The Past, Present and Future of Voice Search

January 06, 2020

For decades, voice search was the stuff of science fiction and overblown projections about the 21st century. While the midcentury did bring about devices with limited voice recognition vocabularies, these were a far cry from the advanced and affordable digital assistants available today. It wasn’t until 2007 that general-purpose voice search became available to iPhone users, opening the floodgates for our now-familiar cast of Siri, Alexa, and other AI assistants.

However, voice search is not just a case study in technological advancement—it’s also drastically changing the landscape of internet searches, driving key trends in digital marketing.

Voice search initially may have seemed like a gimmick, but like many emerging technologies, it has rapidly gained a foothold and established itself as an essential modern convenience. In fact, some predictions suggest that in 2020, half of all searches will be conducted via voice recognition. For SEO professionals, that’s huge. The issue isn’t that voice search is fundamentally different from traditional, text-based search. In principle, the top result for a voice search will still be the top result for that same query typed into a laptop. The difference is in how users interact with voice search and how companies should adapt as a result.

Talking and typing are completely different paradigms, and search queries tend to reflect this. A spoken search tends to be longer than a comparable typed one, and it’s more likely to be phrased in the form of a question.

Based on these observations, digital marketers should be taking steps now to ensure their SEO plans are voice-friendly. Here are a few key steps to keep your marketing agile and future-proof:

  • Stop obsessing over keywords. Although SEO as a whole has been moving away from a strictly keyword-based strategy, that advice bears repeating in the context of voice search. As queries shift toward natural, conversational language, you’ll be better served to write like your audience talks rather than to stuff keywords like it’s 2007. It also pays to consider long-tail keywords which often better reflect the style and intent of voice searchers than single words.
  • Optimize for your market. Voice search won’t affect all demographics equally, and it won’t be as popular with all types of search queries. For instance, voice search is still disproportionately directed at local brick-and-mortar businesses, often with the intent of a same-day visit. Understand who might be using voice search to find your business and what they want out of that search, then use that information to refine your targets.
  • Anticipate common questions. In the same vein, take some time to reflect on what questions your users are likely to speak into their cell phones. Will they want to know your hours or return policy? What about your new address, or nearby parking? Dig into some search data if you have to and ensure that your website plainly and clearly answers the most common inquiries, using the question’s language if possible.
  • Don’t lose track of the basics. As important as it is to adapt to a changing web market, ensure that you still take the time to refine and solidify your fundamentals: without responsive design, logical linking structures, and quality, relevant content, you can’t expect natural language to get you very far. Perhaps counterintuitively, these elements are likely to increase in importance as voice search surges. Most voice searches are conducted via mobile devices, and most voice searchers expect quick and relevant results. If your groundwork isn’t in place to capture mobile users, then voice search will only make matters worse.

At the beginning of the decade, few webmasters would have anticipated voice search having the impact it’s already had—an important reflection to take as we move into a brand-new decade. At Excelerate Digital, we’re experts in agile digital marketing, and we’re always prepared to react to trends without being reactionary. To learn more about how we can guide your marketing strategy, give us a call at 866-530-2729.

Sources Referenced:
Pioneering Speech Recognition
The future of search is voice and personal digital assistants