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.

Bright Sides

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.