And while it still remains important to include relevant keywords to ensure your content can be found online, stuffing your content with those key terms is no longer a helpful tactic.
Search engine systems have become more advanced than that, it engagement and activity they want to see now, elements that are much harder to fake – and thus, cheat.
But there’s another element at play in SEO that you may not be aware of, something that could change the way you consider the SEO process and your approach to ranking your site.
Over the course of 2015, voice searches on Google – those where the user speaks directly into their mobile device as opposed to typing – went from nothing at all to making up 10% of all searches globally. That may not sound like much, but to put that in perspective, that’s an estimated 50 billion searches per month. Google CEO Sundar Pichai reinforced those figures at Google’s I/O conference earlier this year, saying that 20% of queries on their mobile app and on Android devices are now conducted by voice.
What’s more, in 2013, Google’s platform had a word recognition accuracy rate of below 80%. They’re now exceeding 90%. Chinese search engine Baidu claims to be hitting 95% accuracy, and they’re confident they can get higher.
And while it may seem odd to many of us to be talking into our phones to conduct a web search, the numbers show that it’s a practice clearly on the rise. And the implications of this are significant for those trying to ensure they rank high in search results.
The difference between a written web search and a spoken one lies in our communication style. Most of us write differently to how we speak, it’s more formal, more structured. Spoken searches therefor take on a distinctly different tone – search engines are being forced to train their systems to understand semantic context, the subtle difference in language when we say something, as opposed to write it.
In an SEO sense, this, again, takes more emphasis off the traditional keyword approach, as you need to also now consider how and where people discuss your brand, how they mention your focus topics.
Keywords are still likely going to play a part in that, but if you can match your content to the questions being asked by people, and be present in those conversations, you’re going to stand a much better chance of ranking for those searches.
A basic example – if you were looking for a hairdresser nearby, you might type into Google: “hairdresser [city]”, or something along those lines. But if you were asking Google the same question using your voice, you’re more likely to say something like “I’m looking for a hairdresser nearby”. The difference between the two queries may seem trivial, but one uses specific keyword cues, while the other will use location services, with Google doing the work to show you the most relevant match based on where you’re currently standing.
So how do you ensure you show up for such queries? You need to ensure your address details are up to date with Google, you need to ensure you’ve listed your location consistently across your properties, you need to get people talking about your business online, generating backlinks and additional social queues that can be used as an indicator to Google that your site is the most relevant match.
But in all this, keywords are less of a priority. Because people are not searching in the same, formal queries they once did. They’re conversational, the results rely on the search engine to recognize the surrounding context based on the terms mentioned, rather than you having to fill in the blanks.
That means brands need to ensure they’re active online to build their presence and authority rank, but they also need to be more attuned to the questions people are asking about their business and how they’re discovering their brand.
Keywords still matter – search engine algorithms are still driven by words as a concrete reference point to build on. But SEO is evolving in line with shifting user behaviours.
It’s worth paying attention to any changes in your referral traffic, and recognizing new terms being used to locate your brand online.