Alexa, how do voice searches impact my website?
The way we search the internet is evolving. With the rise in voice assistant devices in our homes – and our pockets – more and more people speak their searches instead of typing them. At the moment 20% of internet searches are voice searches. This is expected to rise to 50% by 2020 due to the increase in smart devices in the home, such as Alexa and Google Home, and as people become more comfortable with the voice search option.
How voice searches differ from text searches.
As the number of voice searches increases the language we use on our websites will have to change too. Speaking a search term into a device is different to typing one. Unless you are voice searching on your phone you won’t have the visual prompt of a dropdown menu of search terms. Users are more likely to use everyday language related to their reasons for searching. For example instead of typing “weather forecast Dublin” you might say “do I need an umbrella today?” You are looking for the same information – is it going to rain? – but searching for it differently. In the voice search users search in a more self-focussed way, in the typed search we search the way our search engines have trained us to.
What does this mean for your web content?
Is this the death knell of SEO? The content equivalent of robots coming to steal our jobs? Well, not quite. More likely it means adding another acronym to our webcontent projects VSO (voice search optimisation). It means that it is more important than ever that web content should reflect the way people speak in real life. It should be more natural, conversational and for the most part, jargon-free. More intuitive. Returning to the weather search example, if the user was to speak in terms of the weather app on their phone they would ask “what is the percentage chance of precipitation today?” However, in normal conversations about the weather we are much more likely to say “do you think it will rain later?” While the Google weather app predicts the chance of precipitation, we know that what that means to us is rain.
Conversations with friends.
There are some fascinating statistics on voice searches here, including predictions such as 30% of all searches being carried out without a screen by 2020. And while privacy concerns about Google, Amazon and Apple overhearing conversations has put some people off buying smart speakers, they will soon become fairly common household items. In the United States 13% of households owned one in 2017, but by 2022 that’s estimated to rise to 55%. For those who have adapted to using voice activated speakers many feel that it feels like talking to another person, or even a friend.
Does your website sound like you?
When I’m reviewing web content with a new client I start the process with a conversation about their business. I ask my client to explain their service or business to me in their own words, as they would to a friend or potential customer. Rarely do the words they use in conversation resonate with the language they currently use on their website. This is a real shame. There appears to be a bit of a hangover still from early internet days when we all felt we had to sound a certain way. Using more everyday language is not about dumbing down but is all about making web content accessible and understandable to a wider group of people. It’s fine to use jargon if what you are selling is something only other subject matter experts will be seeking out. But in most circumstances using more natural language is a better option.
For more on voice searches, I found the following useful. Feel free to ask Alexa and co come up with other suggestions!