Voice-recognition technology is not all that new. IBM’s ‘Shoebox’ machine, created in 1962, was able to understand 16 words of spoken English. From here, progress was slow and in 2001 Microsoft’s own voice-recognition feature in Windows Vista failed in a live demo.
However, times have changed. The introduction of Siri into the iPhone 4s in 2011 brought reliable voice-recognition technology to the masses. Now, voice-recognition is a dependable and central aspect of our day-to-day lives. Google’s Voice Search, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana have all ‘grown-up’ and can now be used with a high percentage of reliability. In fact, Google now claims that its voice search feature now has an accuracy of 92 per cent.
In fact, consumers are starting to use voice-search on a far more regular basis. Research from Google, which polled 1,400 Americans, suggests that 55 per cent of teens and 41 per cent of adults now use voice-search more than once a day. Furthermore, of those polled, 89 per cent of teens and 85 per cent of adults, suggested that the reason they use voice search is because ‘it’s the future’.
The way people search using their voice is inherently different to the way they would traditionally search on a device. Those of us who grew up using Google – or going back further still, Altavista and Ask Jeeves – have been programmed to search in a robotic way, using keywords in a very non-conversational manner. However, with more consumers than ever now searching on mobile rather than desktop, even Google has announced it is removing its “OK Google” hotword voice search feature from the desktop version of Chrome. Undeniably, the use of voice in search has changed consumer search habits and digital marketers need to adapt their approach in order to stay ahead of the curve.
Fundamentally, the increase in both voice-search and direct answers has changed SEO strategies. It is no longer the case that we should be aiming to create content to target search queries with high search volume. Instead, we must focus on creating content that answers the needs of the user in an ever-growing conversational search landscape. This combination of voice-search and direct answers means brands can gain visibility at the very first stage of the purchase funnel, and appear as a direct answer to a query. This gives the brand an authority that can influence further actions at later points in the consumer journey.
What many big e-commerce brands are missing, is the content needs to be served at the informational stage of the purchase funnel. By generating content to fit the different stages, brands will create a thematic depth that Google will understand and recognise.
However, there is still a place for keyword research. But simply finding the highest search volume keywords for your brand is no longer enough. Instead, brands and marketers must seek to better understand the user’s intent and search journey, by supplementing keyword research with further social monitoring, owned assets (social profiles, on-site search queries), polls, surveys and even offline consumer research. Through this, brands are able to gain a greater understanding of the user’s purpose and where branded content can add value.
Voice-search has ultimately increased the importance of a well-optimised local SEO strategy due to the fact that many voice searches will be for local results e.g. “plumbers near me”. It is therefore important that local SEO best practices are incorporated into the wider SEO strategy to boost localised product offering. This should include: ensuring that Google+ is optimised; any mentions on local business review websites such as Yelp are correct; and that local structured data is implemented on any localised on-site assets.
The key to gaining SEO visibility is creating the right type of content to fulfil the user’s intent. However, generating content that fits the user’s intent is pointless unless search engines are able to understand it. Brands need to make sure that all content is technically optimised, ensuring that meta data, canonicals, sitemap and robots.txt are all in place to make the purpose of content clear to search engines.
Voice-search and direct answers have changed SEO forever, and will increasingly shape brand content strategies as we move into 2016. The key to success is to ensure that the purpose and value of content is understood – by search engines as well as consumers.