Voice Search and at Home Devices the Next Inflection Point for Search

Site owners have long been seeing their mobile traffic volume eclipse that of their desktop traffic. The primary change many site owners have made in reaction to this shift has been to make their sites mobile friendly with either a responsive site design (a site that adapts to screen size and device) or a separate mobile site. Google encouraged this change with the threat and implementation of “Mobilegeddon” which gave less visibility to sites that were not deemed mobile friendly by their test tool.

Google’s search results have long been evolving from the ten blue links to a “universal” search type framework which blends different forms of content such as image, video, maps etc onto a single search page along with the traditional textual html pages. The search engine results page also gave more prominence to direct answers and one box type results aiming to provide the answer to the user's query at the top of the search results, oftentimes, without requiring a click from users. Google recently went a step further by moving from a desktop index that was served to mobile users to a mobile first index which used the content that was returned to mobile devices in its ranking as well as increasing the importance of content hidden behind expandos and tabs which are more common in mobile. (Previously, this content had been reduced in importance by Google in the desktop index.) The increased velocity of change in search on both the user interface (search results pages) as well as the underlying search index is a wake up call for us all to think about the next change that will occur. Many site owners no doubt have been struggling to adapt to the changes that have recently taken place, but as all good SEOs know, in order to win you need to be proactive with change not reactive.

In Mary Meeker’s recent “Internet Trends 2016”, she reported that 1 in 5 searches on the Android app are voice searches and 25% of Bing task bar searches are voice (May 2016). Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu, estimates 50% of searches will come from voice or image by 2020. The percentage of smartphone users using voice assistants has increased from 30% in 2013 to 65% in 2015. With the launch of Google Home and Alexa, we now see voice search used not only for mobile and "in the car" searches but also inside the home. These trends, along with future estimates, show a dramatic change in the interaction model of search in the near term as well as in the future. Users are, and will continue to be, submitting queries in a different manner of input, which will require some changes to how search results are ranked as well as how they are served to the user.

There are two fundamental changes that will occur due to voice search:

1.     The search query will more often be described in colloquial language in the form of a question "How do I tie a bow tie” versus “bowtie tying” on the desktop.

2.     The return result will likely be in the form of an answer from one authoritative site rather than a list of links. This could be a textual answer that will be read out loud or a video that will be played.

Site owners need to react to these changes by:

1)    Creating a page (and potentially a video) dedicated to each questions users may ask as well as creating the BEST (this is winner take all) answer on the web for this question. This should be researched from search query logs, customer service emails etc.) Some good research on templating these answers can be found on Bill Slawski’s site “SEO by the Sea

2)    Building the authority of your site via natural links from authoritative and related sites as well as positive user metrics on site

For an eCommerce provider that largely has a site made up of home page, category pages, product pages and potentially a blog this will require a substantial investment in content. For example, if you are selling shoes you might need to create pages for:

·      “What are the best value marathon shoes?”

·      “What are the most fashionable and popular casual athletic shoes?”

·      “What are the warmest snow boots?”

·      “What are the top selling mens casual boots?”

As with much of modern SEO there is a convergence of technical SEO and content required to win. Creating a mobile friendly site is the ante and creating multi-form Q&A content is the required strategy in the new “winner take all” environment of voice search.