Opinion

Don’t buy the hype: Voice search won’t change SEO

Despite the stream of articles to the contrary, Bruno Rodriguez doesn't think SEO marketers should drop everything and focus solely on targeting Google Home and Alexa. On the contrary: focussing on plain old SEO techniques is the best way to win the voice assistants around.

Voice search has been framed as the next big thing in the search industry. According to headlines, it will be ‘more disruptive than mobile’, ‘more important than millennials’ and it makes the list for top 2018 SEO trends in Search Engine Land, Forbes or The Next Web.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. ComScore estimates that 50% of searches in 2020 will be voice-based, there will be 53.6 million smart speakers shipped in 2018 and virtual assistants are becoming one of the most salient aspects of smartphones.

But here comes the twist. It’s very likely that voice search won’t impact a brands’ SEO strategy at all.

Backlinko – a well-known SEO thought leadership site – published one of the most detailed pieces of research on voice search to date. After analysing 10,000 voice results, they came to the following conclusions:

– Only domains that are highly authoritative (with a median of nearly 6,000 domains pointing to them) appear in voice search. Meaning that voice search is only relevant for 0.02% of the websites on the world wide web.

– Most voice results (75%) came from pages that had already ranked in the top three for that particular search. 40% appeared in a featured snippet – the information blocks answering questions directly on Google’s result pages. This means that brands doing great SEO work will see their chances of appearing in voice search increased without adapting their strategies to it.

– Most of the voice results came from safe (HTTPS) domains and 36.4% (above the average) from pages using structured data – tags that add additional information for search engines. Therefore, complying with basic SEO best practices has a positive impact on appearing in voice search.

– Good content (long, easy to read, not too focused on keywords, concise, performs well on social) tends to do better in voice search, just as it does with generic organic search.

Now, these are great insights for anyone working on search and SEO in particular. However, they add nothing to our current strategies as SEO professionals. They completely overlap with the status of SEO in 2018, more so after Google started looking at user interaction for improving their rankings. What’s more, these observations give additional information on how websites that are not incredibly authoritative do not need to even bother about voice search until they solve their authority issues.

Brands aiming to benefit from SEO in voice search will need to have great content that answers the user’s query, a technically-optimised site and a lot of links, exactly what any organisation investing in SEO should be doing in 2018 anyway. These tactics will guarantee higher ranks and therefore voice results. Marketers should also pay attention to optimising their websites for rich snippets, but if they were doing SEO, they probably were focusing on it already.

These conclusions are not very different from the ones SEER interactive came up with in early 2017. The technology is just not yet there, the usage is limited to a few people in specific scenarios and it’s not changing the search behaviour of those who use it.

This does not mean that voice search won’t change SEO. It is already changing some things and it may revolutionise the whole industry in the future, so brands should definitely keep it on their radar as one of the technologies that could disrupt search. The thing is, it does not affect the way we are working today.

As virtual assistants and voice interfaces get better, we’re likely to see big disruption, but the experience is so different that it becomes incredibly difficult to try to predict its final form.

Instead of trying to predict the future, focusing on authority (links), technical optimisation, good content and getting results today, are the best approach for now.

Bruno Rodriguez is senior SEO manager at Orange Line.

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