Do you have a voice assistant in your home? If you do, you’re not alone. It is estimated that around 8.2 million people own an Amazon Echo device and Google Home is not too far behind, selling more than one Google Home device every second since October 2017.
Furthermore, a study found that 40% of adults now use voice search at least once per day. Voice search has managed to find its way into every aspect of our lives, from finding out the age of a film star to sourcing the cheapest flights. With a reach this large, it is inevitable that the world of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) would edit and improve its techniques in order to stay on top of the changes voice search has brought.
Voice search and the skills of voice assistants are constantly changing as the teams behind them aim to improve their usability. Recently, debate surrounding advertising on voice assistants has started to heat up, so we thought we would take a look back at how voice search has affected SEO, and where we think it might go in the future.
How has Voice Search changed SEO?
Optimising for questions and natural language
In 2017, we saw the increasing popularity of voice search go hand-in-hand with the rise of the featured snippet. By providing concise answers to your questions directly in the SERPs, search engines became even more user-friendly. Featured snippets benefit the company, the user and especially voice search.
These snippets of information were the perfect way for voice assistants to answer your questions whenever you needed them. In fact, it was recently found that 80% of google home results come from snippets. This was found across a range of different subjects, including medical, retail, travel and finance.
When using a voice assistant, we don’t search by keyword. This is because in a normal conversation, we don’t typically converse through single words (unless it’s a particularly awkward conversation). However, this is exactly what we do every day searching google via smartphones or desktops.
With voice assistants, we communicate in a far more natural manner. Rather than just searching ‘weather in Cardiff’, we ask ‘Hey Google, what’s the weather like in Cardiff today?’. We speak to them as if they were a friend or someone else in the room. Google even recently reported that 41% of people who own a voice assistant say it feels like talking to a friend.
Questions are a far more natural way to initiate conversation, which is why the world of SEO now works harder to answer the many queries each user has.
Furthermore, Google launched an algorithm known as RankBrain in 2015. This algorithm uses machine-learning artificial intelligence to process search results and determine the most relevant result by determining the user’s true intent. RankBrain is used when Google is not entirely sure of the meaning behind your search.
For example, if you search for something as simple as ‘stripes’, Google will provide you with a range of options to choose from to determine your intent. This can range from Stripes the 1981 film, the Cambridge dictionary definition of stripes and even Women’s striped clothing.
This change happened before voice search became mainstream but lead to an increased emphasis on answering user questions, linguistics and intent which ultimately made voice search more accurate. RankBrain was designed to handle the long-tail, complex queries and questions that are common place with voice search.
Keywords are still a vital aspect of SEO, but the way they are phrased has become more important since RankBrain and voice search came into play. Voice search, aided by featured snippets and Google’s machine learning has meant long-tail-keywords and answering the many questions users have are now a much larger focus in the world of SEO.
Increased focus on local listings and reviews
Voice search increases the need for a single answer. In a typical scenario, if you ask your voice assistant where to find a particular item, it will provide you with one answer. Of course, if it is a more general item, you may be provided with more than one local shop. In both scenarios, it is highly important to have your local business listed accurately.
As many people use their voice assistant like another person in the room, it’s natural that many searches are location based. It was also recently found in a study which tested 616 questions on Google Home, that ‘Google My Business is key to any local related searches’.
On a Google My Business listing, you’re able to list the key features of your business without the need to click through to the website. These features include address, phone number and opening hours, so it’s important these are accurate and your business is verified.
If a voice assistant determines you’re the top local business for that user’s queries, you need to ensure they’re able to reach you easily. You don’t want google sending someone to your old warehouse miles away!
Furthermore, the focus on local search has increased the need for good reviews on listings. If someone wants to know where they can get the best Italian food, you want your business to come up top if you’re an Italian restaurant and you’re close to that users’ current location.
Reviews and ratings for your business have always been important to your online presence, but a voice assistant’s ability to answer questions about the best business in a specific area has led to an increased push towards achieving good online ratings.
Increased necessity for responsive websites
By this point, you may be tired of hearing how important mobile-friendly websites are for SEO. But, from the tipping point in 2015 when mobile search surpassed desktop searches for the first time, the necessity for responsive websites has increased exponentially.
Many voice search users speak to their voice assistants via their mobile devices. Siri, Cortana, Google Now. Each of these voice assistants come readily available on your new smart phone, eager to help.
So, what happens if your business comes up top for a Siri voice search local query or a question? The voice search user will most likely click through to the website on their mobile to find out more. When using a voice assistant, they may click through to the website through the Alexa app but if your website is not mobile-friendly, you’re probably going to be faced with a pretty high bounce rate.
Furthermore, its highly unlikely you will get that top position on the mobile SERPs in the first place if your website is not optimised for mobile use.
Optimising for mobile-search is essential in this day and age, but the increased use of voice search makes it even more necessary.
The future of Voice Search and SEO
It’s clear that voice search has impacted SEO techniques since it was introduced, but how much further could this go? Here are a few of our predictions on how voice search could change SEO and advertising even more in the future.
Back in May 2017, those who asked their Google Home about their day received an unexpected response. In amongst the weather and calendar appointments, their voice assistant announced that the new Beauty and the Beast film premiered that day. Many people believed this to be an advert, despite Google simply calling it an experiment.
However, despite the somewhat hostile response to this ‘experiment’, Amazon is reportedly in talks to let companies promote their products on Alexa. It has been reported that Amazon is currently testing a number of different advert types, including videos. Though this doesn’t impact organic SEO directly, it does affect the way we advertise on search engines.
It seems Alexa will work to target those with voice assistants based on previous shopping behaviour. For example, if you ask Alexa to put an item on your shopping list, she may suggest a certain brand of product to you. This will most likely work in a bidding format, like Google Adwords.
You are currently able to advertise on the Amazon echo through flash briefings, radio or podcasts, as long as the advert does not refer to or sound like Alexa. You’re also unable to place third-party ads on Alexa skills (apps that provide Alexa with more abilities, such as providing recipes or podcasts) unless that skill streams content.
We think the future of voice search will incorporate advertising in a much different way to mobile or desktop advertising. Voice search and voice assistants are interactive, which could lead to much more interactive and focused forms of advertising.
Voice Search advertising could be as simple as telling Alexa you want a pizza and her detailing the latest pizza deals in your area. That way, Alexa is still your helpful friend, but companies are able to advertise on the device in a natural manner.
It could get more personal
While mobile and google search results make an effort to personalise your search results (to the extent where even logging into your Gmail account, where you’re currently located or your browse history can change the rankings for your search query) voice assistants do not seem to have this functionality yet.
It is well-known that voice assistants store your queries and commands for a set period of time, so it’s not unthinkable to assume that they may start to use this information to provide you with more accurate or personalised answers based on your previous communications.
Let’s say for example you ask your voice assistant at the beginning of the week ‘tell me about the museums in Barcelona’; then later in the week you ask your voice assistant to look up flights from your nearest airport. At that point it’s entirely feasible that it will come back with something like ‘did you want to see the flights to Barcelona?’.
Not only would this mimic natural conversation as your voice assistant begins to remember details about you, it provides a bigger opportunity for advertisers on voice assistants.
Additionally, last October, Google announced that the Google Home will soon be able to recognise individual users voices when they use voice search.
Alexa similarly announced that it will soon be able to decipher if you, a child or a friend is trying to order items through your voice assistant.
If voice search does take a move towards focusing on the individual, it will see SEO efforts move more towards answering the more personal questions and online advertising becoming even more audience targeted than it currently is.
Do you need help with optimising your website for voice search? Get in touch with us today to find out how our SEO team can help.