OPINION: Is Voice the Future of Search?

Back to news12th October 2021

Written by Andrea Abbondanza, SEO Director 

Computer technology has radically changed the world and how we live, making life easier through the automation of many functions. In 2020, the world experienced an unprecedented digital leap forward with two years’ worth of digital transformation in a few months fueled by the pandemic. One emerging trend is voice recognition technology (VRT), or voice search, set to disrupt marketing in 2021 and beyond.

Our voices are one of the best communication tools we have, and we can now use our voices as search command inputs. Voice search allows users to use a voice or verbal command instead of typing a keyword to search the Internet, a website, or an app. Using artificial intelligence (AI), a device can recognise your voice and put the query into a search engine which then responds with the answer. It could be through connected devices such as smartphones, tablets, and voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana.

Voice search has many benefits; it helps users search through items quickly and multi-task such as take notes, write emails, and perform other functions simultaneously. You can use a voice command to save time, search for information faster and in a more efficient way. It’s also Google’s first AI strategy for the future, so it will be interesting to see how the big G will develop it.

As voice technology continues to reach new levels of sophistication and the rate of smart speaker ownership in Australia steadily increases, we can expect voice search to become a mainstream activity in the coming years. With almost one in five Australians now owning a smart speaker, the perception of voice search is shifting from a fun, gimmicky technology to a valuable tool with real, time-saving benefits.

Voice search capabilities are increasingly being embedded into connected devices, locations, and moments including cars, mobile phones, and wireless headphones, to name a few, meaning the technology is mobile, hands-free, and no longer limited to the household.

Voice recognition technology is not new. On the contrary, it is something that technology companies have dreamed about and developed for many years. Google, Amazon, and Apple have all implemented voice recognition software to interact with users. Think of the R2-D2’s beep-bopping in Star Wars and Samantha’s disembodied yet soulful voice in the film, Her. Sci-fi writers and creators have created a strong foundation for building and applying this technology.

With the current trends in technological advancement, speech recognition has become a relatively unsophisticated thing. Speech recognition works in the same way a child learns a language until they can use it. They hear words around them and absorb all verbal cues, intonation, pronunciation, and everything else that helps them, master. Speech recognition works similarly based on AI. Again, it might take some time to perfect these systems, but they are already helpful.

And while there isn’t a voice search ad product just yet, the focus for marketers will be on ensuring that SEO is fully evolved to enable content discovery through voice search interactions.

The SEO dilemma: is it worth investing in voice search?

As the SEO Manager at Ryvalmedia, my job is to rank our clients’ websites on Google and other search engines (Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, Ecosia). I’m focused on making sure that the transition to voice search will be smooth for our clients, and it’s not an easy task because voice technology SEO is different from traditional SEO.

Traditional search and SEO focus mainly on the keyword terms and how your website ranks for them. You can get clicks from Google if your website appears on the first page, and even if your website ranks on position number two, three, five, or even ten. Voice search, on the other hand, tends to focus on searching in a conversational way. For example, when you Google search “What are the best basketball shoes for kids?” it will return a page with a variable number of paid ads (usually three or four on top of the search page) plus ten organic results below. With VST, Google or Siri will only return ONE result or answer, and not ten results that you can select from. Therefore, using a traditional SEO strategy may not be helpful with voice search websites and websites need to optimise for voice search.

Considering how Google and big tech monetise (through advertising), the answer seems obvious. We predict that the voice search results that Siri or Google will provide will be more than likely paid results. Unfortunately, this will not guarantee that the result provided will be the best or most relevant. So how will brands be able to get to that first position?

Google is a stand-out as it always offers the user the best result in the shortest possible time, and, usually, users click on the first result on average 30% of the time. So, what will be the difference between today’s ‘manual’ research and voice search, you might ask? Well, website owners (and digital agencies) work hard to deliver the best results on Google. They compete to be at that top spot, especially for queries that have economic value. For paid results, there is no competition based on quality but only on offer and relevance.

While voice search technology will be faster and easier to use, I’m not convinced that it will provide the best results for users and advertisers and replace traditional methods. It’s about striking a balance between your traditional and voice search SEO to ensure that you’re not missing out on any traffic results. If your website isn’t optimised for voice search then this could be the case.

Technology companies developing these ideas are set on assuring a better future for humanity. It is all about improving convenience in our everyday life. Voice search is not just one of the latest marketing trends; it’s the future of SEO and internet browsing. Those who are not preparing should start now or risk being left behind by early adopters who are ready to capitalise on voice search and make it an important pillar of their SEO strategy.