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Episode 7: Understanding Voice Search and the Future of SEO

Marketers have gone from optimizing for desktops, mobile, and now … it’s all about voice. Matt and Jorie talk about the rise of voice search, how it will change your content strategy, and what you can expect to to come in the world of content and SEO.

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Episode Transcription

Matt Howells-Barby: Hi there, I'm Matt Howells-Barby.

Jorie Munroe: I'm Jorie Munroe.

Matt Howells-Barby: This is Skill Up. Skill Up is a podcast sponsored by HubSpot Academy, all about the ever-changing landscape of marketing, sales, and customer service.

From Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, to Siri and Cortana, voice assistants are becoming more and more popular. While you might think that most people are using these devices for simple tasks like setting an alarm or putting together a grocery list, the fact is they're using voice for search.

comScore says that by 2020, half of all searches will be done by voice. This has huge implications for how content gets discovered and created. In today's episode, we're gonna be talking about the future [00:01:00] of SEO and how to rank in a screenless future.

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Jorie Munroe: [00:02:00] Hey, Matt.

Matt Howells-Barby: Hey, Jorie. Can you believe this is our very last episode?

Jorie Munroe: We've covered a lot. I don't think I realized how much there was to know about SEO, plus how important it is to understand before you start writing content.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, absolutely. I am really glad I could help.

Jorie Munroe: We've covered a lot this season, right? Because we've learned that Matt loves spinach. He loves John Cena, [00:02:30] but also that search is becoming more about intent, right? We've learned about featured snippets, how to format SEO optimization based on different types of content, and also how we've gotten to where we were today with that history of SEO from the last episode.

Matt Howells-Barby: Absolutely. I think, honestly, my biggest takeaway from this has been quite how terrible your attempt at a British accent is.

Jorie Munroe: That [00:03:00] is a lie. I don't even know what that was.

Matt Howells-Barby: That was case in point.

Jorie Munroe: Case in point.

Jorie Munroe: That was definitely not even remotely European. Yeah, I guess there's two.

Matt Howells-Barby: You got a pretty good pirate accent, though, from the sound of it-

Jorie Munroe: Yeah, right. I could be on a Pirates of the Caribbean episode. Before I get all teary, we have one more important topic to talk about, and that's voice search. Let's start out by talking about scale here. How widespread is voice search today?

Matt Howells-Barby: No one uses it, actually. Yeah.

Jorie Munroe: Not at all.

Matt Howells-Barby: No, [00:03:30] nobody-

Jorie Munroe: The answer is none, okay?

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Matt Howells-Barby: Not even worth talking about. It's pretty widespread right now. As I mentioned in the intro to the episode, in a recent report from comScore, they predicted that 50% of all searches will be done via voice by the year 2020, so only a couple years away, right?

Jorie Munroe: Right.

Matt Howells-Barby: We're not far away from that at all. About 30% of searches will be done without a screen by 2020, that was via a report in MediaPost, [00:04:00] and this is probably the most telling of all the stats that we're running through. One in five US adults today have access to a smart speaker. That's 20% of the adult population in the US, actually have access to do some kind of interface with a voice assistant.

That in itself is probably the biggest blocker is [00:04:30] not having the access to the search interface via voice. There's already huge adoption that's only growing. You can see that with Amazon in itself, already continuing to grow as a business, growing market share. One recent stat from the end of last year, I remember, is something like it was just under 50% of all product based searches, searches that end up with a purchase, start on Amazon. That shows you then the dynamic [00:05:00] of where those two are gonna collide.

Jorie Munroe: The scale is big, but before we get too much into the weeds of the logistics and what this means, can you tell me a little bit about how voice search rankings are different from the typical search results that we've been talking about throughout the season?

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah. Well, one of the most obvious differences is there's usually only one result. Where you would previously have a list of say 10, 12, [00:05:30] maybe 8 results on a page, albeit all different types of results, the element of choice rested much more firmly with the user. Even if you look at the evolution of the search results page that we've talked about in previous episodes in the series, it went from this very static, what we'd call "10 blue links", just everything looked the same. There was no real difference other than just the titles and the description on the search results [00:06:00] page.

