SEO trends prediction articles are focusing heavily on voice search this year. Yard MD Richard Falconer has a slightly different take on this trend.
I’ve been tasked with writing an SEO trends and predictions article and, to be honest, it’s an assignment I’ve never been completely comfortable with. In the past, I’ve written about how easy it is to make basic predictions that are almost certain to come true, and I tend to find that if you’ve read one of these types of articles you’ve effectively read them all.
The same things come up time and time again, and typically the predictions contained in these articles are so simple that they are almost meaningless, or conversely, too far ahead of their time. Remember “the year of mobile” which people predicted for years before it gradually became true? Big data, AI and machine learning were included in these trends articles for years, too. Arguably, though, 2019 will probably be the year that these techniques see mainstream uptake among more advanced SEO agencies.
So, what’s the big prediction on the SEO blogs this year? According to one blog that carried out a survey, voice search is the winner by a landslide:
Voice search, and more specifically, voice search optimisation, is named as a trend to watch for in 2019 in almost every SEO trends article I read. It’s easy to understand why, as Google has been pushing this technology for quite some time and it is now more widely available and used than ever before. Everyone carries a smartphone with them, and an increasing number of homes have Google Home or Amazon Alexa. We can see from Google Trends that we’ll likely see a bump in the use of these devices this Christmas, too.
So, as there is increased use of voice devices at home and on mobile, it makes sense that SEOs should make it a big part of their strategy for 2019, right?
Actually, it might not be too smart to put a lot of emphasis on it. Here are some reasons why:
- According to Google, 20% of mobile searches are now voice searches. Given over 50% of searches are on mobile, we can surmise that around 10% of searches are made using voice search. That is not an insignificant amount. However, there’s still a long way for voice search to go before it’s an important interface from an SEO perspective.
- The use of the word “interface” is key to understanding voice search. Interfaces are intrinsically linked to search technology. Years ago, before PCs, the closest we got to a modern search engine was querying a database on a work or library computer. It was difficult to navigate, especially when a number of results was provided.
- The arrival of the mouse was the change that really allowed PCs, the internet and ultimately the first search engines to take off. Coupled with hyperlinks, it became feasible to go over a large number of search results before clicking on any one of them. Over time, search engines developed to include richer (universal) results, but it wasn’t until the interface became truly mobile with the advent of smartphones that geographic elements such as Google Maps and geographic personalisation really became useful.
Currently, we have two versions of the voice search interface: mobile and personal assistant (Google Home, Amazon Echo etc.)
- Mobile voice search is in some ways a disjointed journey: typically, people make a search and then need to return to scrolling and clicking on a mobile device to find the result they are looking for. In reality, it works best when looking for a quick answer rather than doing research or making a purchase.
- The personal assistant can control other devices and provide answers to questions. Beyond this, it is not an effective gateway to the internet or very useful from an advertising point of view. There are no PPC ads on Google Home and it’s difficult to see how the inclusion of ads could be anything other than intrusive.
So, the question is, what is the innovation in search marketing that voice search enables, and why is Google so keen to get us searching on a platform where monetisation is not straightforward?
Answering questions is something that voice search can do well now, and this will continue to improve over time. Voice search can also control other devices and apps, and this is where Google really gets the value of voice search.
Through this control over apps and devices, voice search essentially becomes the operator for everything, sitting above other operating systems and platforms. This is huge for companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple and the real reason for why they all offer personal assistants. Voice search will allow Google to collect more data, provide advertising and sales opportunities and potentially retain Google’s position as the Internet’s gatekeeper for another generation. Meanwhile, Amazon is already selling many products through their Echo with Alexa devices.
What does this mean from an SEO point of view? A couple of things:
- Voice search will continue to only be truly effective for answering questions and performing tasks. The answers provided by voice search come from featured snippets and their main value is derived from the clicks received. The format of queries will change slightly as voice search queries increase, but really what we’re talking about is doing effective keyword research and optimisation for featured snippets.
- Google makes most of its revenue from PPC adverts. As people use voice search more, there are fewer opportunities for Google to make money directly from advertising. This increases the need to convert more searches into clicks by taking up more of the search real estate with advertising. It also creates a greater requirement for Google to integrate more Google services into search results and voice search.
With this is mind, my prediction for 2019 is not that we should all start doing more voice search optimisation, but that there will be knock-on effects which will affect the marketplace. I expect more controversy and government involvement around how Google integrates its vertical services such as Shopping, Travel and Money as well as how it presents advertising on the site and collects user data. These things will all change as Google’s business model shifts towards voice search.
Google has lost big in this area after being fined £2.1 billion by the EU for abuse of market dominance related to the inclusion of its own vertical services in search results and limiting competition in the same market.
The search giant is treading a fine line with regards to how it distinguishes paid and natural results. Studies have recently shown that a large percentage of the users clicking on Google adverts are not aware that they are encountering advertisements. This problem is likely to get worse and it’s surely only a matter of time before the ASA take an interest in this. If this story blows up and government agencies take action, it could massively affect the amount of traffic that is referred via natural search results.