“Can you imagine a future with no websites?” This is the question introduced by David Bain, Founder and Host of Digital Marketing Radio, as part of a 2018 panel for SEMRush. For those of us who came up during the dot com boom, the knee jerk answer is a resounding no. However, advancements in voice-based technology are rapidly redefining the parameters of websites’ usefulness. While Bain doesn’t believe we’ll say goodbye to websites anytime soon, he does draw attention to the fact that mobile apps, targeted snippets, and voice search are all modern, convenient alternatives to a traditional website. And each of these requires a unique SEO strategy.

Instead of “think, type, scroll” we’re switching to a “speak, ask, listen” model of processing information

A recent report by NPR and Edison Research estimates there are over 118 million smart speakers in the United States alone, with 52% of households having two or more speakers. That represents a 78% growth rate in just one year. It’s no longer unusual to move from room to room, interacting with different voice assistants as you go. While Alexa streams music in the bedroom, Cortana can look up a recipe in the kitchen. Your Google Assistant smartwatch can check the weather and remind you to pick the kids up from their softball game. And it’s all as easy as talking to another person. 

According to the 2018 Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report, most households use smart speakers for two primary functions: to stream music and to answer general information questions. But that may be shifting. In a survey by voice and AI trade-news site Voicebotonly, music ranked fifth. It came in behind general questions, traffic/directions queries, finding a place to eat, and researching products before buying.

Smart speakers are changing the way we shop

Many herald smart speakers as the future of shopping. With the rise of e-commerce sites like eBay, Etsy, and Amazon, we already know that today’s consumers are comfortable ordering through their screens. With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, the company’s smart speaker Alex may be uniquely poised to impact day-to-day shopping processes. 

As the Forbes Council has pointed out, voice search makes it easier for us to get the things we need. Our smart speakers can save order histories and making reordering a breeze. “For example,” Amine Bentahar writes, “you may simply be able to tell your digital assistant to reorder the same toilet paper or soap that you ordered last time, and your shopping experience will be as easy as saying, “‘Alexa, order toilet paper.’”

But in-home smart speakers aren’t the only search contenders

Thanks to the prevalence of voice search capabilities in smartphones, smart devices, and computers, voice search could answer a plethora of modern problems: texting and driving, looking up how-to instructions when you’re working in the garage or kitchen, or even the tendency to have your best ideas in the shower. With Amazon speaker-equipped shower heads in the production line, you might never lose your most brilliant thoughts again. 

Even more impactful might be the continued evolution of wearable tech. With smart devices on our bodies 24/7, data analysts have noted shifting trends and patterns. These are especially notable when it comes to local search. 

On-the-go consumers rely on voice searches for their convenience. Imagine you’re walking down the street, headed to a nearby appointment when you start to feel that familiar mid-afternoon drag. You can ask your smart device to locate a coffee shop along your route and have an Americano in hand before you reach your destination. 

Voice search is becoming a part of daily life

In a high-speed, digitally-connected world, voice search is just the most convenient option for busy consumers. It reduces the friction between people and the answers or products they need. This year, DialogTech compiled key statistics around voice search use. The report reveals that 65% of 25-49-year-olds speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once per day. And 61% of 25-64-year-olds predict they’ll use their voice devices more in the future. It’s estimated that by 2020, just a year from now, voice will account for up to 50% of all searches. 

How does voice search work?

Essentially, voice and traditional search fill the same function. In traditional searches, you sit down at your computer or pull up a browser or app on your smart device and type in the keywords you want to search. With voice search, you speak into the device rather than typing. Both search systems rank results based on keyword indexes and algorithms that determine relevance and ranking. If you need a refresher on SEO, check out our handy guide here. 

Instead of pulling up an index of websites, voice search orally delivers results to the user. 

Interestingly, one of the main appeals for voice search seems to be the fact that it returns limited results. Rather than links, users want direct answers. When you use smart speakers, you get one result— the top result. There’s no need to scroll through billions of websites looking for your exact match. And as voice search functions become more sophisticated, this will only become even more evident. 

Staying relevant with voice search SEO

Considering voice search crosschecks billions of web entries to return a brief, relevant answer to user queries, it stands to reason that the SEO stakes will be a lot higher in the coming years. After all, thanks to advancements like Google’s 2013 Hummingbird overhaul, voice-first technology will only continue to become more accurate and versatile. Voice search SEO is based on a lot of the same criteria as regular SEO. However, there are some important variations worth noting. So how will a focus on voice optimization impact your SEO strategy?

Keyword phrases will be longer and more conversational

Think back to your most recent search inquiries. If you were in a hurry or multi-tasking, odds are pretty good they were brief and efficient: “coffee nearby,” for example. But when we switch to voice search, we’re naturally more conversational. We treat our voice-based assistants like humans: “Alexa, what coffee shops are open right now?” Instead of short, choppy keywords and word jumbles, voice-based searches have longer tail keywords. 

In case you aren’t familiar, let’s outline the difference between long-tail and “head” keywords. Long-tail keywords, or longer phrases, contain several words and are usually conversational and sentence-based. They’re different from “head” keywords, which are shorter (1-2 words) and target a broad topic or category. It’s the difference between searching “Where can I get my dog groomed in Portland?” and searching just “dog groomer.” These longer, natural language phrases contain insights into the potential customer’s mindset. Insights you can tie back into your marketing funnel. 

Voice searches are more likely to be question-based

A 2014 report by the Search Engine Watch showed a 61% growth in question-based searches, something they link directly to the rising popularity of voice search. Instead of typing “age, Oprah,” we’re much more likely to query: “Siri, how old is Oprah?” This is important because the types of questions people ask about your company can inform you where the user is in their buying process. For example, according to Neil Patel, “What” and “Who” questions suggest the user is in their research phase, while “When” and “Where” indicate that they’re getting ready to act on their searches. 

Focus on user intent

Again, Hummingbird by Google has been instrumental in using semantic analysis to get to the bottom of what information you want when you type “taco bar” into your search bar. Instead of giving you a dictionary definition, your search results will likely direct you to your nearest cantina. Plus advances in AI and machine learning mean our devices will learn to recognize our personal speech patterns the longer we use them, leading to even more accurate results. Still, there are steps you can take to ensure your content focuses on user intent, making you more competitive in voice searches. 

According to Jayson Demers, a Forbes contributor SEO analyst, intent can be broken down into three categories: informational, navigational, or transactional. In other words, when people search for your website, are they interested in buying something? Do they want to know where you’re located? Or are they just looking for information? Predicting intent can help you tailor your information and keywords. Make sure the most relevant information appears as a snippet above the fold so that users can find their answers quickly and easily. 

Prioritize local

The Search Engine Watch reports that out of over a billion monthly voice searches, 40% have local intent. Most people using voice search want immediate results and quick fixes to their inquiries. With this in mind, prioritizing local keywords, putting “near me” in your tags, anchors, and metadata, or including titles of specific neighborhoods and institutions near your location are all solid strategies for boosting your local ranking. 

Partner with voice engine optimization (VEO) experts

As an accredited Google Partner, the Savy team keeps at the cutting edge of advancements in SEO, voice-based search, and search engine algorithms. Still, it’s difficult to predict exactly how tech advancements will impact our daily lives. One thing is clear: voice search is here to stay. And one of the best things your company can do to stay relevant in the changing SEO landscape is to explore options for voice search SEO.