Thursday, April 6, 2017

Voice-Based Technology: How to Adapt Your SEO Efforts to Digital Assistants

Siri was met with contempt when she was introduced to the iPhone, in 2011. Don't believe the Wikipedia article, which falsely claims, without any attributions, "Siri was met with critical acclaim for its ease of use and practicality, as well as its apparent 'personality.'"

In fact, as Jay Yarow wrote for Business Insider in September 2012, "Apple's voice-activated personal assistant Siri has been trashed pretty thoroughly since its arrival last year."

In another article about Siri, Yarow refers to a Fortune article about Tim Cook, which cites an employee, who said, "People are embarrassed by Siri ... Steve [Jobs] would have lost his mind over Siri."

Meanwhile, writing for The New York Times, tech writer, Nick Bilton, famously ended his romance with Siri, citing her inability to answer questions--a supposed core functions. Even then, in his article Bilton embraced Google's Voice Search, which was available on Android phones, and according to Bilton, was "a much better listener."

Like Siri at the time, Google Voice was in an "upstart" phase--and Amazon's now-famous Alexa was still a few years from a release date. However, since 2012, Siri voice-based technologies have become more intuitive, easier to use, and more helpful.

In 2015, The Times called the latest iPhone software update (iOS 9), which included a hands-free Siri, "An Omen of the Future," and Farhad Manjoo argued that Siri was poised to become a crucial part of our everyday lives:

"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 was able to respond to commands voiced from several feet away. The Times noted that this "hands free" technology was not new, yet with Siri, Apple 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
Of course, since then, Amazon's Alexa, has dominated the voice-based marketplace, and digital home assistants are now the rage--effectively leaving Siri in the dust. As Brian Deagon recently reported for, Amazon's Alexa and Google's home assistant, Google Home, are in a "race for dominance" in this hot consumer category:

"Both devices are voice-activated speaker systems connected to the internet that can answer a multitude of questions, play music on request, read books, tell jokes, provide weather and traffic information, and much more."

Why have digital home assistants succeeded even as the first wave of phone-based assistants seemingly failed? Perhaps it's context. Business Insider cited a study last year that found most people "feel uncomfortable talking to their tech in public."

Voice-Based Technology and SEO

The emergence of voice-based technology has 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 a nod to the ubiquity of mobile phones. Increasingly, we know, most of the worldwide online experience is conducted on mobile devices, a fact we've covered exhaustively in the past.

As the experience of search changes, at home and on the streets, the nature of search--how and why--changes. Good SEO specialists maintain pace with the changes, adapting websites as needed to ensure optimum rankings. Keeping pace 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 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.

Again, from The Times:

"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.

Long-Tail Keywords: The New Search Paradigm

The sort of queries we're referring to here are "long tail keywords."

Although short keywords drive traffic to your site, long-tail queries account for more total impressions. Simply put, with the emergence of voice-based technology, people are using long-tail keywords more often.

Yet since long-tail searches are so specific, you may have a harder time discovering the best long-tail keywords for your content. But long-tail keywords must be a part of your optimization campaign. Why?
  1. Ad campaigns for long-tail keywords have less competition so they cost less.
  2. Long-tail keywords increase conversion rates by attracting real customers to your precise product or service. 
  3. Long-tail keywords are a by-product of good content; if you write excellent content, you will not have a hard time discovering the best long-tail keywords; your content will do the work for you.
As we note above, long-tail keywords attempt to answer browser's specific questions--the type often asked of digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home.

So ask yourself: What is my ideal customer looking for? Or: What question does my product or service answer?

This information on long-tail keywords is adapted from our keyword post, which discusses both short and long-tail keywords.

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