The Rise of Voice Search and Its Impact on Search Engine Optimization

Sam Warren
by Sam Warren 19 Dec, 2016

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that."


If you have a smartphone, you're probably all too familiar with this constant reminder that voice search is far from perfect. Despite its frequently obvious and often silly flaws, there's no use in denying that Siri and Google Now (or OK Google) have come a long way in a fairly short span of time.


A few years ago, studies showed that voice recognition accuracy was below 80 percent. That meant that at least 1 out of every 5 requests would be misheard, which made for some excruciating and frustrating experiences. It's now, according to KPCB Internet Trends 2016 report, up to 92 percent - and that trend of improvement isn't abating. Nor is voice search's overall adoption rate.



The burning question then, is how do search marketers and businesses doing their own SEO start to accommodate this growing method of searching the internet?


Well, it's not going to be easy, but the time to get up to speed is now. The longer you wait, the larger your competitor's head start will be, and no one wants that to happen now do they?


The Evolution and Adoption of Voice Search


This technology may have had rocky beginnings, but then again, what tech advancement didn't?


As you saw before, sub 80 percent accuracy rates led many to abandon using voice search before it really came into it's own. If you're one of the folks that stopped using it in 2012 after you asked Siri to call your wife and she replied "Sure, which wife would you like to call?" it's time you take a second look.


As recognition becomes increasingly accurate, and the number of integrations and actions it can take continue to rise, we can expect users to show up in droves to reap the benefits.


This has already begun to happen. Adoption is quite literally skyrocketing.



In addition to the above slide, KPCB also reported that one quarter of Windows 10 searches are now being done via voice request.


These trends are clear. Voice search is here to stay, and it's only going to become more important as time goes on. 


Andrew Ng even boldly asserted that by 2020, half of searches will be done by voice.



Whether or not you believe his prediction will prove true or not, there's no denying that consumers will be using this technology regularly to find products and services. This is something that business owners and search marketers will both need to keep their eyes on and adapt to.


What Does Voice Search Mean For SEO


Search engine optimization is definitely in for a major shake up over the next few years, but will it be as dramatic as some have predicted?


There are a variety of ways in which voice search will shape the future of SEO, some will require some serious attention and others can probably be sidelined for the majority of 2017.


Conversational queries


Doing some preliminary research, it can be seen that already Google is quite prepared and adept at handling conversational queries. In fact, many of the search results pages are identical when one compares a typed search and the voice searched version of the same question.



Search marketers will want to watch this trend very carefully. While Google's results are unaffected in the above example, there are many others where a conversational query yields different results.


Optimizing for certain questions and conversational queries will need to be a part of any long term SEO strategy in today's landscape.


Long-tail vs. short-tail


On the whole, SEO will most likely need to shift toward even longer tail keyword optimizations. This isn't news, but as voice assistants become more adept at providing relevant results to complex queries, those longer terms will need to be answered.


As of now, if you wanted to find out how much a hotel would cost in vegas, you'll probably do a type-search for "vegas hotels." In the future, however, you may be able to ask Siri "how much should I expect to pay for a luxury hotel room in Vegas?" 


Considering and optimizing for those types of queries may seem like an insurmountable challenge, but building FAQ pages with proper markup and microdata is an easy way to address a number of who, what, where, when and why questions surrounding your targeted keywords.


Safe vs. dangerous long-term strategies


The larger topic search engine optimizers and site owners should consider, is this: are your targeted keywords simple of difficult to answer quickly or automatically?


Rand Fishkin examined this issue in a recent Whiteboard Friday, and he accurately summarized the issue.

"So if you're in the world of food and cooking, recipes [are] probably very safe. It's very, very difficult for an engine to say, "Okay, here let me read you the ingredients...


Let me give you the entire rundown...


What's very simple is cooking conversions. ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Alexa, how many pounds of flour do I need to make up a cup?' Very simple cooking conversion, instant answer very possible. Pretty dangerous to be relying on a ton of your click-through traffic for that dangerous stuff." - Rand Fishkin


Rand is spot on in his analysis, as he usually is. One of the biggest impacts voice search will have on SEO will lie in the simplicity of the implied questions surrounding targeted keywords.



If they're simple to answer easily and possibly automatically, then over time these keywords will become increasingly less valuable. 


After all, why would a user click-through to a site if Google has shown a complete answer above the top ranking results?


What's Next for Voice Search?


No one can say for sure, but there is no shortage of bold claims.


Speaking of, at the current pace of adoption, it may be that voice search will surpass text searches within the next five years.


Keep your eyes peeled in 2017 for more advances.