Written by Sam Yadegar on May 15 , 2020

The way people search is changing. And, to be fair, it’s been evolving since search engines became a thing. (Ask Jeeves, anyone?) 

Here, you’ll find:

  • How online searches are evolving
  • Why natural voice and language trends are growing
  • How marketing teams can optimize for voice search
  • Data-backed predictions about the future of online searching

Over the last few years, virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana have grown in popularity. This meant fewer searches were being typed into search engines and more being conducted by asking virtual assistants questions. 

As a result, the phrasing and structure of searches morphed into a more natural, conversational form, and search engines had to keep up to stay relevant. Technology designed to recognize and understand human speech patterns is developing at a rapid pace. The most optimized marketing teams are pivoting accordingly.

Read on to learn more about how voice search is changing the world of digital marketing — and what you can do to keep your brand ahead of the curve. 

hawksem: voice search blog

65% of people ages 25-49 speak to a voice-enabled device at least once a day. (Image via Unsplash)

Voice search and natural language processing

Smartphones and smart speakers (like Google Home and Amazon Echo) have become thoroughly integrated into our lives. They’ve made it simple to find information quickly and in a way that can be done while we complete other tasks (like cooking or laundry) without having to pick up our phones. 

In fact, 65% of people ages 25-49 speak to a voice-enabled device at least once a day. People love voice search because it’s convenient, easy to use, and delivers the results you need immediately. It’s one way that technology is transforming our lives, and people have generally embraced it. But what happens when we ask Alexa for a cake recipe or Siri to help us install a faucet? How do they take our queries and turn them into the results we need?

Google is working to accommodate natural language trends

In 2019, Google released an updated algorithm called BERT, which strives to better understand the subtle nuances of human speech and the context of words in searches. This can help the search engine better match voice queries with more helpful results.

It’s the job of Google and other search engines to deliver the most helpful results on the first try, so search engines need to not only recognize the individual words in our searches, but also the context surrounding them. This is especially true in terms of voice search, where people often speak to their virtual assistant as if they’re speaking to another human. 

This is where natural language processing, or NLP, comes in. NLP strives to help machines understand human language beyond the simple definitions of words, like how words can change meaning when strung together.

How to optimize your marketing strategy for voice search

SEO is most likely a big part of your digital marketing strategy, so making sure your website is optimized when it comes to voice search will give you an edge. To stay relevant, it’s a good move to focus on your content. It’s likely that you already have a rich resource of informational content on your website, but many marketers are still focusing heavily on keywords. 

Of course, this isn’t to suggest you should ignore keywords. They still serve a purpose and can help search engines determine the meaning of your content. Rather, it’s wise to concentrate on delivering authentic, conversational, easy-to-read content.

Long-tail keywords are crucial here, as is user intent. Think carefully about what words a user might say to their assistant to find your business via a search engine — they might be different from what they might type into a search engine. 

Check out The SEO Content Strategy You Need: A Step-by-Step Guide

Understand how searches will continue to evolve

When users type their queries, they’re more likely to use shorter phrases because it’s faster. On the other hand, when voice searching, keywords and phrases get longer. This is why traditional SEO strategies that focus solely on individual keywords don’t work as well. Instead, use conversational phrases in your content and make sure that the content that you’re offering searchers is hyper-relevant to what they’re looking for. 

One of the biggest challenges that marketers face with voice search is how their results are delivered. If a user isn’t looking at a screen, a virtual assistant will only read a snippet of the top result. When searching on a screen, the top result is important — it’s what the search engine deems most relevant to the user. 

hawksem: voice search blog

It’s predicted that, by the end of 2020, around half of all online searches will be conducted by voice. (Image via Unsplash)

With a search engine results page (SERP), however, the user can choose from a host of other results displayed below the top-ranking results. In voice search, appearing in that top position is imperative. It’s the only information that the user will receive. Vying for that top spot means that competition will get tighter and optimization practices will likely evolve. 

For now, creating knowledgeable web content, social content, and blog posts are key. One good way to structure the content you create is by starting with a question that your users may have, then creating a post to answer it. This is also an effective strategy for integrating long-tail keywords and users’ potential questions into your content. The more relevant context you offer, the more likely a search engine will pair your website with a user’s query. 

The future of voice search 

NLP technology has uses that reach far beyond recognizing the context in voice search. Right now, NLP is booming and is likely to continue growing exponentially. In turn, voice searches will get smarter (Google Assistant gets 93% of questions right already), more efficient, and more useful to searchers. 

Despite this innovation being adopted so widely and so quickly, it’s still early in the life of voice search. After all, Siri was “born” in 2011, so much of this technology is pretty new, in the scheme of marketing. Trends can be watched, but it’s difficult to know exactly how the future will play out. 

It’s predicted that, by the end of 2020, around half of all online searches will be conducted by voice. There’s a big push for search engine technology to keep up with this demand. 

The takeaway

BERT was Google’s biggest update in years, so as a marketer, it’s important to pay attention. We can expect Google and other search engines to continue to implement new NLP technology, and as a result, machines will get better at understanding human language. 

If you want to stay at the forefront of the voice search revolution, work to create helpful, engaging content and keep track of any updates that Google makes to their algorithms.


Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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