Voice is changing the way consumers interact with technology and how they search for information. Google acknowledges that over 20% of search is now by voice and comScore’s prediction that it will trend toward 50% by 2020 is looking increasingly likely. Smart speakers are accelerating this trend.
Why should brands care? There are a few things that make voice SEO very different than desktop and mobile. Your traditional SEO strategies will be supplanted by new techniques for voice. Building a voice app now can help you establish both strong topical search positioning and gather data on what queries are likely to be most valuable over time. First movers will have a big advantage.
How Voice Changes the Rules of SEO
Search algorithms are using many techniques from browser-based search to answer voice queries, but they are also adding new wrinkles. Over time, these changes will represent stronger algorithm signals and query results from voice and text-based search will increasingly diverge. We are already seeing this today on Google Home. There are three things brands should be aware of now when considering how voice SEO will differ from traditional practices.
- Voice apps will take precedence for voice search results
- Voice search term rankings will be invisible beyond position 1 or 2 which will make it harder to determine ranking improvement and easier to maintain position
- Voice apps can help you gather user voice search data today and continually optimize
- Voice app search optimization will help with Web SEO for voice
- Competitors without voice apps will have no visibility of search trends
Voice Apps Take Precedence in Search Results
The experts that built their careers around text-based search will tell you to double down on those techniques when developing a voice SEO strategy. They will focus on the importance of position zero in search, also known as a featured snippet. There is ample evidence to suggest that claiming a featured snippet position on Google will help your voice search positioning through Google Assistant. However, this situation also looks like a transitional stage. The real battle for voice search position will be increasingly dominated by successful voice apps.
Both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are now suggesting voice apps (or Alexa skills) to users in response to certain queries. Voice apps are getting priority where they exist. Featured snippets are a knowledge graph fall-back for Google Assistant where there are no appropriate voice apps to answer the query. Amazon has a similar default to Bing, but also is moving toward more skill recommendations where appropriate.
Google has a more sophisticated approach than Amazon and offers insight into how this space is evolving. Google Assistant app developers have the option of including, “implicit invocations” in their voice app design. These are sometimes called “implicit discoveries” because they enable discovery of a voice app when Google determines the app is likely to fulfill the user request. The user doesn’t need to use the brand name or the official voice app invocation name or even know of its existence. Google serves as matchmaker, connects the user with the Assistant app and measures behavior to determine if the match should be made for similar queries in the future. The first step to voice SEO ranking is to have a voice app that can successfully match to consumer queries.
Voice Search Performance is Invisible and Favors First Movers
There are some Twitter campaigns and articles in SearchEngineLand requesting that Google start to separate voice search from text search data. Why? Because people are starting to recognize that the way people to ask a question by voice is different from how they type in keywords. The other reason is the results delivered by Google often differ for voice and text-based queries — optimization for voice is different and requires new data and new tactics
Today, the best we can do for voice search results is to manually track what one or two responses were returned, usually just one. We can see links and track results in text-based search to know if our content was the first, fifth or fiftieth result. Voice queries have no such visibility. Because humans can only process and recall relatively small amounts of information through audio, Google is only suggesting one or two results to Google Home users. Google Assistant group product manager Brad Abrams discussed the approach in some detail in a podcast interview in late 2017. In December, a Google Research blog post offered additional insight.
“The Google Assistant is designed to provide help and information across a variety of platforms, and is built to bring together a number of products — including Google Maps, Search, Google Photos, third party services, and more. For some of these products, we have released specific evaluation guidelines, like Search Quality Rating Guidelines. However, the Google Assistant needs its own guidelines in place, as many of its interactions utilize what is called “eyes-free technology,” when there is no screen as part of the experience…spoken responses are very different from display results, as what’s on screen needs to be translated into useful speech.”
What this means is that first movers have a distinct advantage. When you are first or second and regularly getting recommended to consumers you can monitor your performance and see if your optimization techniques are working. If you are late to the game and not getting implicit invocation recommendations from Google, then you don’t know if the algorithm is prioritizing your content as third or three hundred. You have zero data to determine if your efforts are helping you make progress. Early voice search success breeds lasting success. Get there early or not at all.
Voice Apps Provide Search Data Insight Today
You can wait for Google to separate voice and text search data and you may be waiting a long time. Even if this does come to pass, there is no guarantee that Google will provide the type of data marketers need to implement voice SEO. However, brands have another option that they can implement today. Launch a Google Assistant app with implicit invocations and measure the results through the Google Actions console. Then they can use what they learn to optimize both implicit search for their voice app as well as voice web search.
XAPPmedia is a leader in Google Assistant app development and we have already implemented these strategies for leading media and consumer brands. For example, one of our customer’s Assistant apps generated over 10,000 implicit invocation recommendations by Google over the past month for 17 search phrases and another generated several thousand recommendations for 51 search phrases. This is invaluable insight that you will find nowhere else.
There are a lot of factors to consider when determining whether to launch a new marketing initiative. Voice apps are no exception. Some brand marketers will be swayed by the rapid adoption of smart speakers and increased usage of voice assistants on mobile. However, the value of voice SEO will be a decisive driver for many brands to make the leap into voice in 2018. If you would like to learn more about how you can launch a Google Assistant app or Amazon Alexa skill to support your voice SEO efforts, click the button below to learn more.