Then we started to see what we talked about in one of the early episodes, blended search results; carousels coming in with news features, videos, images, these kind of things sway your decision making as to what you may want to click on, or have bigger real estate, featured snippets, which we talked about in great detail. Then with voice, this is taken to the next level and you have very little to pull your attention away. [00:06:30] It's usually a single result and one of the reasons for that is voice searches are inherently different, at least right now. So one step that I recently read about in an article in Search Engine Land is-

Jorie Munroe: Is that a thing or did you just generalize?

Matt Howells-Barby: It's a magical place.

Jorie Munroe: Search Engine Land.

Matt Howells-Barby: Search Engine Land.

Jorie Munroe: Okay.

Matt Howells-Barby: No, it's a publication-

Jorie Munroe: Good to know.

Matt Howells-Barby: ... that's all about SEO.

Jorie Munroe: Right up your alley.

Matt Howells-Barby: Oh [00:07:00] yeah. Before I go to bed every night it's-

Jorie Munroe: Search Engine Land.

Matt Howells-Barby: ... hop into Search Engine Land for a quick read. The stat that I read in there is that voice searches are around 30 times more likely to be action queries than type searches, according to Google. So queries that require an action to be taken, for example, "Play this song", that's one example of an action-based query, but these kind of queries [00:07:30] also lend themselves to having fewer results. It also kinda comes into some of the other types of query source like "Where's the best place for me to go to lunch right now?" Then you start getting into conversations with the voice assistant to give you one result and there is where really voice and the way rankings are displayed are very, very different.

Jorie Munroe: So you mentioned it's a lot of action-based queries, [00:08:00] but what industries, in particular, should be paying attention to this change in SEO?

Matt Howells-Barby: There's two parts to this. One part is that we are still seeing this space evolve, and in all honesty, we still have relatively limited data. One of the reasons behind that is that Amazon, a big player in this space, and similarly, with the fact that around 50% of all commercial queries start within Amazon, we do [00:08:30] not get access to that data. Amazon used to have a keyword tool that you could go in and have a look at that got removed a long time ago, it's very little data sources coming from Amazon; Google a bit easier, but we're still in the early days. There's no easy way to run these kind of search pattern tests, for lack of a better term, within Google's platform right now.

That said, the other part of this, one thing we definitely are gonna be seeing from an industry point of view is the local industry, [00:09:00] local services in goods-based industries. So I use the example of restaurants being one. Something that happened probably around 2012-2013 was Google's deeper focus on local services. We saw the Local Map Pack listing where you'll see local services listed on Google's own services, Google My Business, it used to be Google Local, Google Places, that you then have [00:09:30] very specific local results based on implicit search queries, which you talked a little bit about which is where you are in that moment; the same thing with voice.

I think that is the thing that is probably gonna be the most interesting because one of the things that often happens with voice search on a local level is there are multiple layers to the query. So I can say "Okay Google" or "Alexa", which ever voice [00:10:00] assistant that I'm using, my query is along the lines of "Where's the best place to eat lunch right now?" It's probably using Google's example.

The voice assistant can then come back to you with refinement queries, so it's like "What type of cuisine are you looking for" and then you answer. You haven't been given results yet. Previously you would have to do this yourself. You would start with a broad query, realize I need to filter this down [00:10:30] a bit, maybe click through a few links and then start searching deeper and deeper, you've maybe even gone into a listicle that lists a bunch of them, or you've gone into something like Yelp. At this stage, you're not going into there and it's like does it need to open now? Yes. Is it walking distance? Yes.

You're refining, and refining, and refining to the point where Google serves you up one, maybe two, options that you can choose from. You've refined so much before seeing results that I think this element of searchability for local businesses that's [00:11:00] gonna come down probably to in the same way webpages have a lot of markup data there. Google's already been experimenting within that assistant directory, being able to specifically categorize your content to be searched a bit easier based on some of these refinement queries. We're gonna see this kind of tagging specific content for voice come in more and more.

Right now I think they have this in place for some news [00:11:30] websites so that you can have briefings, and summaries, fairs, recipes, which is another big one that shows up so that you can search for low calorie dishes, or you can search for things with spinach in and etc., etc.

Jorie Munroe: Never.

Matt Howells-Barby: Never. Things with Snickers in them.

Jorie Munroe: There we go.

Matt Howells-Barby: There we go, and alongside that, podcasts actually, funily, enough is another one that Google have been doubling down on. There was a recent article about Google doubling down in particular on podcasts as well [00:12:00] and I think this is a big piece for voice search. In fact, if you actually said into Alexa or Google right now "Play the Skill Up Podcast" it will go and find the podcast.

