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Flash back to 2017/2018 and it wouldn’t have taken much looking around to see that every SEO news website out there were raving about voice being the future of search and a real game changer.

With Alexa, Google Hub, Cortana, and a bunch of other voice assistants hitting the market – and the Amazon Echo being one of the breakout technologies at CES 2017 in Vegas – SEOs and marketers had to take notice; this was clearly where search was heading.

Articles sprang up on how to optimise for Voice Search and how, by 2020, over 50% of all searches would be done via voice search. It was strongly suggested that voice search should be at the top of your SEO strategy for the next year.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a prediction. I mean, who didn’t love the Paul the Octopus predicting the results of world cup 2010 matches? It was great (and yes, he had an 85% success rate). But we aren’t psychic octopi (clearly, he was).

The point I’m trying to make here, is that I take these articles with a pinch of salt, and here’s why you should too.

Give me data or give me death

The issue I have with a lot of the voice search articles out there is that the data is either collected from a relatively small subject base, or that people have confused voice search with voice assistance.

Even one of the best bits of research out there about how popular voice search is (by Higher Visibility) includes functions like:

  • Setting/managing alarms
  • Streaming music
  • Playing voicemails
  • Calling someone
  • Managing calendars
  • Looking up contacts

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredible study and I urge you to read it and see what you think – but to me and many others, this isn’t voice search. This is voice assistance.

“Voice “search” is not the same as voice “assistance”. We do a lot of the latter, very little of the former.” – Ian Lurie

Voice assistance can be amazing. Google are using AI to improve speech recognition for people with impaired speech. Natural Language Processing and Natural Language Generation can, and will, be amazing.

Voice assistance is using Alexa, Google, Cortana (etc.) to make your life easier.

Voice search is finding the answer to a question.

Speakable Markup

Speakable markup may change this. It is currently in beta for news sites, but if adopted properly, it will hopefully be rolled out everywhere. This would allow voice assistants to actually read out an entire section defined within the markup, meaning you’re not limited to hearing only the featured snippet.

Combined with Question and Answer Schema, this could be a game changer.

What does the future hold?

At the moment, voice search isn’t necessarily the definitive future of SEO. Will 50% of searches really be done by voice search by 2020? Possibly not, especially if we’re talking about actual search instead of telling your digital assistant to turn out the lights.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that voice search definitely won’t play a part in our digital future, all I’m saying is don’t make it your be-all and end-all.

In short, you should make sure that you continue to:

  • Use structured data
  • Write clearly
  • Answer questions with your content
  • Optimise for local searches
  • Stay aware of advancements of voice technology

If you’d like to learn more about voice search, voice assistance and user intent, check out one of our popular guides: Optimising for Voice Search.

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