Search engine optimisation (SEO) professionals – and, by extension, website copywriting providers – need to start preparing for a future where voice will have a big impact on SEO. In the future, online queries will originate with voice input features on mobile devices. In order to accommodate voice – as well as text – queries, Google will turn increasingly towards what is known as “direct answers.” Having tweaked its algorithms over the years, Google has shifted towards an approach where specific user searches generate direct answer results, otherwise known as “rich answers,” rather than returning a variety of links to other websites. Bing runs specific search returns on the same basis, though to a lesser extent.
To give an example, if someone were to enter the query into Google, “What are the countries in the European Union,” the search engine would display a table containing the names of the member states on top of the relevant search results. In this way, the direct answers function is eliminating the need for the user to click additional links to get their answer.
The implications of voice search and direct answers for SEO practices and for content include a need to include more structured data in sites and to offer users clear answers to particular questions early on in content. Voice search was for all intents and purposes irrelevant until October 2011, when Apple launched Siri on its iPhone 4. Siri has since been integrated into all new iPhone models, as well as all new iPads, iPod touch media players and Apple’s latest gadget – the Apple Watch. Google rolled out its voice search technology, Google Now, in June 2012, making it a part of Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean.” In April 2014, Microsoft introduced its Cortana virtual assistant for the first time. Cortana will be integrated into Windows 10 OS, due to be launched this summer.
If content providers were not clear as to the reach of voice search, then research commissioned by Google from Northstar Research will make them sit up and pay attention. The research found that as of the autumn of 2014, Siri, Google Now or Cortana were being used by 41 per cent of adults and 55 per cent of teenagers at least once a day.