The art and science of search engine optimization (SEO) changed dramatically in recent years, thanks in no small part to big Google algorithm tweaks, including the recent mobile friendly update.
Just as important as mobile, however, is voice. Professionals who practice SEO must prepare for a future in which queries come from voice input on mobile devices, and where Google, to satisfy those voice (and text) queries, will increasingly highlight "direct answers."
Google (and to a lesser extent, Bing) searches yield direct answer results, also known as "rich answers," in response to specific user questions, instead of delivering an assortment of links to other websites.
For instance, if you ask, "What are the time zones in Russia," Google displays a table of the country's time zones atop related search results. In many cases, direct answers fulfill queries and eliminate the need to click links to get answers.
With direct answers, Google's goal is to provide the best possible user experience by answering questions in searches as quickly as possible. Google stressed the value of direct answers in a 2014 annual report it filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission:
"We used to show just ten blue links in our (search) results. You had to click through to different websites to get your answers, which took time. Now we are increasingly able to provide direct answers — even if you're speaking your question using Voice Search — which makes it quicker, easier and more natural to find what you're looking for."
Of course, the rise of voice search and direct answers have ramifications for websites and SEO practices, including the need to add more structured data to sites and provide clear answers to specific questions early in online content.
Here's what digital marketers, content creators and SEO experts need to know about voice search, direct answers, and their effects on modern SEO.
Siri, Google Now take voice search mainstream
Before Apple integrated Siri into the iPhone 4s in October 2011, voice search was practically nonexistent. However, the game changed, and Siri is now built into all new iPhones, iPads, iPod touch media players and the Apple Watch. Google Now, Google's voice-search technology, debuted in June 2012 as part of Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean." Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant, demonstrated for the first time in April 2014, is now built into Windows Phone 8.1, and it will be part of the upcoming Windows 10 OS that's due this summer.
As of last fall, 41 percent of adults and 55 percent of teens used Siri, Google Now or Cortana voice search at least once per day, according to a Northstar Research study that was commissioned by Google.
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