Google, Alexa, Cortana, Siri & Co. have now taken their place in our everyday lives.
But what exactly is voice Search and how does it affect search engine optimization in particular?
Voice Search (SEO) in a nutshell
Status quo of voice search: The use and number of possible applications are increasing continuously.
How voice control affects SEO: The new way of asking forces a new way of answering. Intention, location, and time become more important.
How voice search will evolve: Artificial intelligence will recognize voices and moods and adjust responses accordingly.
Definition: What is Voice Search?
Voice Search describes the voice-controlled use of the Google search engine, which can now also be used on the desktop via a mobile app and the Google Chrome browser.
We can now control countless apps by voice, not just those from Google (e.g. Google Maps), Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana), or Amazon (Alexa). Due to the good usability (even accessibility is guaranteed) – both on mobile and stationary devices – voice search integrates ideally into our everyday life.
Carsten Rauh, Director Search Advertising & Strategic Sales at Microsoft Germany, is convinced that we “will increasingly move towards communicating what we used to do by typing on either mobile or desktop to via personal digital assistants – depending on how quickly the quality of those services improves”. It’s easier more convenient, of course, to talk to a device.
And Gary Vaynerchuk is also convinced: Voice is the next search engine.
The emergence of Voice Search
Speech recognition technologies have been evolving since the 1950s, with the 1970’s marking the heyday of the development, which is characterized above all by great interest and funding by the US Department of Defense.
In the course of this, the “Harpy Speech Recognition System” (1976) was created, which for the first time had a rudimentary search function. Google marked the next milestone With the introduction of the first version of its “Voice Search” in 2002. At that time, however, searchers still had to practice their search term over the phone r notify a hotline.
Would you seriously consider something like that today?
The modern Google Voice Search, as installed on every Android smartphone or available as an app for other systems, was introduced in 2012.
There are now a wide variety of end devices that can be used for voice input: smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, laptops/desktops, game consoles, and smart speakers, such as the well-known Amazon Echo/Echo Dot, Google Home or Apple Home Pod (as of December 2017).
Voice search status quo
The increasing use of voice search is mainly based on the popularity of voice-controlled virtual assistants, which have been increasing since the introduction of Apple’s Siri in 2011, as well as Google Now (2012), Microsoft’s Cortana (2014), and Amazon’s Alexa (2014) have become familiar to mass audiences. Smart helpers have permanently changed our usage behavior and, in addition to voice search, have also increasingly integrated general voice control into our everyday lives.
In 2016, Google CEO Sundar Picha announced in a keynote that already 20% of search queries via mobile devices are done by voice. By 2020, it should be a good half of all search queries (on all platforms, including Bing, Baidu & others.).
Both the currently available figures and current developments or the language assistant from Facebook speak clear language with regard to voice search.
And according to Google, users who own a speaker with voice control are positive about brands as part of the experience. “They are open to information that is helpful and relevant to their lifestyle.”
Voice Search Optimization: How Voice Control Affects SEO Strategies
Not everyone shares the joy of the increasing popularity of voice-controlled search. Those responsible for SEO in particular see the development with mixed feelings.
But what effects does voice search have on search engine optimization? How does “Voice Search SEO” differ from previous methods?
The good news is that it will continue as before, but it will reach a significantly higher level of complexity. Because overall, the number of ways that transactional queries can be triggered outside of search engines is increasing.
1. A new way to search and new way of replying
First of all, you should consider user behavior lead: While the user enters one or more keywords into the search mask in a common search on the web – be it mobile or on the PC – and then clicks through the displayed result pages (SERP), he usually does not even look at a voice search more on his screen.
This was the case in 30% of web browsing sessions by 2020. Finally, it is easy for us to activate the search using a voice command (“Okay Google…”) and start the search verbally. And the results, or more precisely: the supposed best result, are not displayed to us but read out. Gone are the days of lists and “top rankings”.
This changed initial situation makes it clear that the searcher is about other intentions and needs. The user is not usually interested in doing long research. On the contrary: he asks a direct question to which he expects a concrete answer.
