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What does Google’s voice search transition mean for SEO?

What does Google’s voice search transition mean for SEO?

Categories: Conversational UI, SEO

Google is en route to accommodating more voice queries. While the index remains mobile-first for now, the search giant is actively transitioning towards favouring the new kind of search experience – the Spoken Search Paradigm.

Google Home and Google Assistant technologies are already living in our homes – the Assistant program is now available on 400 million devices and its usage is becoming increasingly popular with consumers according to the latest data from Google:

  • 72% of users who own voice-activated speakers claim that their gadgets are used as part of their daily routines.
  • 52% of people keep their voice-activated speakers in their common (living) rooms, 25% keep them in the bedrooms and 22% in their kitchens.

What’s more curious though, is that smart speaker owners are open to engaging with brands that can serve them relevant and helpful information.

Information smart speaker owners want from their voice device

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Clearly, voice search results are becoming a new battlefield for marketers. Ignoring the changes now means that your company’s visibility may significantly decrease in two years time, as it’s predicted that 30% of all searches will be conducted without a screen by 2020.

The biggest repercussions of voice search

There’s a huge difference between the way we speak and the way we currently type queries into search engine bars. Most people tend to talk to smart assistants as if they are interacting with a friend, rather than an AI.

Google Voice significantly relies on the semantic search paradigm, introduced as part of the notorious Hummingbird algorithm update. Since 2015, Google has been continuously improving its ability to determine the intent behind ambiguous user searches and deliver better answers to those with the help of its RankBrain machine learning system. As a result, it is now capable of distilling the most essential information from top pages and ‘telling’ it to users.

More complex queries

The rising popularity of voice search means that user queries will become even more complex. They will become full-length questions, rather than brief keyword-rich commands e.g. ‘pan-fried salmon recipe’ becomes “How do I cook salmon in a pan?”

Keyword analysis for on-page SEO and PPC targeting will have to change. Instead of optimising for specific keywords, marketers will need to focus on targeting more broad topics in order to get their content discovered.

More local results

A lot of voice searchers tend to have a local intent. Users typically want to look up the nearest open Indian takeaway, rather than get directed towards a popular food court in Mumbai. In fact, mobile voice searches are three times more likely to be local-based than text-related searches according to Search Engine Watch. Google will likely keep this emphasis on local results in the future.

Structured data will grow in importance

In May this year, Google released an important, yet under-the-radar update – its Structured Data Tool was upgraded to require schema information relevant to Google Assistant. While there’s no proof that lack of compliance with the new Schema markups affects search rankings, John Mueller, chief Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, did confirm that using structured data facilitates page rankings in the same way regular content helps a page rank well for relevant terms. Structured data will clearly play an important role in voice-only search experience, so it’s worth putting it in order today.

Shorter interactions will prevail

Voice searches tend to assume quick interactions. They help users fulfil a need on-the-go, such as finding an address or the name of a film. Making impressions on new users may become more complex. Smart assistants tend to pull data from the top-position websites, so the pressure to rank at the top of SERPs will become even higher.

Information formatting best practices will change

John Mueller also confirmed that information provided as a table or a list of links will not be included in voice search results, at least for now. ‘Unfriendly’ page structure can significantly impact your pricing page’s ranking if you tend to list the different plans or items in tables. This information will not be rendered by the voice search algorithms even if the user explicitly asks something like “What are the [Company Name] pricing plans?”

How to prepare for voice search experience

Optimising for voice search may not seem straightforward for now as Google has not released any official guidelines yet. But there are already a few things you can do based on ‘between the lines’ cues the company’s reps have sprinkled here and there.

#1 Focus on targeting and optimising for long-tail keywords

Revisit your keyword strategy and analyse how many long-tail keywords and general topics you are currently targeting. Assess the competitive landscape and consider pursuing the ‘low hanging’ fruits that could help Google develop a better semantic understanding of your website and associate you with certain niches.

Launching PPC campaigns for long-tail keywords also creates additional opportunities for brands beyond increased visibility:

  • Long-tail keywords’ bidding is cheaper
  • Click-through rate tends to be better than for shorter queries

#2 Optimise your campaigns for hyper-local, “near me” searches

To maximise your visibility and potentially CTAs, consider experimenting with AdWords location extensions – they can be key to showing up for strongly commercial “near me” searches. Alternatively, try Local Search Ads in Google Maps – another avenue for being right in front of your customer at the right time, and at the right place.

#3 Don’t miss Voice Search reporting release in Google Search Console

While there’s no exact date yet, Google has definite plans to release a separate analytical dashboard, catering specifically for voice search.

 

SEO transformations certainly do not happen overnight. However, Google is unmistakably shifting towards accommodating a growing cohort of voice searches. Now is the time to lay the foundation of your voice optimisation strategy if you want to be among the trailblazers and obtain the SEO benefits early on.

 

Steve is Services Director for Vertical Leap. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women’s titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their digital marketing.

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