Google Now & Voice Recognition in Search, What Will This Mean For SEO?

Google recently released ‘Google Now’ – a personalised search application for Android.  It functions, primarily, through voice recognition. A user can input a search via a voice command, which Google will then try and find a result for. These results are presented on small ‘cards’ in the application design itself – equivalent to search results.

A competing voice recognition ‘assistant’ service is currently being used by iPhone users. Apple’s ‘Siri’ functions in a similar way, although it apparently fails 1/3 of the time according to a study cited in a Huffington Post article, and it’s clear that although ground-breaking in its own way the technology needs some time to catch up to its intentions.

Although Google Now, and Siri, works with applications and fetches data so a user can ask for the latest weather or travel updates as well as make calls via voice activation – it is the search functionality that is perhaps the most intriguing aspect for both SEO and digital marketing as a whole. With mobile use on a significant upward curve it’s reasonable to suggest that in the next few years a lot of people will be using the, presumably improved, technology in a lot of their day-to-day phone use – which would include search.

The problem is how exactly websites can be optimised for voice, and as Google’s Knowledge Graph can pick up on a wide variety of semantics it remains to be seen how exactly it works. However, the current technology works on a variety of pattern recognitions. For example ‘Phone Dave’ will recognise the ‘phone’ part and then go through your contacts to ‘Dave’. It’s a general term to a specific. So there will probably be some kind of pattern that sites will need to optimise for, although Google and Apple are notorious for keeping quiet on the inner workings of their technology so we can only speculate at this point.

Something more certain is that this technology will mostly be mobile based – so the most significant area it will effect is on local SEO. The increased use of voice recognition technology on mobile devices is responsible for this. Location based searches, for example ‘What’s the best Italian restaurant in Brighton?’, will be increasingly used as this technology improves – and therefore making sure you have a mobile site that is well optimised for a physical address will be increasingly important in voice based search.

Optimising websites for audio or voice based searches, as opposed to text, will require some thought. However it will almost certainly entail use of long-tail keywords that match the way people speak more accurately. A voice searching mobile device user would initiate a search that sounds like a normal sentence. Let’s use our earlier example, ‘What’s the best Italian restaurant in Brighton?’, which is a normal way of speaking – and therefore presumably a good way to optimise for voice search – but it is very different from the type of text based search we’re used to, which would normally be something more like ‘best Italian restaurant brighton’. So voice recognition will certainly influence content optimisation and change the way we approach keywords to target – which means mobile sites should take advantage of longer tail keywords.

It’s worth mentioning that all this technology is very much in the early days of its development, and we can’t really tell how exactly it will affect SEO. But it’s clear to see that voice recognition is going to be a very significant aspect of mobile devices – so in the meantime the most important things to stay ahead of the game and abreast of any changes are a mobile friendly site that is well optimised for local search, and is technically well built. Watch this space.

Google Now is available free with Android OS on Jelly Bean devices.

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