Can voice search be optimised?

Siri. Microsoft Cortana. Google Now. One after the other, these voice operated personal assistants came onto the scene riding a wave of popularity that has risen since 2010 when Siri was first launched. Recent studies carried out by NorthStar Research have discovered that 55% of teenagers and 41% of adults use voice search more than once a day. They have predicted that voice recognition services will double in the next five years.

It makes sense. These services are hands free, uncomplicated, and inherently cool to anyone under the age of 18.

With this anticipated increase, and ever-growing level of interest, a starting line has been drawn. Companies need to adapt as new factors are introduced. Factors that could potentially damage search rankings and even company revenues.

Voice search changes the rules

A large portion of search engine optimisation is keyword inclusion. On-site SEO deals with optimising elements on a website, for example, content. And in that content, keywords. This process of keyword inclusion will become less important as voice search popularity grows because the way people browse on search engines like Google or Yahoo! will change. Ordinarily, people will search for exactly what they want, for example, ‘chocolate and dogs’. But when speaking, users will ask a full question, maybe ‘why can’t dogs eat chocolate?’. With Google’s Hummingbird algorithm in place, and now voice search, SERP rankings are being based off context rather than specific wording.

Another changing factor is sporadic searches. Browsing patterns are becoming erratic with the rise of voice search programs. People speak freely, not being limited by lack of time or the strenuous task of typing long sentences with probable typos. Voice search, coupled with Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, allows users to ask a question like ‘who was the first man on the moon?’, follow it with ‘when did he die?’ and receive an answer without clarifying the ‘he’. This is because the Hummingbird algorithm builds on existing information by focusing on the meaning behind words. Companies can’t predict what users will ask, can’t configure their websites to match, and as a result SEO becomes more difficult.

Voice search becomes a larger threat

Now even if companies can predict what users will say, it won’t matter much with Google’s new (kind of) adaptation in place — rich answers. This is a direct answer: instead of being pointed towards a variety of websites, Google provides an answer to the question asked. Rich answers have been a mortal enemy of SEO since it first appeared in 2015. The fear was that it would lower click-throughs and companies’ visibility on SERP. Now that fear is back with voice search programs. Combining these programs with rich answers will make them twice as effective, and twice as deadly to the SEO process. For companies to survive, their content needs to have more structured data and clear answers to specific questions earlier in the process.

The silver lining

According to Forbes, it’s thought that “local SEO and hyper-local optimisation will grow in relevance [since voice search is used on the go]. That’s good news for business with physical storefronts, who may be able to earn more foot traffic and easier local search rankings thanks to mobile voice search habits”. So, even though voice search has a few negative impacts on SEO, it’s not all bad, especially since there are ways to turn the situation around.

As I mentioned above, it’s all about adapting. Forbes suggests these four tips for getting ahead:

  • “Focus on long-tail phrases: First, shift your focus from individual keywords and phrases to more long-tail phrases and topic keyword groups. Mimic the types of phrases your users are likely to vocalise.
  • “Answer user questions: Go a step further by creating individual pages (blog posts, in all likelihood) that address your users’ common questions. These are things like what, who, when, why, where, and how. These are common in voice search, and you’ll become more relevant as these types of queries increase in frequency.
  • “Mark up your site: Rely on Schema micro formatting to mark up your site and feed Google answers to common user questions. This will help your business’s content be provided as rich answers, and improve your brand’s search visibility indirectly.
  • “Become less reliant on conventional web interactions: Finally, start de-emphasising conventional forms of online user interactions. Don’t rely exclusively on your traditional web traffic funnels; start looking for conversion possibilities in other modes of interaction, such as direct conversion within search results, or through an app created by your company.”

Voice search has gained traction and it doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon. But that doesn’t spell the end of SEO. New changes bring new opportunities. The future is bright for companies who can capitalise on this technological advancement and spin the situation to their advantage. Search hard enough and there’s always a way through.

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