1searchGartner predicted already in 2016 that by 2020 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen due to more new platforms based on "voice-first" interactions.

And SEO expert Bradley Shaw confirms that search has arrived and is here to stay by providing a number of convincing stats, besides highlighting that consumers are already profoundly trained by the likes of Amazon and Apple to simply shout out their needs and expect to receive expedited local solutions. “People are not afraid of the machine anymore, they have gone beyond a period of discomfort and hesitance and into a place of comfort and instantaneous gratification”, he says, therefore, advising marketers to focus more on conversational search and the people behind the searches to prepare for searches by voice, he is convinced will change the SEO world dramatically.

Voice-based search had its breakthrough in 2011 with the launch of Google Voice Search and the introduction of voice control in the Google Chrome browser by the end of 2013. From that time on, more and more users started to submit their search queries verbally instead of typing them, and this trend continues to this day, accelerated even more by the increasing distribution of voice-controlled assistants such as Siri, Cortana or Google Now.

According to Google, 20% of all searches with mobile devices were made via voice input already in 2016.  Gradually, users changed their habits and behavior by increasingly using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to surf the Internet and enter their search queries quickly, conveniently and securely via voice input. Especially, since speech recognition software today is already so good that the dictated requests have often fewer errors than typed ones. Of course, the users behavioral change has considerable effects on the search engine optimization (SEO). We are seeing a massive behavioral change happening, and if we are not adapting to it, we are falling behind.

Striving to provide users with direct answers to their search queries

On top of the Google results excerpts are displayed from web pages that show the user the answer directly, without the latter having to click a link or to call up a web page. Because, even when on the move and when using mobile devices, users should always receive the answers to their questions. However, the days when you optimized your websites by keyword stuffing for the Google robots are over, since you can now also ask using your voice. Today’s web content optimization intends to engage users in a purposeful conversation and provide them with answers. Website operators therefore need to ask themselves how to deliver direct answers to voice-driven search queries, how to communicate their previously textually written offers, and what tone they want to give their company or brand.

Ambition to provide more personalized search results

Voice search systems are constantly evolving to understand the search queries of users correctly in context. Factors such as previous searches and the user's location are incorporated into Google Voice Search's algorithms to provide user-matched and appropriate answers with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). This means for website operators that they have to focus even more on the individual needs of their visitors when customizing content. A more detailed differentiation of the very own target groups can help to create and deliver appropriately diversified content. The content should also meet the "natural tone" of the users and provide specific answers to a wide variety of user questions. A good example is FAQ-style content that can properly handle a wide range of user-specific questions. Not to mention that in connection with the importance of individually oriented website content, local SEO is gaining traction.

To find out today what your target group is looking for and how to verbalize your search queries is an ideal way, you can make use of platforms from crowdsourcing companies such as clickworker that selects the crowd according to target group criteria.

Quest for longer search entries

To place web content as a directly displayed answer to voice-based search queries on Google, website operators must focus solely on how users search. Unfortunately, there is still relatively little evidence to date on how to do that, since the development of the search engine optimization on voice-based searches is still in its infancy. What is certain, however, is that the optimization measures for the voice search will be very different compared to those entered in writing, as they usually consist of longer phrases and fully dictated sentences and questions. Consequently, SEO must focus more on longtail keywords and entire sentences. The pages, which are optimized for matching keywords and phrases, should provide the users with useful information and answers to their questions, and by no means solely aiming for keyword placements.

Need for new keyword research

Website owners who want to optimize their pages for voice-based search queries rather need to look again into keywords and phrases when planning to create newer and more customized content. Even if the search queries have the same goal, they are formulated very differently depending on the user. For this reason, the contents and the directions of the individual web pages must be designed more complexly than previously to be able to provide the optimal search result for the users and high ranking in the Google search results. The fact is that Google remains the earliest adopter with the most influence to expand in the voice search market share.

To summarize, I’d like to say that the knowledge on voice search is still quite limited. Currently, the best thing to do is to use voice-based search on Google & Co. to understand how the voice query works, what results are displayed, and how your own website is doing. However, voice search is a trend that will evolve, and the optimization of speech-driven systems will gain momentum by artificial intelligence. The systems will become more responsive and functional, resulting in more people choosing voice-driven systems for their communication and search queries. For this reason, optimize your own web pages for voice-based queries and keep in mind that the future of search is integration across all devices, considering the Internet of Things (IoT).

By Daniela La Marca