2. Conversational Search: From Keywords to Key Sentences
Compared to traditional Google search, Google Voice search is much more dialog-oriented (we therefore also speak of “conversational search”), whereby the searcher usually asks a well-formulated question instead of searching using specific keywords.
The focus of voice search SEO should therefore be more on questions (or their answers) and long-tail keywords. While this trend has been around for a while, it’s becoming even more important as a preparation for voice search.
Focus on typical questions (When? How? Where? Who? Why? Which? etc.) and answer them as precisely as possible.
Incidentally, this also increases your chance of appearing in Google’s rich snippets and placing you at the top (known as position 0) of the classic search result list.
Common questions can be identified with the help of content tools. Such tools use previously defined keywords to determine questions that have been asked by users in the same context. You can then embed them, for example, in headings or directly in your URLs.
The bottom line for you is that you don’t just limit your keyword research to individual keywords, but to expand search phrases.
Conversations with customers, comments, and reviews on your website, or a closer look at the competition – especially the FAQ – will help you. You could also test to what extent optimizing your long-tail keywords for the voice commands accepted by Google’s AI, such as “Show me photos of New York”, is profitable.
What are Rich Snippets?
Rich snippets are small (text) excerpts from your blog or website that best serves the search query (according to the Google algorithm).
They consist of a title, a URL, and a content part, which varies depending on the snippet type. With appropriate markup in the source code of your website (so-called structured data), you can qualify for certain types of snippets (e.g. products, recipes, or reviews) and have a certain influence on the content of the snippets. Ideally, you place a call-to-action next to the answer to the search query.
They have some advantages: On the one hand, the additional information increases the relevance for the user, which has a positive effect on the click rate, and on the other hand, rich snippets are very well suited for Voice Search SEO as the information it contains can easily be read aloud.
But beware: Just because you are displayed in the text search (PC/Mobile) with a rich snippet does not automatically mean that this is also the case with the same search query via voice input!
Requests by voice command are more based on a classic dialogue. The user “speaks” with his end device. At best, this approach is also reflected in the content – “holistic” is the right keyword here, as is “semantic SEO”.
A look at the auto-completion of the Google search helps (which search terms/questions are displayed next to your own?) and another look at the similar search queries at the end of the search results pages.
The advantage of Voice Search is that the User Intent can be identified more precisely than is possible by entering keywords. This fact is also reflected in the search results.
Let’s assume a user is looking for the right shoes for a marathon run. If he enters “marathon running shoes” in the search bar, both informational and transactional (i.e. commercial) results will be displayed.
If the same user makes the request again via voice command and as a question (“Okay Google, which shoes are suitable for a marathon run?”), the results change.
The first two rankings are identical. This is probably due to the fact that it is optimized for both long tail and normal keywords and answers all common questions about running.
However, these results are followed by online shops in third and fourth place in the classic search, while a marathon portal and the forum of a shop follow in the voice search. The titles and meta descriptions are more specific to the question being asked, increasing the likelihood that the user will get a satisfactory answer to their query.
What does user intent mean (in terms of SEO)?
In recent years, the intention of the user, the so-called “user intent” has become more and more important as a Google ranking factor. This relates to the user’s intention / his need behind his search query. This is particularly easy to recognize with voice search since the user usually asks a relatively precise question. Depending on the intention, the searcher has different demands on the search results.
We make a fundamental distinction between three different intentions:
- The user wants to go to a specific location or page.
- Informational: The user wants to know more about a certain topic.
- Transactional: The user intends something to buy.
3. Focus on location and time
Due to the predominantly mobile use of voice search, the location of the user and the time of the request play a major role. If someone is looking for pizza or sushi late in the evening, they expect concrete results on restaurants and delivery services in the area. Depending on what kind of business you have, you should therefore place even greater value on Google Maps entries and your own Google Locations, including address and contact details.
Location will become more important with voice search and search engines are expected to present the nearest results.
Through all that we know about a user – above all his likes and preferences (for example, his preferred airline and travel time when he is looking for a “flight to New York”) – and what we know from a large number of existing solutions from other users. In addition, there is the context in which the user is currently located, which is taken into account when selecting the appropriate solutions. This creates a new quality of search results and makes the search itself a much more personal experience.
