Voice search has been around for longer than you probably think—it actually dates back to 2002, though it only started becoming popular with the rise of smartphone use. Personal digital assistants like Siri and Cortana have grown increasingly more sophisticated, with word recognition errors dropping consistently year after year, and accordingly, consumers are becoming more reliant on voice search for their online search needs.
Voice search is anticipated to be one of the most important trends for the SEO industry in 2017, behind mobile optimization and quality content, and I imagine it will only grow more significant in the future.
Currently, 41 percent of adults and 55 percent of teenagers use voice search on a daily basis, and those numbers are growing consistently.
But here’s the thing—voice search is shaping the future of SEO, and not all of its effects are working in our favor.
Effects on SEO Potential
In some ways, as a website owner, voice search is negatively impacting your potential SEO results:
- (Another) death of keywords. The conventional uses of keyword research and optimization have been on their way out ever since the Panda update of 2011 introduced a new mechanism for content quality evaluation. Google no longer provides direct keyword ranking data, and because of Hummingbird’s semantic search introduction, the majority of queries are handled based on context, rather than specific wording.
Voice search is accelerating context-based searches and results, which means your specific keyword research and keyword inclusion efforts are becoming less relevant than tactics like long-tail keyword research and topic-based optimization.
- Less predictable search behaviors. When people were forced to type keywords into a search bar, it was easier to predict the types of terms they’d search for; people opted to list as few words as possible, and made fewer queries.
With the ease of voice search, people are searching more frequently, and in less predictable ways. If you want to keep up, you need to think about how people might find your business in broader strokes; what kinds of questions might they ask verbally as opposed to typed? What points of curiosity could you address?
- Fewer screen interactions. SEO tactics of the past have revolved around claiming territory within search engine results pages (SERPs), almost militaristically. Occupying space higher in the SERPs has always correlated with a higher chance of success. Now, users are able to perform searches and get answers without ever looking at the screen; the value of SERP entries is declining, accordingly.
- Voice responses and rich answers. Rich answers are already becoming more popular in conventional searches, and they’ll likely start becoming more popular in voice searches as well. Rich answers provide concise information to address user queries directly, rather than forwarding them to a list of separate results. This could potentially lower click-throughs, especially if these answers are given conversationally, rather than as text on a screen.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Voice search also has some neutral, or even beneficial effects:
- Corrections and RankBrain intuition. Voice search is getting good at correcting user errors and ferreting out core user intentions—thanks in part to RankBrain’s artificial intelligence. User queries may be getting more complicated, but they’re also being reduced to more manageable forms.
- Conversational potential. Just because users aren’t being directed to traditional SERPs doesn’t mean your business can’t benefit from being relevant to new searches. In the future, conversations with digital assistants may lead to things like phone calls, online purchases, or even chats with other representatives. If nothing else, your business may earn a verbal recommendation from a search assistant.
- Local relevance rising. Voice search is mostly used on the go, so it’s likely that local SEO and hyper-local optimization will grow in relevance. 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.