Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vocal SEO: The New Search Frontier

A few months ago, Google rolled out a noteworthy update to its voice search for the Google Search app on iOS that is based on advances in Google's Knowledge Graph. That's right -- on the iOS platform, the home of Siri, which is the voice-activated assistant on all iPhones and iPads. The stakes are high in voice search as consumers rely more on their smartphones for directions, shopping recommendations, restaurant suggestions, and sports trivia. All that will ultimately translate to paid search revenue opportunities for Google, Apple, and others.

As online marketers, we are now seeing the next evolution of search engine optimization. We've gone from traditional desktop SEO, then there was social SEO, then came mobile SEO, which kinda led us to local SEO. And now, we have vocal SEO.

Vocal SEO will likely require new tactics to influence search results from traditional SEO tactics. For example, the way we type on a desktop computer to conduct searches is different than how we might talk to our phone. A similar phenomenon can be seen between desktop and mobile search queries because you tend not to enter as many long-tail queries when forced to peck it out on a tiny mobile phone keyboard.

I decided to pit Google voice search, Siri and the Samsung Galaxy S3's S Voice search against one another with the same voice requests. Here's what I find with notable differences.

Question: "flights from san francisco to boston"

Siri said it couldn't help and suggested I run a Google search:

Google didn't talk but it pulled  up a SERP with a flight selection wizard.

S Voice said "I will search the Internet for an answer to flights from san francisco to boston" and then offers me a Search the Web button that launches a Google search on my browser. Interestingly, these results are different than what Google voice search showed me that provided specific flight options in SERP.

ADVANTAGE: Google. No surprise given its ITA acquisition. But I was also really surprised Siri came up  so short, especially since travel queries are popular on mobile devices.

Question: "good japanese restaurant in new york"

Siri said it found 15 restaurants and told me it sorted them by rating (how nice), as well as providing address, price range:

Google was in no mood to talk for some reason and just displayed results pulled from its Google Maps directory. But it didn't tell me if these were ranked in any order.

S Voice returned a  list of restaurants, but unclear if it was in any order. It definitely wasn't ranked by ratings.  It had a telephone icon for each if I wanted to click-to-call to make a reservation.

ADVANTAGE: Siri. It gave me a short list and because I included "good" in my question, it gave and told me these were the best Japanese restaurants by rating. I think the price range is a nice touch too to help me quickly filter my selections. Given Google's Zagat acquisition, I was disappointed it wasn't better.

Question: "weather for san francisco tomorrow"

Siri read out a lovely, human response and showed a 6 day forecast:

Google says "Tomorrow's forecast for san francisco tomorrow is mostly sunny" and shows 4 day forecast

S Voice says "here is the weather for san francisco, california" and accessed its native weather app to show a 6-day forecast

ADVANTAGE: Siri. Siri has a slight advantage over S Voice for its human response that it will be partly sunny tomorrow and not just leave it to me to interpret the icons and temperatures.

Bonus question: "how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood"

Siri first said "Well, since a 'woodchuck' is really a groundhog, the correct question should be: How many pounds in a groundhog's mound when a groundhog pounds hog mounds?" Ironically, when I asked it again, it said "42, that can't be right." When asked a third time, it said "Just because it could doesn't mean that it would." I think I annoyed Siri when I pushed my luck and asked a fourth time. It said "I imagine that groundhogs would prefer a different question for a change."

Google didn't provide an audio response and just provided a regular SERP:

S Voice provided an audio response that is a common tongue twister response:

ADVANTAGE: Siri. For making me laugh the most and having multiple responses in its databank.

In general, Siri was the most human-like with relevant responses, except for the flights query. For some reason, Google only talks some times, while Siri and S Voice always provides an audio response.

In the end, it turns out not all voice search are created equal. But there is much vocal SEO improvements to be made!


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