Recently while on my Unsettled trip to Medellin, Colombia with other aspiring digital nomads, we were invited to share with the group our professional background. While explaining my marketing agency and our focus on growing businesses organic search and revenue through content/SEO, one of the group members asked me, "Well isn't that type of SEO dead? I don't use Google, I search for a restaurant on TripAdvisor, and I search for products on Amazon's mobile app." Another one said, "What about voice search?"
Both of these examples (mobile and voice search) are important mediums that are changing the way people search... and they're going to impact the SEO industry going forward. But, that doesn't mean that the content-focused SEO we've used in the last 5-10 years is dead. Let's take a look at how mobile and voice search might change our industry...
How Mobile Is Changing Search
If mobile made it easier and more convenient to search on-the-go, then voice search has only made it even more convenient for the consumer. Gone are the days of typing into a search bar on a desktop computer at home. But, the convenience of mobile search poses a few challenges for companies to try to secure those top organic search spots in Google. With voice search, ranking in the top three isn’t good enough anymore. If it wasn’t before, your new goal is now to rank number one. For example, when you pick up your phone and ask Siri, “What is the best pizza place in Buffalo, New York?” Siri will offer you only one answer — and that answer is based on who comes up first in search.
Another, recent big change is Google’s initiative to prioritize mobile content in its search results through a “mobile first” version of its search index. So what does this mean? It means the mobile version of your website is what Google is crawling first to include in their search results. If your website is not optimized for mobile, now would be the time to make that change. Without a functioning mobile version of your site, it’s likely you'll lose out and move further down in search results. If you already have a mobile responsive version of your website that's identical to your desktop version, then you likely don't need to worry and your search rank won't change.
What Voice Search Means to SEO
Because of the ease and convenience of voice search, the strategy is growing at a rapid pace. It’s up to us digital marketers to develop ways to tailor our client’s SEO strategies to incorporate voice search. Voice search will inevitably change the future of SEO, and here are some reasons how:
Use of Natural Speech Patterns. We don’t speak the way we type, especially when searching online. It will become very important in SEO to learn user's natural speech patterns. As the programming behind voice search advances, the word error rate will continue to decrease. Back in 2012, the word error rate was over 20 percent; now it’s as low as 8 percent. The use of voice query research tools like Rank Tracker will have provided you with more accurate data to improve rankings.
Use of Long-Tail Keywords (Versus Short). Consider the natural phrases people say when using voice search. Questions and searches become longer and more conversational and are used by people who are closer to purchasing and know specifically what they’re looking for. These types of keywords and knowledge need to be implemented in your voice search SEO strategies. We already use a lot of long-tail search terms when creating content like blogs, but this becomes even more imperative as people literally speak their search results. Instead of targeting search terms like "business loans" the target then becomes "how do I get a business loan for my restaurant in Denver."
Emphasis on Mobile. We already know a major emphasis is placed on mobile. But with voice search, more emphasis needs to be placed on mobile, especially since most of these searches are done on-the-go. Optimize your content for mobile devices to appear higher on voice search rankings.
Traditional SEO Still Matters and Produces Results
With these constant changes in the search landscape, some people question if traditional SEO matters and is something businesses should still focus on. I say, absolutely. Our First Page clients are seeing an enormously successful return on the standard strategy of optimizing content, creating landing pages, and keeping up with on-site technical aspects for keywords they’re trying to rank. Google sees over 3.5 billion searches per day, even despite other apps and ways to get information. When searching keyword volume, you’re getting a large number of people who are still searching these terms online every day using their desktop.
What is the future prediction of how these different mediums will affect SEO?
According to Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, voice search will grow in popularity, from 20 percent in 2016 to more than 25 percent by the end of 2017. Desktop will remain the same, and mobile (non-voice) will continue to grow. Similar to my point above, voice search won’t eliminate desktop or typed mobile search, it will just add another layer of complexity to how we analyze and target search traffic.
For now, we're seeing most voice searches associated with artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as Siri and Alexa. But these are not a normal part of existence for many people searching online — they're still in an early adoptive mode, and searching by voice is not standard practice for most people. Therefore, it should be on inbound marketers radar, but it's not changing the landscape too much today.
In general, companies will need to dive even deeper to understand their customers, their buying behavior and how they specifically search for knowledge on the product and or service they're looking for. The more companies can learn about their customers, the more successful they’ll be in targeting them with inbound marketing.