“If you have an opportunity to use your voice, you should use it”
– Samuel L. Jackson

Whilst he’s not quite the figure-head of the digital revolution, Samuel L. Jackson certainly has a point. More and more of us are choosing to conduct searches online with the sound of our own voices over the tap of our fingers.

There are surely several reasons for this shift in behaviour ranging from the pragmatic to the fun:

“It makes it easier to multi-task”
“It makes me feel like I’m in Star Trek”

Either way, voice search is here and it’s here to stay.

What is voice search?

Put simply, voice search is an application on Google or a device that is activated by a user’s verbal command. It allows you to search by speaking and tell Google what to search for, for instance. This is then converted into text which forms the basis of a search to meet a user’s needs in real-time using Google’s machine-learning algorithms.

Voice search has been on the radar for around 5 years with a very notable, continuing rise in usage. Today, voice searches exceed 10% of all search traffic. The rise is sales for voice-activated artificial intelligence devices and the accomplishment of reaching speech recognition accuracy of 95% (the same as humans!) goes hand-in-hand with voice search’s rise in prominence. In a similar vein, users increasingly seek information whilst driving, at home and doing other tasks; you can search even when your hands are tied.

voice search image

“Okay, Google” has become a new buzz-phrase, with memes and hilarious videos of grandmothers attempting to participate in this new world of voice search, artificial intelligence and virtual reality popping up all over social media and beyond.

We use voice search for most things, in particular:

• Finding local information
• Providing fun and entertainment
• Getting assistance for everyday tasks and travel
• Finding general information

How does voice search work?

Voice query responses are often featured snippets that are read out to the user. Additionally, data can be taken from local search (Google My Business, Bing Places, Apple Maps, etc.), knowledge graphs and other schema formatting within a website’s content.

There are several factors that influence which responses are returned to a voice search query, as outlined in Google’s search speech guidelines. In summary, Google returns content in relation to how well it meets the following criteria:

• Needs Met Rating – how well does the content match the intent of the search query? (Fully meets, highly meets, moderately meets, slightly meets, fails to meet).

• Speech Quality Rating – is the response of an appropriate length and complexity? Is it formulated grammatically and also naturally phrased? Is elocution of the text simple for both a machine and user?

How will voice search impact SEO?

As we know from this article about machine-learning, voice search is impacting the way we strategise paid solutions. But how does voice search impact SEO specifically?

Notable factors that will impact SEO are:

Rankings – Google’s chosen response to a voice search query is not necessarily taken from the first ranking item on the search engine results page for a traditional search using the same search terms. Whilst this might seem unfair for existing top rankers, it is an opportunity for all, particularly in the form of quick answers, featured snippets and local search. There will be a shift towards optimising website content to answer questions as opposed to optimising for individual keywords.

Context – Context to searches builds as the conversation continues meaning some keywords essential in traditional search become redundant with voice. There will be an increase in the use of pronouns such as “it” and “them” in voice searches as Google is abler to assume context. Whilst voice searches become shorter, the underlying context to the queries mean the actual searches are increasingly long tail. Therefore, content needs to be optimised for long tail keywords and full phrases that reflect natural speech and be marked up correctly to encourage pick-up of featured snippets.

Real-time – There is an opportunity to take advantage of increased real-time searches for local information. As users search for a “store near me” or “petrol station near Casa Tapas restaurant”, it is important that local listings on Google My Business and Bing Places remain up-to-date. Similarly, local landing pages should provide information on directions, public transport and landmarks.

One answer – Google Assistant only returns one answer to your query. The competition is on.

In summary:

If ComScore are correct, 50% of all searches will be voice by 2020 which will no doubt come with additional changes in consumers’ search behaviour. We’re on the brink of an exciting shift from Search Engine Optimisation to Search Channel Optimisation.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in contact.

*Sources from: Slideshare, Campaign Live, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Google, SEM Post, Google Think 2017.

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Kiran Flynn

I'm a Digital Solutions Executive in the Owned team at Reprise Digital Melbourne. Originally from the UK, Kiran has around 3 years’ experience in SEO, Content and PR disciplines and is keen to continue learning in the sunnier climes of Australia.
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