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The Future Of Search Engines Is Here Today. Voice Search Is Now

For years, search engine result pages (SERPs) provided 10 results with blue titles and green URLs. However, Today, search results come in all shapes and sizes, often drastically changing appearance depending on the searcher’s intent, the device they’re searching from, their location and countless other factors. It’s a lot to keep up with. The No. 1 thing to keep in mind is that every new addition to the SERP has been in response to changes in search patterns. Now search engines are adapting to the increased use of voice search.

As searchers and technology have become more complex, search engines have followed suit. With a singular goal of finding and serving the most helpful content for the searcher, they constantly adjust their algorithms, adapting to both where and how searchers conduct their queries — and these days, that’s often on mobile, hands-free and on the go.

The Rise Of Voice Search

Search engine results are becoming increasingly personalized. Someone searching in one city will see a different results page to someone in another, and if they’re searching via desktop, mobile, digital assistants, smart speakers or smartwatches, the form those results take will vary wildly. You might be presented with basic organic results, knowledge graphs, local packs, featured snippets, images, videos, “people also ask” boxes and more.

But what about the form of the search query itself? What is the impact of how we search having?

The Effects Of Voice Search

According to a 2014 Fast Company interview with Baidu’s former chief data scientist, Andrew Ng, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. And Gartner predicts 30% of all searches will be voice searches done without a screen. No screen means no visual branding, no star-studded reviews and no clicks to your website for more information.

How many of us have asked Siri for directions while driving? If Google shows the wrong business data for a local result, customers may never make it to the storefront, leaving them with a negative brand sentiment and pushing them toward a competitor. In today’s world of search, voice is either an opportunity to be taken or a risk to be ignored.

Featured Snippets Drive Voice Search

First, it’s important to get a sense of how voice search works. After a voice-activated search comes through, the search engine translates it into a written query. Search engines link topical queries together logically; although they sometimes run into issues with certain vernacular or patterns of speech, they strive to find and serve the best snippet of information to the searcher.

What businesses need to understand is where many of these voice responses are getting their information. Most of the time, answers returned for voice queries are pulled from featured snippets, the blocks of information that give searchers an answer directly in the SERP.

In search engine optimization (SEO), we call this spot “position 0” because it shows up before any of the organic results (those 10 blue links we mentioned earlier). Google will generally display a featured snippet when a website gives a concise, accurate answer to the query in question, saving searchers from having to hop from site to site looking for a simple answer. But how does Google choose which sites are featured in these all-important snippets?

High Organic Rankings Mean Better Chances Of Winning A Snippet

We looked at the numbers and found that over 50% of all featured snippets came from websites that held the No. 1 or 2 rank for the query. By holding those rankings organically, not only is the site earning the snippet, but that snippet will experience little to no volatility most of the time. That’s massive, given the fact that snippets can be won or lost on the turn of a dime. Doing the work to rank your site in the top positions for a query could mean you’re the only result (and brand) a voice searcher hears — a two-for-one search win.

Businesses should also focus on what questions show up in the “people also ask” (PAA) boxes for the queries in which they hold featured snippets. Those questions can be valuable information when it comes to creating content and increasing your authority around a subject. By owning the featured snippet and several answers for PAA questions, you build trust and confidence not only with your audience but with search engines as well.

Tip #1: Target Long-tail, Natural Language Queries

To get started, I suggest businesses look at long-tail, natural language queries. These are the queries that are most likely to return featured snippets. When people talk to their digital assistants, they talk to them the same way they’d talk to a person. This means they use more verbs and articles. The voice is more passive, and the queries are slightly more complex.

Featured snippets are turning up for more and more of these types of queries. And due to their length, they’re often seen as more specific, meaning far less competition on average than shorter, broader keywords. Long-tail, natural language keywords are a gold mine.

Tip #2: Optimize Your Top Pages

Once your keywords have been identified, optimize the most relevant pages on the site to rank on the first page, aiming for the top positions. If you don’t have existing content to draw from, create it with optimizing for featured snippets in mind. Do the same for PAA questions — the more you can capture with your answers, the more customers you’ll reach.

Tip #3: Stay Agile

Lastly, stay agile! Test and track your results. We’re only a few years into voice search, and the industry is ripe for innovation. You’ll never know what really works for your business until you test, track and compare.

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