or a good place to eat, not for long-winded research sessions into, for example, the best washing machine to buy. As user interactions grow shorter, we’ll have fewer opportunities to make an impression on users, so we need to make those impressions count.


High pressure for top positions

Smart speakers and digital assistants usually only relay information from the top-position entry on a search engine results page, placing even greater pressure to get to the top position. This has an impact on how marketers approach not only organic search, but also their pay-per-click (PPC) strategy. They should also be paying increasing attention to Google’s Knowledge Graph to provide users with even better, more consistent results to help them rise up the SERPs.


Hyperlocal results

Since many voice searches, particularly those using Siri and other digital assistants for mobile devices, take place on the move, there has been an increase in searches with local intent. Furthermore, voice searches taking place in the home are often searching for contextually relevant information.

This is driving a shift in emphasis by Google and other search engines to place greater emphasis on local results. Companies will need to do more to target hyperlocal keywords and optimise for more locally relevant appearances.


How can we start optimising for voice search?

It’s worth bearing in mind that, whilst voice searches are widely predicted to be one of the biggest trends in digital marketing in the next few years, that they are just predictions. In fact, ComScore’s prediction that 50% of searches will be voice based by 2020 was extensively debunked by Rebecca Sentance in an Econsultancy article from last month.

Whilst the predictions about voice search may have over-egged the SEO pudding somewhat, what we can be sure of is that voice search still needs to form a part of every comprehensive search strategy. So, what can marketers do to get on the front foot?

  1. Amend your current SEO strategy. It’s time to start paying more attention to optimising for longer tail queries and more conversational language, rather than focusing only on keywords.
  2. Invest in local SEO. We know that more searches are contextually specific, so targeting hyperlocal keywords can help boost your position on the SERPs.
  3. Pick your battles. As we’ve discovered, the top spot on the SERPs will be more sought after than ever, but you can’t come out top of them all. Choose a handful of search terms to focus on and forego those that are less important to you.
  4. Adjust your PPC campaigns. Soon, consumers will start interacting differently with your ads, so you may need a different approach to ensure their effectiveness.
  5. Prepare for the landscape to change again. We don’t know exactly what the voice search revolution will look like or when it will happen, so it’s important to be flexible and open to the many changes which will inevitably come in the future.

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