Jorie Munroe: Fingers crossed.

Matt Howells-Barby: No, it 100% will.

Jorie Munroe: It will. Cool.

Matt Howells-Barby: It'll start pulling in that information from the web and playing this content. So it's like Google's slowly starting to do a lot of this based on content types, events I think again will be another huge place. [00:12:30] Anything that you can end in a point of booking or purchase, which are kind of intertwined, but that vary in areas or parts of search that are gonna be affected the most in my mind 'cause you're gonna be active all through your voice assistant.

Jorie Munroe: So in this season, we've been talking a lot about Google search engine. For instance, when you talk about these [00:13:00] voice assistants, you have Alexa, you have Google Assistant, you have Siri and Cortana. Based in your experience, I don't know how much data there is on this right now, but do the voice assistants serve up the same answer across the platforms or are we dealing with multiple cooks in the kitchen that could be serving up different answers?

Matt Howells-Barby: Very much the latter in the same sense of different search engines serving up the likes of Bing and Google-

Jorie Munroe: Bing.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, Bing is a [00:13:30] thing.

Jorie Munroe: That's a new jingle, bing is a thing.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly, there we go, TM. Serving up different results, the same is the case with voice assistants I would say. So if we go back to, let's say 2008, and we had such a greater distribution of search engines that were active and had market share within the search engine space; you had the likes of Lycos, AltaVista-

Jorie Munroe: [00:14:00] Ask Jeeves.

Matt Howells-Barby: ... Ask Jeeves-

Jorie Munroe: R&P.

Matt Howells-Barby: What a time to be alive that was, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, Bing, Google, plus more, right? Each of them actually served very different results and now we have pretty much a fight between Bing and Google, a very poor fight to be honest right now, but-

Jorie Munroe: "Fight."

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, however, on the voice side of things, Microsoft [00:14:30] and through Cortana, has a pretty substantial market share of voice searches going through their platform. Alexa is probably the most different, and in the exact same way that Amazon and their search engine operates compared to Google. It's like very specific things. I have continuous, full-blown domestic arguments with Alexa in my house and the primary reason being that I find that the Echo, [00:15:00] should I say, is it's not anywhere near as good at non-action based queries, general stuff that you wanna know like informational queries about anything. It's not that great.

Now I have a feeling it's almost purposely designed in a way that it just tries to keep its solution very focused to ultimately sharing your information with Amazon to influence purchasing decisions and also to [00:15:30] really get you much more focused on adapting habits that result in a purchase. This is a big difference because the Google Home is very, very different. Using Google Assistant on your phone, or using it via a smart speaker, or however you're doing, is a lot better at informational queries because it's tapping into Google's search engine so you're gonna get huge differences.

I think the other thing that we're going to see is [00:16:00] a general distribution of smart devices coming in and, in particular, these walled gardens of search engines that are being developed specifically with certain-use cases for voice; Amazon being the perfect example of that. From a content-producers point-of-view, in the same way, I think the most similar thing right now is maybe creating content for a podcast [00:16:30] actually.

There are a number of different platforms, each of them have different requirements when you're submitting a podcast through to Google Play store, to iTunes, into Spotify, all of these things you have to have; different markup and an RSS feed. I think similar things are gonna happen for Google Assistant. You have very specific tags that you're gonna need to put in place for Alexa, or it's gonna be very different for Cortana as we see more and more into this space, and this is just voice, [00:17:00] there's more after this. But it's gonna create a lot more complexities because content creators are gonna bear the burden of formatting for consumption on those platforms versus the other way around, which is happening right now to seed a lot of this, which happened in the early days of search engines as well.

Jorie Munroe: And then you throw Siri in the mix and it's kind of the Wild West.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yes, it certainly is and Siri uses, I believe still, Bing for a lot of its searches [00:17:30] as well. This is then when you start seeing other platforms using other platforms, and it's like where is the information coming from, it then starts to go down layers and layers.

Jorie Munroe: So how do you see voice search changing what we see valuable in terms of engagement metrics?

