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Voice is Changing Online Search

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Voice is Changing Online Search
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When the first version of Siri appeared on iPhones back in 2011, it was met with mostly critical acclaim. Google’s Eric Schmidt even considered Siri to pose a “competitive threat” to the Big G.

While iPhone users were finding Siri helpful, and having humorous conversations with Siri, other smart phone users were left wondering when they could have their very own voice search application. That may not have been a major concern when Siri debuted, but the popularity of smartphones has steadily increased since then.

In fact, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported in 2013 that 61 percent of cell owners are classified as smart phone owners, and 91 percent of the population own some sort of cell phone.

Maybe it’s because of the increase of smart phone users, or the advances in technology, or the fact that we’ve always relied on our voices to search for information (remember 411?), but companies like Google and Microsoft now have platforms that can  rival Apple in voice search.

Siri_running_in_iPad_MiniImage Source: Wikipedia Commons

As this technology continues to increase in usage, and becomes perfected, voice is going to completely change online search from now on. But, how?

Search Like You Speak

Unlike performing a query where we ponder what we’re going to type into the keyboard, you just have to ask the question using natural language. If you need an example of how the two differ, here’s an example from Shanti Shunn at Ecommerce Consulting:

  • Typed Search: “new pink golf clubs intermediate skill full set womens”
  • Voice Search: “Find me a full set of new pink women’s golf clubs for sale that would be perfect for an intermediate level golfer”

Both searches look completely different, but they ultimately are achieving the same goal. The difference is that when we speak, we’re including fillers words like “a,” “for”, and “me,” which can give search engines an idea of what your intent was.

This was a major part of Hummingbird when Google released it in 2013. Instead of matching keywords, Hummingbird attempts to figure the meaning behind the words.

And that is what’s going to change everything.

Predictive Search

Search engines have been trying to figure this out for years. Back in 2003, there was a prediction that “the Web will be intelligent enough to give users exactly what they are looking for: No more scouring hundreds of pages on Google”—and it’s almost here. Both Google Now and Microsoft Cortana have the ability to anticipate what you’re searching for.

These means that if your query was to “show me pictures of the Liberty Bell,” and your next response was “how did it crack,” the latter query realizes that “it” was the Liberty Bell. But, that’s peanuts to the full capabilities of voice search.

Google Now, for example, has the power to provide users geared to their interests and information. Sports scores, stock options, weather conditions, and when you should leave your home for the office are all right there. Without asking for it.

Keywords Aren’t As Important

Because we speak in a conversational mode and voice search requests are interpreting our queries, keywords may not be as important. Matt Cutts was aware of this when he stated:

“It is definitely the case that if you have something coming in via voice, people are more likely to use natural language. They are less likely to use search operators and keywords and that sort of thing and that is a general trend that we see.”

As opposed to typing in “Thai restaurants in Chicago”, you would say “good Thai restaurants near me.” This means search engines must get better at interpreting queries because users aren’t concerned over keywords anymore. They want a search result that delivers an answer based on what they’re thinking at the moment.

Decrease in Web-Based Traffic

One major effect that voice search will have is for geo-local results. Search Engine Watch did an excellent job of explaining of this, but here’s the gist of it:

Asking Siri or Google Now to find local businesses means that you need to have up to date information—phone number, address, business hours, etc. You also need to encourage positive reviews on sites like OpenTable, Yelp, CitySearch or ReserveTravel. While both are vital if you’re a local business owner, they also lessen the need for a having a website.

This is because people can find the information they are looking for without having to visit a website. This will change the way we create content going forward. Instead of focusing on keywords, we’re going to have to feature content that is more focused on people not search engines. This may decrease traffic to your website, but as long as people can find information about your business, you’ll most likely see an increase at your physical location.

Conclusion

As voice search continues to gain popularity, online search is going to have to adapt. Instead of focusing on keywords, there will be a focus on the actual person performing the search query. This means choosing a more conversational tone when creating content.

Furthermore, with the addition of Google Now to desktops, voice search isn’t strictly limited to mobile devices. In fact, it’s going to ensure visitors can receive information quickly and conveniently wherever they are, no matter the device that they’re using.

This may all sound like it’s the end of the world for SEO, but that’s not exactly the case. It’s just an interesting change we are all going to have get used to.

 

Featured Image: TACstock1 via Shutterstock

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Albert Costill

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Albert Costill is a co-founder of evolvor.com and a freelance writer who has written for brands like ForRent.com and Search ... [Read full bio]

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