AI - Does the future have a voice?
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are going to become more important in SEO in 2019, and in particular the power of the Voice Search.
According to Emarketer, 21.6% of internet users global have interacted with a voice search device in 2018. These devices, like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, use elements of machine learning and artificial intelligence to personalise searches for the device owner based on their previous searches. This is only going to become more sophisticated and commonplace in the coming year. Google is likely to replicate this in its search engine, using users’ data and previous searches to return more personalised results to a given query.
Now, given the use of home interaction devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, it poses an interesting conversation. Should you be taking steps to cater to voice search for home device speakers, and should you start thinking about tailoring that effort for the mobile audience of voice search?
Google’s machine learning Algorithm, RankBrain, will become even more intelligent at ranking sites by understanding user searches. This is likely to heavily impact SEOs and their strategy towards optimising web pages. Focusing on long-form quality content will be paramount, whilst keyword stuffing will become less important as AI interprets web pages and ranks their usefulness to the user.
While we don’t know exactly what the future holds, we can throw caution to the wind, and predict how technology will develop for the next year, especially when it comes to voice search.
When thinking to the future of Voice Search, it’s interesting to know that Google Home search results found that the average voice search result is just 29 words long!
Even more interestingly Google found that the average voice search result page is 2,312 words long, Google will happily surface this longer form content, as long as it’s written in an accessible way - that's not to say to be simple in terms, but to make it understandable to be surfaced in a search.
This is both a common-sense consideration for voice search and something which can help you rank. New research shows that Voice Search is mainly used when multitasking, and as a result, it’s best to avoid lengthy paragraphs of text when optimising for voice.
Remembering that the research result is read aloud and that there’s no way for the user to quickly skim an audio answer it’s imperative to pick out key information that can really help users with their query.
You can’t browse the web using your Amazon Echo. You can be using your smartphone, but for all intents and purposes, that’s just mobile search. Nothing about that experience is unique to voice search. This is the reason why voice search is only ever used for general knowledge queries or retrieving specific pieces of information: it’s inherently hampered by an inability to explore the web.
One, voice search remains as a “single search result” tool which is mostly useful for fact-finding exercises and questions that have a definitive answer, in which case there will always be a limit to how big voice search can get, and voice will only ever be a minor channel in the grand scheme of search and SEO. Marketers should recognise the role that it plays in their overall search strategy (if any), think about the use cases realistically, and optimise for those – or not – if it makes sense to.
Or two, voice search develops into a genuine tool for searching the web. This might involve a user being initially read the top result for their search, and then being presented with the option to hear more search results – perhaps three or four, to keep things concise.
What’s really exciting is that the voice revolution is here, and while it may not be here as soon as many giant tech companies would have us believe, it’s progressing at an interesting rate. With sales of voice-activated smart speakers are on the rise and the technology becoming more ingrained with life tasks… the future of search could become, well, SERP-less! But that’s a way off yet.
The question for now is, will you start to make voice search related steps forward?
Tip, schema markup on your website helps Google identify the different elements of a page that might be relevant to a voice query, such as events, prices and opening hours. It’s also great for getting rich results like featured snippets, which can help you both rank for voice queries and also stand out on regular mobile and desktop search.
One thing which is lacking from the Google side of things that interests mostly marketers and SEO professionals, is an effective way to see voice queries in the popular Google Analytics software. For the moment, all we know is that they are “longer queries” but there’s no clear signal on what the search giant will do to highlight a particular visitor that landed on a site from a voice search or not, probably we will see something in Google Search Console first but this is just a speculation.