Matt Howells-Barby: That is a very good question. One thing I can say for sure is the metrics are going to change, and change, and change, and change as time develops [00:18:00] in the exact same way that as we start to see new mediums come up for things like video, Facebook offering a whole new way of analyzing video performance success with three second views and things like that, but now are they more in the interest of the platform, that's to be decided. Same with podcasts; are we looking at downloads, are we looking at subscribers, can we even get access to that information? The exact same's gonna happen [00:18:30] with voice. What is a click nowadays? How is someone consuming your content? Is that classed as a webpage visit if they're having content read out from-

Jorie Munroe: If they've actually never visited your page.

Matt Howells-Barby: Exactly, how are we even gonna start measuring it? Now I believe that we're gonna have analytics platforms that really cater towards this one, almost certain that Google Analytics will have like a whole suite [00:19:00] built out for this and for things like AR and VR moving forward into the future. The big thing that we're gonna need to figure out very quickly as this becomes much more of an important part of the search landscape is what are these important metrics? To be honest, I don't know this right now.

Another thing many people really know right now because we just do not have access to enough data to determine how [00:19:30] do you understand the impact of being served as a answer to a voice query to then something further down in the funnel that influences a personal decision, or any other action that's taken, outside of much more obvious like booking or purchasing stuff? Unfortunately though, much of the purchasing stuff is being done through Amazon anyway.

So there's other elements here when if we start [00:20:00] to see a huge, huge, huge shift towards voice, which we are seeing and we are likely going to see, and we see Amazon's Alexa voice assistant gain huge amounts of market share begs the question what's the value of a website if you're selling products? Why have a website when you should just have an Amazon store? This is when we get into an interesting dilemma when we [00:20:30] talk about a screenless future, the purpose of a website is to be browsed on a screen primarily, right? With voice, that does start to shift that dynamic slightly.

There's already where things like chatbots, I think the company is called SnapTravel, I may be wrong with this, but they are a travel booking app that is just a personal chat assistant. They run, I think exclusively through WhatsApp [00:21:00] and Messenger, but their webpage is just a landing page. It's like they don't really have a website, everything is done through a chat assistant.

In the same way, that could easily be transitioned into voice and I'm sure that doing that at the moment, you do all your bookings, everything through the Messenger platform. The same thing happened when we saw the birth of the Apple App store. There are tons of apps out there that do not need a website; the app is their website. That's their interface with the consumer. What is the interface with the consumer [00:21:30] for voice? That's what we're gonna figure out is really interesting, and beyond voice, what are the next steps in interfacing with the customer?

Jorie Munroe: Interesting. So now that we've stumped you, and you admit that you don't have an answer, this actually seems like a good time for a quick break. We'll be back with more after a message from HubSpot Academy.

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Jorie Munroe: So welcome back everyone. Before the break, we were talking about how voice search is changing what counts as engagement, but what about traffic? Can voice search drive visits to a brand's site, or does that even matter anymore?

Matt Howells-Barby: That's [00:23:00] an interesting question. We're starting to see a few things happening right now. So for Google Home, for example, it can answer a question with information from the web. It will actually cite the source of the information by just saying the website's name, and it's like "according to", or "this is from" and then says the website name. Sometimes it will send a link to the search's Google Home app if they have it.

There's actually also you can see, I've seen this a lot for recipe [00:23:30] queries, where if you actually search in the web-based version of Google, when you're searching for a recipe, you can actually press send to Google Home and it will send through to the Google Home app and you can then access it via Google Assistant afterwards. That said, it's not really driving visits. This is very, very different and certainly from Alexa, you don't get that same thing. I believe Cortana operates in the same way as Google Home. [00:24:00] Siri, if you've ever used Siri, it's a similar situation. I can't imagine that you're gonna see a huge amount of clicks from when people get information sent to the Google Home app because people have already had their query resolved.

Jorie Munroe: Yeah, their question's answered.

Matt Howells-Barby: Right, and one of the things that we are seeing is kind of how featured snippets, which we talked about before, within the search results, it looks like a lot of those are being pulled in and used in [00:24:30] a similar way, in the same way, into voice. Now when featured snippets first start appearing and we had these quick answers being shown directly in the search results page, that Google is more often than not, breaking a website's terms of use by actually going through and scraping that information. Albeit, they'll say it's for the greatness of the web and they have such a monopoly on the web right now anyway on search that what are you gonna do?

[00:25:00] In that respect, people were annoyed because it's like well now you're just pulling my information in, crediting with a link, but I'm gonna see potentially less visits maybe, or more, we've talked about that in the past, but now it's even worse. It almost feels like it's, for the unsuspecting consumer, this is just Google's answer from their content. That's when things get a little bit dangerous from if we start to see a larger percentage of [00:25:30] queries being asked through voice and delivered through voice, that if that does start to, and probably when it does start to eat into mobile searches and desktop searches.

