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Voice search is picking up steam. You can now use your voice to search the web and play music, navigate home and order a pizza or get the latest Cricket results. Not a day goes by without news stories about search assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Google’s – uh – nameless service (Skynet). You might think that voice assistants are taking over – but – not yet. However, in this article, I will try and talk about the rise of ‘natural language’ and voice searches, plus give you tips to prepare your content for these new types of visitors. After all, content is King.

What Is Voice Search?

Essentially, voice search is where you use your voice to perform actions on the web. In the past, people often laughed at voice assistants because they were slow and had difficulty understanding and answering questions. However, the current generation of assistants is on its way to becoming incredibly sophisticated. Almost every type of query is possible just by uttering it. We’re not there yet, though, to become a real asset to people’s lives, these devices and services have to take it up another notch. Accuracy is often still an issue and it is an emerging technology.

But why voice? For one thing, it’s fast; people can speak much more rapidly than they can type. It’s convenient, because you can work hands-free and, most of the time, get instant, relevant results, be it in answer to a question or performing an action. In addition to that, the developments on using your voice as an interface, have resulted in a context-based system that uses many components to give you relevant results.

While the significant strides were made on mobile devices, it is now at home where voice-operated devices find their place. Amazon has sold millions of Alexa enabled devices, and there’s no end in sight. Recently, Google went on the offensive with Google Home; its own smart home assistant (Skynet).

Why And How Do People Use Voice Search?

It might not come as a surprise that people use voice assistants because they’re convenient, especially when your hands are occupied. They’re a breeze to use, even more so for slow typers. Plus, people love getting fast, relevant results and many just plain enjoy the use of this kind of assistant. There is a Scotty in Star Trek vibe about it – it is new, it is fun. However, if you have a strong accent then the emerging technology can’t yet cope with that.

Voice Searches Answer Questions

Voice assistants use so-called Conversational Search Queries to get an answer to an individual question. These kinds of queries are spoken in a full, natural language sentence, and the reply is in a whole sentence as well. This is something you have to keep in mind when working on your content SEO strategy. If you ask “What’s the weather in Harrogate today?”, you might get the answer ‘It’s cloudy today, with a slight chance of rain. The maximum temperature is 16C.’ If you’re on a screen-based device, this result might be accompanied by a screen showing you the conditions.

Google Hummingbird

Google made answering questions a priority in its Hummingbird update in 2013. This update was meant to change the way Google responds to queries people write or speak. Since Hummingbird, the context of every word in the search query is taken into account. It’s no longer about the words themselves, but what they represent or mean. Hummingbird had a significant impact on how Google scanned your content. It became incredibly important to structure your text properly – if you are writing a blog.

The 5 Ws

Conversational searches tend to answer the classic 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, why and how. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Who designed Betty’s Tearoom?
  • What do I need for a Proper Brew?
  • When did Star Trek ‘Enterprise’ air for the first time?
  • Where can I get the cheapest pizza in Knaresborough?
  • Why do birds suddenly appear?
  • How did Google start?

You see that these are ‘natural language’, conversational searches. They encompass more words than our typed searches. These are no keywords, but rather key phrases. If you want to rank for these kinds of phrases, you have to have an answer for these questions. Long-tail keywords play an important part in this and this is why I build blogs for my clients.

The Technology Is Getting Smarter

In the early days, searching with your voice was clunky and error-prone. Many people just gave up in frustration. However, nowadays, voice-operated technology is getting smarter & faster. Think about it; you can now adjust the spelling of a search query if a result came up with the wrong keyword [night vs. knight]. Searches now take into account what was asked before, so you can ask additional questions to narrow down the results. So, you can ask a voice assistant to find all films by Kevin Spacey. After that, you can bring that down to just the ones he won an Oscar for. Or ones where he plays a Crime-Lord.

Context plays a big part in the recent developments of voice assistants. More and more, these assistants look at the world around you to give you relevant results or actions to take. If you’re at home, you might get different options than when you’re commuting to work. Or if you have a particular app running, an assistant might use that information to make an educated guess about what you are doing or what you might want to do. This is only the beginning; we will see a lot more developments on this front.

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