How will voice search develop?
As far as the technical possibilities of voice search are concerned, we are still at the beginning. Whether Google, Cortana, Alexa or Siri – the common apps are constantly being optimized to improve the user experience – especially by avoiding misunderstandings during voice input.
The number of other apps that can be operated by voice is also likely to increase over the coming months and years.
Furthermore, the following developments are foreseeable:
From inquiry to interview
The further development of the AI behind Virtual (Voice ) Assistants will lead to dialogs between user and assistant that go beyond the question-answer scheme. Both Google Assistant and Alexa already have the necessary technology to ask queries that can be used to refine the search results. The user can also ask follow-up questions about a result without having to repeat the original question. A simple “Okay Google, next result” or “Siri, do you have any more?” is enough to get more information.
Emotions and Moods recognized
In the future it will not only depend on which question the user asks and what the intention behind it is, his voice or mood will also influence the results.
Numerous companies and start-ups are currently working on voice recognition software that can analyze the user’s tone and expression and thus draw conclusions about their emotional state. If the user is under stress, for example, he needs concrete information quickly. If, on the other hand, he is calm and in a good mood, he is probably more in the mood for inspirational content.
In the not-so-far future, our aim is to add vocal biomarker analysis to our feature set, enabling Virtual Private Assistants to analyze your voice for specific health conditions, said the CEO of Beyond Verbal.
In addition, voice search algorithms should soon be capable to recognize the user’s health problems (e.g. a hoarse voice or coughing during voice input) and drawing their attention to this and, if possible, suggesting suitable solutions immediately.
Keyword stuffing is a thing of the past
With the proliferation of voice search, the tiresome topic of “keyword stuffing” is finally a thing of the past. As already mentioned, semantic SEO and a holistic environment with long-tail keywords make much more sense. Overall, voice search is putting the user first, which is why I very much welcome this development.
Dwindling advertising? Unlikely
With no search result lists or even no screen, advertising like the ones we get from Google AdWords or Bing Ads would have to be communicated verbally. Playing them out before the actual content, similar to YouTube pre-roll ads, may not be in the interests of the user. However, we can safely assume that there will also be Voice Search Ads.
Two other areas that are or will be affected by the increasing spread of voice control are social media and websites. Whilst it is difficult to predict the future, a few changes are obvious:
More and more people no longer write via WhatsApp but send voice messages to each other. Why not, it’s more convenient. Theoretically, posting on Twitter and other social media platforms can already be done by voice, but the use of voice in social media is still very low. That should change at the latest with the roll-out of Facebook’s own voice search and voice control. In the future, we’ll likely access any app – social media or not – by “talking to it”. There is huge potential…
Navigate websites by voice
We were used to using navigation and clicking links through a web page. Due to mobile devices and the emergence of one-page concepts, the number of clicks is decreasing and we scroll and swipe more and more. So it is not inconceivable that we will soon be navigating by voice. Keyboard shortcuts become voice commands. Who knows, we might also fill out forms and comments by voice, which might even result in “real” dialogues…
One more word about Microsoft Bing
We’re mostly talking about Google when it comes to voice search, but Microsoft’s search engine Bing is secretly gaining market share. Because both Siri and Alexa and Facebook access Bing data!
Conclusion: Is it worth investing in voice search (SEO)?
The increasing usage rate speaks for itself. There is no way around voice search! why? The technology is ideally integrated into our everyday life: When it comes to obtaining information via Google and other search engines, guessing for the right search terms is over. Questions do not have to be specified, but can be sent to the software as a matter of course. When it comes to music streaming or shopping, we already talk to Alexa as if she were sitting next to us on the couch.
Voice Search SEO is becoming one of the most important topics in marketing. Google is already working on integrating voice search usage into its analytics and thus providing the relevant data for search engine optimization.
And voice search offers a real opportunity for content marketing in particular because relevant content is already being produced here, which is intended to answer questions and satisfy needs.
So if you haven’t dealt with voice control before, it’s best to try it out yourself to get a feel for how it works.