Looking for answers online has never been so… audible. With the rise of smart speakers and booming popularity of virtual assistants, online searches are increasingly spoken aloud. It’s a trend that’s changing the nature of search – and redefining Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Digital marketing agency krunch.co’s managing editor Amanda Gross answers your burning questions about what’s happening in the world of voice search, and provide answers about how your business and website needs to adapt in our increasingly vocal world.
Q. How many people actually use smart speakers?
A. In the US, 1 in 6 adults owns a smart speaker, according to research from NPR and Edison Research. The rise of these gadgets has outpaced the adoption rates of smartphones and tablets over the last three years, and 65 percent of people said they wouldn’t go back to life without their smart speaker.
Here in New Zealand, we can expect similar trends this year – especially with over 100 million Alexa-powered products sold globally, and Google Voice Assistant running on a massive 1 billion devices.
Q. But people still type searches into search engines, don’t they?
A. Yes, but maybe not for much longer. Gartner has predicted that 30 percent of searches will be done without a screen by 2020. And a recent PWC report found that a whopping 71 percent of respondents said they would rather use their voice assistant to search for something, rather than typing it into a search bar.
Q. How is the uptick in voice search changing search engines?
A. As more people speak their questions or commands into search engines, the search engine itself is adapting to better deliver on user needs.
Since launching the Hummingbird update of 2013 – which improved Google’s ability to understand spoken search queries – Google and other search engines have continued to fine-tune their algorithms’ abilities to understand natural, contextual questions and deliver relevant results.
One key difference users will notice is more of Google’s Knowledge Panels and Featured Snippets showing up in search results. These features pull specific answers, definitions and more right to the top in a handy call-out box. Not only is this super easy to read for an on-screen user, it’s what is read out by virtual assistants, which makes it a position highly coveted by marketers everywhere.
What does it mean for you? If your page appears to answer a specific question or common query, you have a better chance of featuring in this very high-traffic position, and being read aloud by virtual assistants!
Q. How will voice search change SEO?
A. Already, it has shifted the focus of SEO from individual keywords to longer-tail queries, phrases, questions and natural language. Where previously Google was prepared to answer a search query like “women’s shoes Nike”, post-Hummingbird, it was better equipped to answer “Where can I buy women’s Nike shoes?”
Now, search engines are looking for direct answers to questions people are likely to ask aloud, which has implications both in the content and HTML of your site.
Voice search has also made the search engine results page a more competitive place than ever. Voice search will only read out the top result on a search page, or the Knowledge Panel or Featured Snippet – a ranking dubbed “position zero.” The stakes have never been higher for ensuring your site ranks at the top.
Q. What are some things I should do on my site to ensure it ranks well in the age of voice search?
A. All of Google’s 200+ ranking factors are still important for good SEO, but some are more important than others in the voice-activated world of today (and tomorrow):
Questions and answers. Most voice searches are a question, and most virtual assistants answer using a Google feature called “Featured Snippets.” This feature pulls the most important bits of a page, including specific answers to questions, at the top. If your page appears to answer a specific question or common query, you have a better chance of ranking (and being read aloud by a virtual assistant!). Format these with header tags for best results.
Page speed. This is still important, especially when you consider that the AI behind virtual assistants will not wait around for your page to load – it will simply move on to the next result.
Structured data. This code, added to HTML markup, can improve the quality of your featured snippets, making them more likely to rank in position zero.
Local SEO. 78 percent of smart speaker users perform local searches at least weekly – 53 percent daily, according to a study by BrightLocal. Plus, this is info that is also pulled into featured snippets to provide users with quick responses. Keep your Google My Business page up to date with your location and hours to provide helpful info to humans and AI alike.
Long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords now make up 70 percent of all search traffic and are still less competitive than one- or two-word keywords.That means by optimising for these, websites may just draw the users they’re looking for.
Although voice search does not yet make up all queries online, this is the world we’re rapidly moving into. Fortunately, with a few tweaks, your website will ready to rank in the voice-activated landscape of tomorrow.
Amanda Gross is the managing editor of krunch.co, which is a digital consultancy started in July 2015 and based in Auckland. We take a multidisciplinary approach to digital transformation, helping brands blend data, tech and content to change the way they engage with their audiences. We use data to make it smart, technology to make it simple, and content to make it work.