I still remember the days when people said nobody will buy a TV on a mobile device. Nobody'll book a holiday via a mobile device; they will only ever be done on desktop. Now, it's like you will literally book ... To book something on a desktop is such an inconvenience. [00:26:00] I pretty much book any flight via a mobile device, regardless of value, it's there. The same is gonna happen with voice. We've seen history repeat itself time and time again with adoption at the level it is right now, it's only gonna grow, it's only gonna become more and more important and there should be genuine concerns for brands in particular where you're focused on driving traffic to informational content; news websites as well.

[00:26:30] It's pretty worrying if you're being funded by ad revenue that's delivered by impressions. That starts a whole new kind of dynamic for the news industry and the ad revenue generating content landscape.

Jorie Munroe: The weather app industry is just gonna tank, but do you think-

Matt Howells-Barby: Cloudy times maybe for that industry.

Jorie Munroe: ... but, oh my god. But do you think that actually there is something [00:27:00] to be said? You mentioned that featured snippets might be what's getting pulled into these voice assistants, so do you think there is something to be said though about going after featured snippets so that you're more likely to be featured by voice assistants so that you get at least some level of attribution and awareness?

Matt Howells-Barby: I think so. It comes to the question of do you either want to not be there at all, or do you want to have a chance of at least being there? This [00:27:30] is not a choice of a trade-off, this is a shift in consumer demand. This is like the Blockbuster situation of digital streaming versus physical DVDs and videos. Blockbuster infamously now chose the choice that digital streaming would not happen and they would rather not be there than be there and lose, and that was their downfall because the illusion was that it [00:28:00] was their choice that they could control. This was a consumer shift. The same is happening with search. This is not about whether you are deciding that you want to either have that show on voice or on mobile or desktop, some kind of screen.

This is that you will either be there where your consumers are or you will not be there. I think a prudent choice right now is at least to still be focused on doing the same [00:28:30] things you would do to rank in featured snippets for a screen-based search engine, if that's what we want to call it, in the same way that you would do like getting fringe benefits off the back of that for voice as well. So I would say certainly that is the right approach to be taking.

Jorie Munroe: So to kind of shift gears a little bit, let's talk about Amazon and how the Echo device is changing how people shop. So how do you think voice is going to change purchasing decisions in particular?

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, I talked a little bit at the start of the episode right? [00:29:00] Amazon, I think is around 50% of all product-based search queries start within Amazon's platform. That's not Amazon Alexa, that is just Amazon.com or all of their different web properties. That's a huge amount. Now what they're tryin' to do with Alexa is they're tryin' to build a moat around retail and commerce. What they're doing is saying okay cool, get this and [00:29:30] buy an Echo and an Echo Dot and hook it up to your smart lighting, hook it up to your Sonos speakers, hook it up to Spotify, embed it as a fundamental part of your daily life. That is actually my daily life right now. It's the ultimate in convenience. Same as most of these other voice assistants, and it is ingrained into everything that you do.

The trade-off here is that you are also facilitating the almost unlimited [00:30:00] supply of data into Amazon that is intrusive in ways we've never felt before, but also most people don't even realize. A lot of people don't realize, for example, that Amazon Alexa records literally all the time. Every single piece of conversation that you ever have any time you are around it. If that is plugged into the wall it's recording 'cause how else can it respond to "Alexa"? These simple things are then [00:30:30] being used by Amazon to inform purchase decisions.

They are now able to say what happens before a purchase. Think about Google and desktop search, actually, let's just think about a brand. You're a brand and you have an eCommerce store. A purchase is made. One of the first things that you wanna do when you try to understand why that purchase is made, you say what was the thing that happened before that? The thing that before that was [00:31:00] they landed on this page on my website and you go interesting, that page possibly holds some kind of value from a conversion point-of-view, let's break it down and understand what we did really well about it. You say what happened before that, then you say they came from Google Search, or they came from Facebook, and if it's Google Search I'm gonna say okay, now let's dig a little deeper into Google Search console and see what queries were they searching for to get that, what's the intent behind them?

