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The voice search tipping point – Jon Earnshaw’s State of Search talk

12 Oct 2017|3 MIN READ

I was honoured to speak for a second year at State of Search, Dallas, Texas in 2017.

Voice search SEO is very dear to my heart. As more and more people use their voice to make their searches, the whole search landscape, and the sites that appear in the results, are due to change forever. Are brands, content writers, webmasters and SEOs ready for the tidal wave of voice search?

Below I've written up my talk and takeaways for you to read at your leisure.


Voice search - The Future of Search - State of Search:

Voice Search - The Tipping Point - Slide Deck:

How many people use Voice Search compared to normal search?

By 2020 up to 50% of all queries are predicted to be performed via voice search globally. That's not just 50% of what we are searching now, the numbers are set to increase dramatically. Brands and SEOs need to be ready for this.

Remember mobilegeddon? Well 2020 could be our Voice-Search-Ageddon. (not so catchy).


1. Voice Search is getting better and better...

Voice recognition is getting more accurate. A study by the Stanford computer scientist James Landay and colleagues found that speech recognition is now about three times as fast, on average, as typing on a cell phone.

The error rate, once 8.5%, has dropped to 4.9%. What’s striking is that this substantial improvement has come not over the past 10 years, but just since the summer of 2016.

2. Because voice search is getting easier...

Due to devices such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Siri, we have reached a tipping point between the PAST and the FUTURE.

Voice search - Jon Earnshaw - State of Search 2017

Soon, the above devices will have long short-term memory. In fact, we'll even be able to have extensive conversations with them.

Technology is changing our behaviour

First and foremost, our relationship with technology is changing. Some people still can't imagine having a public conversation with an inanimate device. Heaven forbid!

But, if we cast our mind back a few mere decades, we'll remember those city bankers walking around with their huge portable phones, and we'll also remember thinking 'That'll never catch on.'

Well, we all know how that turned out...

The tipping point: Voice search is changing our behaviour

Because of devices like Google Home and Siri, our relationship with search engines is changing. We've reached a tipping point.

In the past, we adapted to the search engine. It’s now time for the search engine to adapt to us.

Things like Boolean logic, inverted comma's, site operators and all these techy keyword search principles will soon be a thing of the past.

Will you be ready in 2020? - The next 24 months is going to be crucial to search. Dependence upon the 'Keyword game' is going to significantly reduce.

And, our behaviour will change too! We'll ask a question, get an answer and expect some sort of dialogue.

Voice search is helping us create a dialogue

I put Google voice search to the test by asking a long-form query in preparation for my State of Search talk - I needed to get my quota of ribs, and as a self-confessed grill fanatic, only the best would do!

Treating Google as a real-life PA, I attempted to track down the best ribs in Dallas, asking a string of pragmatic questions that would only make sense in context.

And these questions weren't simple. In fact, they were pretty complex, combining subjects, predicates and objects, not to mention the ambiguous phrasing (i.e. words like 'Charge', with multiple meanings).

I was asking a lot of Google, and boy did it deliver!

Voice search conversation - Jon Earnshaw - State of Search 2017Voice search conversation pt 2 - Jon Earnshaw - State of Search 2017

The outcome was a variety of results and rich media, providing me with the:

  • Name
  • Location
  • Price
  • Menu
  • Opening times
  • And visuals...

...of what was soon to be my dinner!

In this interaction, I was starting to build a relationship - a six query relationship to be precise!

And, some can go on even longer. I highly recommend testing it out - the longer the query, the better!

Rankbrain is accelerating voice search

RankBrain is the self-learning, disambiguation algorithm that powers the kind of interactions you've just seen above.

It processes 450 million long-tail searches a day - 20% of which are entirely unique - and retrieves the most useful content for the user based on their intent.


We need to start thinking of the 'Keyword game' as a bygone era, and voice as the future of search.

The top 100 results in Google were tracked every day in mobile and desktop search.

Voice search optimization: The keyword game vs. voice queries

I decided to test out whether the SERPs were prepared for voice search by analyzing seven thousand search terms from three industries:

  1. High street fashion
  2. Leisure and tourism
  3. Health and fitness

Each dataset was made up of keyword game terms, and their ambiguous voice search equivalents.

Youtube performs best for both types of search query

Health and fitness queries - Jon Earnshaw - State of Search - Voice search the tipping point

Can other sites optimise for keywords and intent queries? performs position one, page one on Google for important keyword game terms. kwg vs voice search performance - Jon Earnshaw - State of Search - Voice search the tipping point

But, unfortunately, the same can't be said for its performance across more intent-based queries.

Over the next 24 months, as search passes that tipping point and begins to lead with voice queries, this site is going to see a significant drop in traffic and revenue.

Why are sites failing to be visible for both keyword and voice search?

Keyword only winners:

✓ Display relevant short-form content
✓ Have great architecture
✗ Focus solely on traditional SEO
✗ Approach content creation in isolation
✗ Don't make the best connections between relevant content

Voice only winners:

✓ Display longer form content
✓ Offer very factual content
✓ Quote and cite resources
✓ Provide Q&A for Google Answer Card. Results are relevant, helpful and displayed instantly at the top of the SERPs
✗ Are architecturally confusing to search engines, displaying subdomain conflict, Keyword cannibalisation etc.

Which sites are prepared for voice search and traditional search?

Basic SEO and the keyword game is still important (it's not dead yet!) and sites need to be visible for both. achieves what some may say is the unachievable. It manages to maintain visibility, traffic and revenue for both voice and keyword game queries.

It's prepared for the present and the future of search! kwg vs voice search performance - Jon Earnshaw - State of Search - Voice search the tipping point

How do you optimize for keywords and voice search?

You need to tick the obvious boxes:

  • Trust
  • Authority
  • Relevance
  • Quality

Plus, you need to consider the fact that Rankbrain is going to try to disambiguate these queries and, to do so, it's going to take into account which sites are being clicked on.

This means meta-descriptions are going to play an even more crucial role in the future of search.

Dwell time and bounce rate will also be important indicators of relevancy and the success of a voice search.

The remaining factors to consider are:

  • Intent and semantics
  • Adopting a conversational tone
  • Optimising for co-occurrence and synonyms
  • TEST! Start tracking for voice queries now.

If you'd like to discuss the progression of voice search, and shifting landscape in more detail, don't hesitate to get in touch.

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