How people use search engines is very different today than it was ten, five or even just two years ago.

While reliable data is sparse, the early years of search showed that query length grew with the general adoption of mainstream search engines. But as confidence increased and performance of the search engines improved (i.e. they could return what users wanted with less info) query length started to shrink.

Today’s search users type queries that they believe will get straight to the point, safe in the knowledge that Google knows what they mean. Language has become disjointed and the relationship between words is often lost. However, search engines have worked hard to figure out their users’ needs based on prior queries, localisation and even a bit of guess work.

The arrival of voice search

Typing is a pain, people want to do it less. So when Siri, Cortana or OK Google offers to listen to a user’s rambling request for info, they take the opportunity to ditch the keyboard. Even better for the majority who are searching on mobile devices. When a user speaks, it’s almost effortless. Long strings of words intertwined with thematic association are easier and natural to form.

The steady shift of users to voice search creates a different landscape when compared to traditional, typed queries. For the most part, search engines should find this easier as we return to the original meaning of “query”. When people use voice search, there is an inescapable shift to a question or at the very worst a descriptive phrase. This will balloon the average query length to way beyond previously known figures.

The more important factor in this shift is the language used. The presence of a word in relation to another can change the meaning. Semantic interplay between words is difficult to comprehend when there are only two or three words to analyse. Given a phrase or fully formed question, a user expects a clear and concise answer or at least a link to where those answers will be found.

Of course, Google is already prepared for this. Its use of the knowledge graph has been working on complex association between entities for a long time and will thrive in this new era. Examples such as “tea party” will be defined by “who is”, “what is” or “where is” and delivering markedly different results ranging from political parties to teddy bears.

What voice search means for your business

There are some obvious considerations for businesses and online entities that rely on their inbound search engine traffic. No longer can SEOs purely depend on statistically derived keyword lists. As the language of search expands, so does our view of how we can reach and engage with our audience.

Much of this falls in line with the post-panda landscape of SEO and content-rich environment of today’s web. Yet there are always things we can do better and more frequently. Ask yourself the questions that are relevant to your brand or products; would you find the answer in any part of your digital presence?

This doesn’t mean you need to re-write all the H1’s of a site as questions! The rise of semantic search, along with voice, just further increases the need for detailed content that is genuinely useful to users. That said, a quick review of your FAQ section wouldn’t hurt.

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