Then you say what happened before that? [00:31:30] Well I don't know. The closest you can ascertain from that is was it a mobile search. So I guess they picked up their cellphone or their tablet, and you can tell maybe their operating system they were using, a little bit more than that, but that's it.

Now what can happen is something that's unprecedented, it's never been able to happen before and that is literally what happened before? What happened the moment before? The day before? The week before? The year before? [00:32:00] This entire tapestry of information that Amazon can now use to say well ... I don't know if you've heard Jorie that, it was one of my favorite stories ever of marketing automation and, for lack of a better term, big data and things like that where Target predicted that a, I think it was like a teenage girl, was pregnant before even her father [00:32:30] and before she knew.

So based on some of her purchasing trends on their loyalty card that was unrelated to pregnancy-related items, they used training algorithms to say when someone eventually goes and starts buying their diapers and the baby food, what did they do before that?

Jorie Munroe: Pickles and ice cream every time.

Matt Howells-Barby: Pickles and ice cream, right. They were able to ascertain this [00:33:00] is a common run-up of events, now we're gonna send some promotions for baby stuff. This was just with a loyalty card system. It was like the original [inaudible 00:33:14]. Amazon has been building this absolute powerhouse of personalization. Voice now completely changes the game. It's so intrusive, it can understand deeply like not only pre-purchase, but post-purchase [00:33:30] and in a lot of times, speculative tech. Not only could Amazon and Google and Co. hear what you think about the product, but that product can be connected then. In some cases, you buy a new set of speakers, you connect them to Alexa. You buy some lighting for your house is connected to Alexa. You can see usage.

All of this information is gonna, not just change how people shop, it's gonna fundamentally change the way that the web [00:34:00] and how commerce works. More importantly, creates huge barriers to entry and centralized bodies that own purchasing behavior, i.e. Amazon, Google eventually doing more along those lines, Facebook will 100% start seeing more and more come into this. Messenger has been a big player in this space in the sense that in the terms of use of Messenger, [00:34:30] as soon as you download the app, it has the right to access your microphone at any time.

All of these things are happening. Siri, like Apple, has theirs and it's creating this giant warehouse of data that they can use nefariously, or for the greater good of the world. I think the fact that Jeff Bezos makes something like, I don't know, I think it's something along the lines like $30,000 a second is probably indicative of the motives there.

Jorie Munroe: [00:35:00] Definitely, so that's why I, first of all, you need to read the privacy policies guys, everyone-

Matt Howells-Barby: GDPR-

Jorie Munroe: GDPR.

Matt Howells-Barby: ... statement coming in.

Jorie Munroe: The Europeans are protecting themselves.

Matt Howells-Barby: We're here to save you all, I have to email your inbox.

Jorie Munroe: So read the fine print, but something you had mentioned a little earlier, I kinda wanna dig into a little bit more and that's advertising. So you have these massive store houses, if we can call them that, of storage [00:35:30] units, I don't know, of data and that oftentimes we see-

Matt Howells-Barby: The cloud.

Jorie Munroe: The cloud. We see that effecting right now, just like algorithms on things like Facebook, how does advertising really fit into this? Or will it fit into this whole world of voice search?

Matt Howells-Barby: I think advertising in one way, shape, or form; whether that is in the form of influencing purchasing behavior, however [00:36:00] that may be, will almost certainly be involved in voice. In fact, it almost certainly is already, just not in the way that we understand it. To take a step back, you think about any platform that has data as it's huge asset to fuel advertising, Facebook. A lot of people think as a user of Facebook, you are a customer of Facebook. You are not a customer of Facebook, you are the product and your data, your behavior, [00:36:30] your engagements, everything that you do day to day that you serve to Facebook, enhances the Facebook product, which is you and the combined sum all of everyone else that's a user on there to be used to sell advertising real estate. This is exactly what the likes of Amazon, Google, etc. will be doing.

Google will be using this information to further add more data, more personalization, abilities to target individuals [00:37:00] on a much more refined level whether that's through voice, or whether that's through desktop and mobile search. It doesn't really matter and any other platform. As we start to think more and more about connected devices, and IOT internet things, there's gonna be ways where this data is not just siloed into ... Like Google uses its voice search data and it's desktop search data together. They are using all of that, they're stitching this together, they're using their [00:37:30] ad platform data, they're using any website that has the Google Analytics tracking script on it; all of that data.

