Why Conversational AI & Virtual Assistants are the Next Big Thing for SEO, over Voice Search

Voice search has long been heralded as the next big thing that will disrupt how SEO works, and how we optimise our sites to rank. However, conversational AI in the form of virtual assistants and chatbots is likely to be the next big step forwards for SEO.

While the line between voice search and virtual assistants is fairly blurred, it’s fairly simple to see where the differences and similarities lie.

Voice search vs. Virtual Assistant Conversational AI

Voice search should be the next big thing for SEO. People now have phones in their pockets that can perform searches based on voice commands, and some people even have devices in the home that do just this.

However, conversational AI takes this one step further.

Most people who are searching via voice search aren’t going to Google and simply opting to do a search via voice rather than text. They are using virtual assistants such as Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant or Siri.

This makes the way you are searching online very different.

If you were doing a Google search for the nearest Italian restaurants, you may simply search for “Italian restaurant ~location~“. However, if you were speaking with an assitant such as Alexa or Siri, you would open up your phone or use a relevant device and ask something like “Hi Siri, what are some good Italian restaurants near me?”. This means websites must be optimised for very different key terms and long-tail search terms.

How Virtual Assistants and Conversational AI Changes SEO

The phrases and way we search on the web will change even moresoin the near future. At the moment for instance, if Google’s Assistant can’t instantly give you an answer, it will simply search for what you have said aloud.

However, the fact it may be able to take the search results and audibly answer any queries or searches someone verbalises means that the search results and how you rank highly for these terms will change. People may not even be coming to your site by clicking a link if you are ranking top for a question or query that Google is simply asking. This could be paraphrasing your content, or suggesting your business as the most relevant business to what someone is looking for.

When you are simply typing a search term into Google, lots of websites are available for you to choose. However, when Google is choosing a certain result, named a featured snippet, to be expressed as the answer to the query, that changes SEO. At the moment, 40% to 80% of responses are from the featured snippet on Google.

This is what is known as position zero, and that is what websites need to aim for in order to rank well for conversational topics in the search results.

Even if you are in the top 5, if a search assistant or virtual AI isn’t using your information to serve the user an answer, then it won’t be heard whatsoever.

Reaching Position Zero

How do you reach position zero in the search results? In the same way you reach the first position currently.

Everything that normally impacts your SEO performance will impact how likely you are to gain position zero.

Having a solid SEO strategy as a foundation along with SEO best practices in place will help you reach the top of the search results, and will help you gain position zero for some voice searches. Having your Google My Business listing completed and up-to-date will help your business rank for certain voice searches. Utilising schema markup and structured data will help, as this signifies what you want to be included in the knowledge graph.

Answering the Questions

Overall, you need to reassess the language and the phrases that your target audience will be using on a regular basis, so you can produce content that helps to answer these queries.

Whatever way your audience is using their voice to search, it’s important to ensure you are optimised. If they are using an assistant such as Alexa or Siri, you need to understand exactly what they may ask, how the assistants respond to queries that are relevant to your business, and how the responses are presented to the user.

Voice searches usually include many more words than simple text searches. They will often have prepositions, conjunctions or adverbs which would usually be excluded when typing.

Understanding exactly how people engage with assistants and AI as if they are actually talking to them is key to future-proofing the SEO of your website and content. The intent of certain phrases, search terms and questions can also be different.

For instance, ranking at position zero for a simple question may not be that valuable. But if they are searching for a specific business, or a business near them, or a business offering a niche product or service can be different. And they will explain this to an assistant in a different way. If I wanted a good pizza tonight, I’d probably just Google “pizza restaurant Cambridge”. However, if I was asking the Google Assistant, it would be something along the lines of “Ok Google, what is the highest rated pizza restaurant near me?”. This may well pull in your ratings into account. But if I asked for the “best”, it would be different. Small differences in the detail and/or intent of the search can make a huge difference in whether you rank.