It is a fact of the SEO industry that keeping your website optimized requires keeping up with the latest trends. Changes in technology lead to changes in the way people perform searches, which causes Google to change their algorithms in order to deliver the best possible experience to these new users, which requires site owners to change their optimization strategy if they want to continue to maintain their position in the search results. The last big change to the search industry was the rise of mobile devices, which resulted in a number of Google updates and algorithm changes to benefit “mobile-friendly” sites. Even as the dust from the mobile-friendly updates is still settling, the next wave of changes is already on the horizon. And, based on currently available evidence, a focus of the forthcoming changes is likely to be voice search.
Voice search refers to internet searches which are made not by typing in a query, but by asking a question out loud to a device which uses automatic speech recognition technology to convert sound into text and perform a search. Voice search is frequently conducted through virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. Some virtual assistants come on dedicated devices which must be purchased, but others have started being included as standard apps that come pre-installed in common desktop and mobile devices.
While voice search was first introduced back in 2008, it has recently exploded in popularity due to a variety of factors. While automatic speech recognition technology was in its infancy, it was prone to mishearing questions; but the technology’s reliability has increased considerably – for instance, the Apple HomePod is now capable of understanding 99.4% of user queries. In addition to improvement of the technology itself, the proliferation of mobile devices has also contributed to the rise of voice search. Because users merely have to speak their question aloud rather than type it up, they can avoid the inconvenience of using the keypads of smaller mobile devices. Voice search can also be used in situations where one’s hands are otherwise occupied; while driving, for example. A brief glance at the statistics is all that’s necessary to see how popular voice search has become. By January 2018, an average of one billion voice searches took place each month; a usage rate 35 times greater than in 2008. There are 33 million screenless devices in the US, and 40% of adults are using them. In 2016, Google announced that 20% of queries from mobile devices were voice searches. It is clear from the evidence that the popularity of voice search is exploding.
Not only has the frequency of voice search risen dramatically, but forecasts predict that the trend will continue. It has been estimated that by 2020, 30% of all web searches will be conducted from devices without a screen; that 55% of households in the US will use smart speakers; that 50% of searches will be voice searches, and that 30% of those will come from screenless assistants. With automatic speech recognition technology continuing to improve in quality and effectiveness, and with virtual assistants such as Siri and Cortana being included by default on many Apple and Microsoft mobile devices, there is no reason to believe that the trend of rapid growth in voice search is likely to reverse itself anytime soon.
With the number of voice searches increasing so dramatically and Google publicly acknowledging the rising significance of voice search, it is only natural to suspect that Google will soon begin tweaking its algorithms to take accessibility to voice search into account for ranking — much as the proliferation of mobile devices prompted the release of updates which added “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking factor. While it cannot be known for certain what specific changes future updates might make to Google’s algorithms, it is possible to make some educated guesses based on current knowledge of voice search. First, since so many voice searches are performed from mobile devices, loading speed is likely to be an essential ranking factor. Second, brevity is important: the average spoken response delivered by virtual assistants is no longer than 29 words. Third, security is important: 70.4% of voice search websites implemented HTTPS compared to 50% for desktop searches. Fourth, 39% of voice searches are currently for local business information, so local search ranking factors are likely to be important. And finally, because voice searches are spoken aloud, they use more natural speech patterns. It therefore might be beneficial to optimize for long-tail keywords rather than the shorter, snappier phrases which are used for desktop SEO keywords.
Google is always updating their algorithms in response to changing user behavior; and the rising popularity of voice search makes it a likely factor for future algorithm changes. While it is impossible to predict what changes Google will make with certain accuracy, observing current trends in voice search can help anticipate which ranking factors might increase in significance. By starting preparation now, you can be ahead of the curve when the updates come. Is your site voice search friendly?
1. “Why Voice Search Will Dominate SEO In 2019 — And How You Can Capitalize On It” by Gabriel Shaoolin. Forbes. December 27, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/gabrielshaoolian/2018/12/27/why-voice-search-will-dominate-seo-in-2019-and-how-you-can-capitalize-on-it/#4077f05e30ac
2. “How to Optimise for Voice Search in 2019” by Andy Haine. Crucial. December 11, 2018. https://www.crucial.com.au/blog/2018/12/11/how-to-optimise-for-voice-search-in-2019/
3. “Voice Search Trends & Optimization Tips” by Mike Knott. Sagepixel. August 30, 2019. https://sagapixel.com/seo/voice-search-trends-optimization/
4. “Google adds voice input and spoken results to mobile web search” by Greg Sterling. Search Engine Land. January 29, 2019. https://searchengineland.com/google-adds-voice-input-and-spoken-results-to-mobile-web-search-311178
5. “3 Voice Search Statistics to Prepare You for the Voice Search Revolution” by Gordon Donnelly. WordStream. September 7, 2018. https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2018/04/10/voice-search-statistics-2018
Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition, specializing in Google's Algorithm changes. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s search algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.
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