In the same respect, when you connect to your smart fridge to Alexa, you basically give them the right to disclose that this is the time that you eat. This is potentially how much you eat, and these are the products that you like. This is when your fridge is empty so you're probably gonna need to go buy some products. What a perfect [00:38:00] time to start layering in some information on how to purchase the kind of things that you like.

Amazon, I don't know if anyone's used these, I actually haven't ever used these, I haven't known anyone that's used the Dash buttons that Amazon did-

Jorie Munroe: No.

Matt Howells-Barby: Apparently loads of people use these.

Jorie Munroe: News to me.

Matt Howells-Barby: If any of you listening right now, if you haven't seen the Dash buttons before, if you have the Amazon app, open it. [00:38:30] You basically for any product that you regularly order, so let's say it was like I don't know, protein powder, or food, anything that's like batteries, or anything that you have a repeat purchase, laundry detergent-

Jorie Munroe: Paper towels.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, exactly. You can have a button delivered to you so that whenever you press the button, a new order is made for that product. That's what the Dash button's for so you could have like a Tide button on your washing machine. You just press it and it's ordered a new one. Apparently, lots of people [00:39:00] use those. They've kind of become redundant with voice now, but it's the same idea but now Amazon does not need the button, nor does it need you to tell Amazon which buttons you want because it has your washing machine now.

This is the difference, this is the cutdown and the disintermediation of devices to get to the point of purchase.

Jorie Munroe: I feel like those buttons would have been really dangerous had I ever noticed them. I'd just prank my friends by [00:39:30] clicking their buttons, like why do I have three liters of laundry detergent, I don't know.

Matt Howells-Barby: Why do I have a million Snickers on my doorstep?

Jorie Munroe: Exactly. So where should I start if I want to start experimenting with ranking in voice search results?

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, I think as we've kind of eluded to a little bit, it's still early days. One good study, per se, that I've read that I do think is pretty good was from Brian Dean at Backlinko, someone [00:40:00] who has been in the search industry for a long time, I know Brian really well, and he put together a study around a bunch of different voice queries and started to try and pull together some correlation in what was ranking and why they were ranking.

A few things that stood out, which aren't too dissimilar to, in particular to mobile search, I think that's where voice has a lot of its similarities is with [00:40:30] desktop, yes, but in particular mobile because a lot of mobile searches tailor towards convenience, speed, and people that are either on the move or want information that has concision prioritized. So one big piece here is really fast loading pages were appearing pretty quickly in voice search. It's kind of a no-brainer. If Google is trying to access this information really quickly, it should load really quickly [00:41:00] and that's gonna be a big bonus point.

The other big this was, I think Brian found around 41% of voice search results came from featured snippets, talked a little about that earlier. Alongside this, coming back to a previous episode, Google still relies heavily on authoritative domains, and that has not changed, that I don't believe will change. That all comes down to those wonderful backlinks [00:41:30] and I think still being seen as an authoritative, credible source of information is gonna be key to ranking within voice search.

I think the best advice when it comes to content formatting is gonna be tailoring in the same way as how we discussed tailoring for featured snippets, concise information, keeping directly responding to a conversational query within the article, or piece of content that you are creating, as if you are tailoring it in a way that Google, [00:42:00] or Alexa, or Siri, or Cortana would actually read out.

I think another one that, this is just another from Brian's study was that https is another big thing. That, I think, is a no-brainer. We would probably say nowadays https is just a staple part of any site, you should just, if you're not https secure site yet, you should be actually having that implemented [00:42:30] on your site right now as default.

Jorie Munroe: And just for context, what is https?

Matt Howells-Barby: So https is secure search. Most websites going back, say, five years ago, maybe even less, most of them did not run on https, they'd just run on http. In short, without getting into technical information here, it just means that you have a secure certificate. It helps secure the web, [00:43:00] secure data, ensure that the website that you are visiting is verified, and reduces potential phishing attacks, and hacking attacks. It's really simple, anywhere where you have purchased your web-hosting, or even now, your domain name, you can buy really cheap. I think even a company now called Let's Encrypt, I think that's the company, does free https certificates. There're varying levels.

The easiest way to see if a website is using [00:43:30] https is one, it will have it at the start of the URL, but also there'll be a little green padlock in the search bar that says secure after it and you'll be able to see that.

Jorie Munroe: Versus in red, not secure. So let's create a safer web for tomorrow.

