The first half of 2018 has seen some substantial changes to SEO best practices and how we optimise our websites to suit, but there are some changes that really stand out. Two of the most innovative developments have been the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and voice search, and both are rapidly changing digital marketing as we know it. With leading digital marketing agencies like Absolute Digital Media taking a reactive approach and changing their campaigns to suit these developments, optimisation of content is changing consistently. We’re exploring these changes further and what they could mean for digital marketing in the near future.
Between Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and other alternatives, most of today’s internet-using population will have access to some form of voice search platform. With ComCast reporting that the year 2020 could see 50 per cent of all searches becoming voice-based, this is an ongoing development that needs to be paid attention to. Across the globe, a rapidly increasing number of us are using our mobiles for online activity much more than a desktop PC or a laptop, with reports in January 2017 suggesting that up to 61 per cent or more of minutes spent online in the UK were via mobile. Of course, with increasing smartphone sales and Google’s announcement of mobile-first indexing this year, it’s clear that these numbers have been rising – but what has this got to do with voice search?
Well, voice search is a primarily mobile-based activity simply due to the ease and convenience of having a voice-activated search platform right there in your hand. A simple ‘Hey, Siri…,’ ‘Okay, Google…’ or ‘Hey, Cortana…’ can launch your mobile device into listening to your every word and forming a search around it. While home ‘hubs’ are becoming more and more popular, mobile search is still proving to be just as popular, especially when on the go.
Not only is artificial intelligence a development worthy of singular attention, it is also improving voice search as we know it. AI is making it possible for our voice search platforms to pick up and learn unique accents, inflections, voices, and even adjust to speech patterns to make our searches much more accurate overall. Through AI technology, error rates for speech recognition have dropped from over 20 per cent in 2012, to just under eight per cent today, and this will only improve further with increased AI integration and voice search development.
On its own, however, AI has been a powerful tool for search engines and digital marketers alike as of late. Google’s RankBrain is perhaps the biggest addition the SEO world has seen, with its machine-learning system helping Google to adjust ranking on SERPs for unusual or difficult-to-understand queries. With 15 per cent of searches per year being completely new queries, RankBrain’s launch in 2015 has since helped Google to adjust and provide users with results in most cases. Very few are seeing the disappointing ‘no results found’ page and are instead being guided towards the most accurate search results that RankBrain can produce.
How Can Businesses Adjust Their SEO Practices?
With the above developments in mind, the question that remains is how content marketing has needed to adjust as a result. With mobile-focused SEO being expected to require more change than it ultimately did, discussion around whether content will need to adjust to cater for these new technologies is understandably rife. While quality and frequency of new content are both ranking factors that matter regardless of your platform focus, we take you through the ways in which content could need to change to cater for voice search and AI.
The use of keywords within content is a basic and commonly understood SEO best practice, but with the rise of voice search and AI, these shorter, more concise keywords and search terms may need to grow to cater for this new way of searching. Our speech patterns are often very different from the way we type out a search, but with the option of using our voices to search, the use of long tail keywords could prove beneficial in the long-term. Businesses will need to develop a deeper understanding of their consumer base and what their natural phrases are likely to be to create long-tail keywords.
Almost contradictory to the point above, increased accuracy is something that businesses could find a vital part of their content. Users that opt for voice search want clear and concise answers and content filled with ‘waffle’ is likely to be outranked by something far more concise regardless of your search engine rank position. All content marketing efforts could need to adjust for relevancy and become much more informative in a significantly shorter word count.
Optimisation for featured snippets has been a focus as of late after Google ‘reintroduced’ the feature on 30 January 2018. Content marketers in particular should pay attention to this feature and aim to answer common questions in a short ‘snippet’ that Google can pick up on and post as the first result. Optimising for featured snippets could lead to your site being the chosen answer of choice in voice search results regardless of your true ranking.
Voice search and artificial intelligence are both developing technologies that hold great potential for the future. When integrated together, users can benefit from more precise and accurate results while businesses can further capitalise on new SEO best practice techniques. As a result, SEO is set to change over the next few years to cater for these developments and only the future will tell just how far this could go.