Voice Search Will Impact SEO

Voice recognition has moved on from the early Siri days and gained a lot of credit in recent years. The early versions of Apple’s voice technology came across as a bit of a gimmick, but the iOS feature has come a long way over the years. Google has made strides with the technology too and Microsoft has released its own Cortana, with an eye on the future of search.

So voice recognition isn’t going away and you can expect to see the technology feature more heavily in new devices – as well as marketing strategies and your daily life. You should be starting to think about how you may need to implement voice search into your SEO strategy and even more so your mobile search strategy.  And if you’re struggling to see how voice recognition will make an impact, you only have to look at the big names in search for a clue.

Google making voice recognition the future of search

Google is heavily invested in Voice Search and the search provider’s Head of Voice Recognition – Scott Huffman – says the technology could even replace screens on smartphones in the near future. This might sound extreme (and annoying when you want to watch a video) but when the authority in search says voice recognition is the future of its industry, you have to take notes.

The signs already point in this direction too – with the early days of wearable technology upon us and moves by Google to improve the accuracy of search results for natural speech. Google’s Hummingbird update was engineered to make natural language more effective for queries – the obvious stumbling block between voice recognition and search. It’s a big move in the right direction, but there is a long way to go for the technology to work its way into our everyday lives.

The challenges of voice recognition

The car industry has become one of the pioneers in voice recognition, but it has found the technology a tough nut to crack. The noise produced by an engine and jolting of a car in motion makes it difficult for a computer to distinguish the human voice. While languages, accents and different vocabulary use show how far voice recognition has to come before it can understand the huge variety of users out there.

While perhaps the biggest obstacle for the technology has nothing to do with its limitations. Voice recognition will continue to improve and become more accurate. But none of this matters unless people use the technology to solve everyday problems. Voice recognition in the car makes perfect sense in a “hands-free” environment, while voice commands in the home will prove extremely useful. But how can the likes of Google and Apple expect people to ditch the keypads for their vocal chords when it comes to search?

The evolution of search

In fact, the transition may not be as difficult as it seems. A Google study shows that 55% of teenagers already use Voice Search on a daily basis, while 40% of adults do the same. This is hardly a conclusive statistic, but it’s pretty staggering in the early days of voice search.

It turns out the vast majority of this use relates to asking for directions and the truth is voice search has a long way to go. The technology is far form synonymous with search, but it has made progress in recent years. More importantly, people have adopted the technology – even if it is for a limited use. This will make further integration of voice recognition a very natural procedure and you can expect to see more of the technology as the search industry and user habits evolve.

With the development of voice activated assistance on mobile devices, search has become much easier for users. With Google keen to improve their service for mobiles, voice assistant technology could dramatically change SEO in the near future.

Google encourages mobile search. The recent “mobilegeddon” algorithm update was a declaration the company is serious about improving user-experience on handheld devices and the ‘direct answer’ facility they have built into search results is likely to become a prominent feature.

According to Google, ‘direct answers’ makes it “quicker, easier and more natural to find what you’re looking for.” I doubt that will be the case every time, and the service has limited space.

Regardless of Google’s proposed outcome, a voice activated search facility is going to have an impact in SEO strategies. So where does this leave marketers and how can you optimise pages with structured data that will be matched with voice search instructions?

Rich answers

Direct answers, also called rich answers, do not appear every time end-users enter a query into a search engine, whether typed or spoken. However, the indication is that search engines will start delivering more rich answers to voice searches.

The number of mobile owners using voice search is increasing and now voice assistant technology is more accurate, the ease of use is likely to become even more common – especially if Google is able to produce results.

Google produce rich answers in various ways. They will always appear ahead of links, but the way in which they are displayed will depend on the search query. For example, if a searcher wants to know the latest scores, a table will appear.

Results typically appear in menus or tabbed results, although charts, graphs and images are possible. But the results are always answers that are in the public domain, a bit like we are already seeing with Google’s pathetic knowledge-based boxes – therefore expect a lot of Wikipedia pages appearing at the top of your search results.

How will direct answers affect online marketers?

The results appearing in direct answers are pages with the highest rank authority. The problem marketer’s face therefore is optimising their pages to match voice search and improve domain authority.

The problem for users is that results are often poor. For example, I wanted to know if Buddha really existed. The ‘rich answer’ was: “Just because there is no evidence that he existed, doesn’t mean he didn’t exist.” Great…

The drawbacks for everyone are obvious, but that will not stop Google attempting to develop the functionality of voice search. The saving grace is that ‘direct answers’ responds to natural language that marketers can optimise on webpages.

But that still leaves the conundrum of increasing authority levels so that Google select your pages to appear in the rich answers snippet – especially when you are competing against established publications that publish the same type of content you are.

Publishers should therefore be looking at asking questions in their content that users searching for answer may naturally ask. For example, ‘where can I buy a leather coat in Bristol?’ Optimising pages for local searches will be your most successful.

It seems that Google are making online marketing more complicated than ever before at the minute. Their intentions may be promising, but early signs suggest the potential results are going to be a mess.

By getting a head start and optimising pages to directly respond to voice search before the service becomes ensconced in search results for eternity, you stand a better chance of establishing page authority and stealing the rich answer spot light.

If you need help with optimising for voice search get in touch.