Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How Voice-Based Technology Will Change SEO

This month's iPhone event was headlined by some intriguing new features, most notably 3D Touch, which uses multi-touch technology to sense how hard you press on the screen. As USA TODAY wrote today, 3D Touch will, at the very least, improve the speed of the iPhone user's experience, and potentially make life a little easier:

"For instance, gently pressing against the Camera app icon summons a shortcut menu for taking selfies, recording video or capturing a regular photo. A light press against the Reminders app lets you quickly add items to your to-do lists. Or by pressing against Maps you might mark your location or seek directions."

In a way, all updates to the iPhone attempt to accomplish this goal: making life easier. This is certainly the goal of Siri, the voice control assistant. Siri was originally met with contempt when it was introduced to the iPhone, in September, 2012.

In the intervening years, however, Siri (and other voice control technologies, like Amazon's Echo) have become more intuitive, easier to use, and more helpful. Now, with the latest iPhone software update (iOS 9), Siri seems poised to become a crucial part of our everyday lives.

As the New York Times writes today, too:

"The new Siri is paving the way to what you might call 'ambient computing' — a future in which robotic assistants are always on hand to answer questions, take notes, take orders or otherwise function as auxiliary brains to whom you might offload many of your chores."

To facilitate this form of "assistance," the new Siri will now be able to respond to commands voiced from several feet away. The Times notes that this "hands free" technology is not new, yet with Siri, Apple has improved its potential resourcefulness:

"In iOS 9...Siri also has more powers to connect to deeper parts of your phone. It can control devices compatible with Apple’s home-automation system, called HomeKit — you can tell it to turn down the lights, for example. Siri also controls Apple Music, the company’s new streaming service. In the car, say, 'Hey, Siri, play Dylan,' and up comes 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'."

The times they are a-changing -Bob Dylan

These changes have been predicted for years (first, of course, in science fiction), and recently in a major algorithm update from Google, which was made, in part, to accommodate the increase in voice-based searches, which tend to be longer and more complex.

This new algorithm was also a nod to the ubiquity of mobile phones. Increasingly, we know, most the worldwide online experience is conducted on mobile devices, a fact we've covered exhaustively in the past two years.

As the mobile experience changes, the nature of search--how and why--changes. Good SEO specialists maintain pace with the changes, adapting websites as needed to ensure optimum rankings. For example, earlier this year we beseeched website owners to optimize for mobile devices or suffer the consequences of what was called Mobilegeddon.

Keeping pace with the changing search landscape is an SEO specialist's job. Yet the best SEO minds attempt to do more--to keep ahead of the pace. Practically speaking, this means watching the news, reading articles, and making informed predictions.

Even then, it is not hard to see how the increasing prevalence of voice-based technology will change SEO. Single word keywords will become irrelevant as searchers voice precisely what they want with longer, more complex demands. As the Times notes:

"A host of start-ups are entering the game, too. One, called SoundHound, offers a taste of the possibilities of talking to machines: Rather than going through several sites to make a hotel reservation, you can ask, “Find me a three- or four-star hotel in New York next Friday for less than $300,” and off it goes."

The vital challenge for any website is clear; more than ever, a website must fulfill a specific need. A simple way to think about a marketing campaign, then, is to ask: What need does your website fulfill?

Instead of defining your product with a few keywords, you must now work hard to anticipate your potential customer's questions--and to answer them with good content. To create new content, start with a question in mind--and then answer that question precisely. Anticipate the voice-based search that makes your website relevant.

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