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Voice Search and the Future of SEO

The search landscape is constantly changing and evolving.

Sometimes it can feel as though you’ve mastered one SEO trend, only to find it’s outdated and been replaced by another.

Voice search is no exception. How will it shape the future and what do we need to start thinking about when it comes to SEO for business?

What is voice search?

Siri, Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant are technologies that allow voice-activated searches. By talking into a device or smartphone, search results are presented without having to type. These kinds of searches are called “eyes-free”.

This is great for when we’re driving, in a hurry, on the move or in situations where hands-free searching is useful, such as when cooking in the kitchen. Alexa can talk you through how to cook up to 60,000 different recipes and the Google Home assistant also has this skill.

Users are clearly finding it invaluable as adoption rates are growing at a rapid pace. Recent research highlights that the use of voice for business is set to triple over the next year, with 94% of managers interviewed seeing voice technology as an important driver of customer satisfaction.

ComScore believes that by 2020, 50% of searches will be voice-based. Global research firm Gartner also believes 30% of searches will be done without a screen by 2020.

This means we need to start considering and preparing for a voice-based future, which inevitably will have an effect on SEO. Typed search behaviour is different from how we use our voices, so we will need to respond and adapt accordingly.

Considerations for voice-related SEO

As we’ve mentioned in our Beginner’s Guide to SEO, SEO is not just about inbound links any more.

Ultimately SEO success depends upon offering the right solution to a user’s problems at the right time. This can include having the best answers to user’s questions and the best user experience in obtaining these answers (UX). Quality, not churned-out quantity is what search engines want.

When search engines include inputs from the context of a user’s search, this is called semantic search. For example, if you search for “pizza restaurants” on your mobile, Google will take the hint that you are looking to eat a meal (probably immediately), pinpoint your location and present you with the nearest and most relevant results.

It will incorporate contextual elements including your physical location, time of day, other recent searches and the device you’re searching on (mobile searches are considered more likely to result in an immediate purchase than desktop searches).

Another important consideration for voice is that it is more conversational in tone than typing – where we naturally use shorter search terms. This may lead to an increase in long-tail keywords and phrases, and potentially, more personalised or conversational keywords to reflect the searcher’s tone of voice.

Voice-tailored content

There are large differences between voice results and text results. For example, voice results can be longer as we’ll listen to a spoken voice rather than read a paragraph of text.

So if our target audience is likely to be using voice searches, we need to tailor our written content to the spoken word.

To achieve this, think about common questions or information your customers look to get from your business and reflect this in your content. Going back to the conversational tone mentioned earlier, content should focus more on the use of semantic language, which is more informal or relaxed in tone.

One way to help with this is to create an FAQ on your site and use language that sounds more natural in tone and works well with voice search.

For example, if you’re looking for a place to get fish and chips, a typed search might be fish and chips surrey. However, by voice it would more likely be: best fish and chips shop in Surrey or best value fish and chips in Surrey

It’s a longer search term that looks for more detail than a traditional typed search request; combine this with semantic search and you’ve got a powerful mix that drives great SEO.

Businesses can rank in voice search by answering questions and providing short, snappy and informative answers that voice assistants can read out loud. A paragraph is about the perfect length to obtain a voice snippet.

Local search

Over 50% of local searches are from mobile devices. iPhone’s Siri is currently the most popular voice assistant, although it is believed that Microsoft’s Cortana now has 133 million monthly users. In addition, 89% of people search for a local business on their mobile once a week, with 58% searching daily. The most common searches are local business/store contact details, opening times and addresses.

When doing a local search, you’re more often than not likely to be looking for something quickly and within close proximity, which could be getting directions for a business meeting or the nearest store.

This type of local search is mainly done when on the move or when information is needed immediately. Voice is perfect for this, it’s less disruptive than typing as you can move and search simultaneously, therefore saving time and effort.

We are a couple of years away from voice search overtaking text search, but the time will come. We should start shaping our SEO strategies in situations where users are likely to be asking direct questions, looking for factual answers or searching for local businesses.

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