Google Assistant Updates & What Voice Search Means for SEO

As an off-the-cuff statement, it might be tempting to say that, ten minutes after Google debuted, people were already trying to manipulate search results. Spammy search engine optimization techniques (SEO), though, are even older than the creation of Google, with rudimentary SEO tactics in operation since the early 1990s.

It’s now 2018 and we’ve become very accustomed to searching on and optimizing for Google. But . . . it may be time to shift how you’re thinking about finding content online and, more relevant for digital marketing professionals, helping your clients’ content get found. That’s true for at least two reasons. First, there is a new paper published by Google Research that shares a radically different model for page ranking: query reformulation and reinforcement learning. This model is still in testing stages and you can find an overview of it at

As a second reason: at Google I/O (the annual developer conference), held recently on May 8, the concept of search only got mentioned twice in a nearly two-hour long keynote speech. What took center stage instead, according to a report by, was a discussion of Google Assistant.

Google Assistant is the company’s voice-activated application that allows you to gather information from the web, hands-free, whether it’s the temperature or if your favorite team is winning the big game. You can set your alarm on your phone with this app, make calls, send texts, set up reminders and control smart home devices, among other activities, using your voice.

To use Google Assistant, you need to download a free app on your phone; originally available for Android only, it is now available for use on iphones, and here is a review of how that’s working. You can also use this app on IoT wearable devices and televisions, in newer cars and more.

Currently, Google Assistant is available:

  • On 500 million devices globally
  • In 80 countries
  • In 30 languages

This isn’t, of course, the only virtual assistant choice that people have (here, you can find a comparison of Google Assistant versus Siri versus Alexa). Google is responding to the competition by creating six new Assistant voices and working with musician John Legend to provide limited content. The new voice choices may be in response to some people’s perception that Google’s virtual assistant is more “cold” than competitive products. It also suggests that more customization may be in the works, and perhaps more celebrity collaborations will be coming.

The article also notes how Google is focused on continuing to develop a more natural conversational ability with its virtual assistant. In other words, evolving the product so users won’t have to use “wakewords” such as “Hey, Google!” or “Okay, Google!” to kickstart the app. Amazon recently announced this type of feature with its Alexa product, one where you don’t need to employ wakewords before asking follow-up questions. Alexa will not remain active, FYI, if you end the conversation by saying “Stop” or “Cancel,” “Go to sleep” or “Thank you.” It also doesn’t remain active if audio is being used, if you’re on a call or “Alexa is not confident you’re speaking to her” (Isn’t it amazing how quickly we’re referencing AI in human-like terms?).

You can read the entire article for more insights into what’s changing. Meanwhile, what does this mean for digital marketers, especially those who use organic search techniques?

How Voice Search Affects SEO

First, know that voice search isn’t going away. Hands-free search is extremely appealing to many/most people and, as the technology and its accuracy continue to improve, objections to its usage are going to keep crumbling. And, the fact that so many big players are involved in developing voice search options means that quality will continue to improve. That’s the core of competition.

Not yet convinced? Here’s an often-quoted statistic: ComScore predicts that, by 2020, 50 percent of searches will be voice-triggered. Doubt it at your own peril.

Interestingly enough, one of the core strategies to become or remain relevant in the age of voice search is the same one we recommended in relation to the query reformulation and reinforcement learning algorithm testing: make sure your content satisfies your customers’ and prospects’ needs.

How do you know what those needs are? Ask them.

Ask them through surveys, ask them through real conversations. Listen to their responses, tune up your social listening skills and otherwise understand the needs, wants and psychology of the people who may purchase the products and/or services you provide. What do people say when they provide reviews about your company? What does your sales team say about the objections they receive? What kind of language does your prospects use?

Then, armed with intelligence gathered, clearly provide the content that will satisfy them.  Note: if your customers don’t use your industry’s jargon (and, most customers in the B2C space don’t; B2B, it depends), then make sure you scrub your site of it and replace it with the language used by your customers.

Here’s a final content tip. Remember how, back in the early days of SEO, marketers often created FAQ sections jam-packed with keywords? Something like: What is the best cell phone case? The best cell phone case . . . you get the idea. And, although that’s clearly a spammy technique in 2018, well-written FAQs can be an excellent way to provide customers with the answers to, yes, their most frequently asked questions. Plus, this is the type of content that has potential to appear in Google Answer Boxes that exist above any ranked content.

Is this shift in search intimidating? It can be, perhaps. But, when appropriately harnessed, this allows marketers to truly have conversations with their customers and prospects, and that’s something to embrace.

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