Matt Howells-Barby: Well it's funny that you say that, right, because actually in the start of 2018 and starting to see this a lot more now is Google Chrome, by default, [00:44:00] if you do not have an https website, it will show up now, not even just in the search bar, it will show where the page is. Instead of showing the page, it will show up "You may be visiting insecure content, do you want to proceed? Click here." That's a huge blocker.

Jorie Munroe: Chances are if I'm a visitor and I see that, nope don't wanna go there. Click back.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, absolutely not.

Jorie Munroe: Awesome. So as we move towards this screenless future that we've been discussing, where do you think [00:44:30] that we're headed?

Matt Howells-Barby: This is something that I do enjoy thinking about, and we could go down a giant rabbit-hole here so I'll try and stay on track, but this is something that we've eluded to when we talked a little bit about data and giving off data. If we look at the evolution of search over the past 20 years, the thing that has fundamentally changed [00:45:00] is the interface through which we search. That is the thing that is going to change.

We've went from desktop search and having desktop PCs to then laptop PCs and search didn't really change at all, to then mobile and everything started to change in multiple ways. The way people's search started to change, the ways in which information was searched was [00:45:30] changed, the search results pages changed, but also we started to see whole different kinds of ecosystems that would popup to be searched within. We saw the birth of the App Store and iTunes and they became search engines within themselves. Apps like the Amazon App has a huge amount of search volume running through it and that's all outside of what we typically think of as a search engine, but that's exactly what it is. Facebook itself has a huge built-in search engine, [00:46:00] likewise with Twitter and all of those other social media networks that have come before it and continue to exist nowadays.

Jorie Munroe: Those social people.

Matt Howells-Barby: Oh social, right? Then now we're startin' to see voice. The key thing here is things have got smaller, the interface got smaller, smaller, removed. The interface now is not visual. It's something that we listen to. That I believe [00:46:30] now will start to be built upon and it will become visual again in some way, shape, or form, but through an experience.

So without getting to minority report here, we're startin' to see a lot more in terms of augmented reality, virtual reality. We've seen Google Glass, albeit it's probably the least cool looking thing in the world-

Jorie Munroe: That tanked.

Matt Howells-Barby: ... Snapchat Spectacles. Okay, say what you like about them, [00:47:00] it's another element where augmented reality is being built into products and what this also involves is gestures. Google Glass, Google then has the optics of being able to see your eye movements and even implementing gestures based on the way you look. What that tells Google is emotion and you see with the iPhone X you have face unlocking, [00:47:30] the ability where things like SnapChat really pioneered a lot of the facial recognition stuff that they put together fun emoji-like based application for it. This kind of technology was dreamed about by TV advertisers going back a couple of decades where they would be able to see people's emotional responses to the things they created. This is here, this is now and search will be changing more, and more, and more [00:48:00] that strips down the interface and changes the interface.

The content that has to be created for that and the definition of what content is will change dramatically. Now, the thing to always remember with all of this, the trade-off within every time the interface changes, what also happens at the exact same moment in time is the consumer benefits primarily from [00:48:30] more personalized results, but they also benefit from convenience. It is probably the utmost trigger that this is focused around, but what they lose out on is giving away their personal data.

I think then the next piece that we're gonna start to see, which is a change and shift in sentiment around data in particular with things like Cambridge Analytica, and all of the consistent data breaches we've seen like the Equifax hack, the Yahoo hack. [00:49:00] Banks are hacked on like a monthly basis now. All of this sentiment, I think is where we're gonna move towards then decentralized search. This is where we see the power taken from big companies and platforms that are controlling all of this data to the data being owned by the consumer. That is a whole different conversation to talk about, but really the breaking down of [00:49:30] different search platforms.

When you think about this, when the interface is changing, and the way people search is changing, they become less reliant on one platform versus another. At the end of the day, if you want information and you're just shouting at something a command, you kinda don't care where it comes from as long as it's correct. There's less of a visual cue now to promote continued adoption [00:50:00] within a certain platform, albeit, you have technology that does that but we're already startin' to see technology that's built with multiple voice assistants in it.

The big thing I think we are gonna see with all of this is a complete change in the search engine landscape that ultimately results in whole new ways of search being carried out, and whole new companies that are focused on building search interfaces in one way or another.

Jorie Munroe: So that's interesting insight because it kinda touches on something that we were talking about [00:50:30] earlier, in terms of GDPR. Do you think that this decentralization will come because it necessitates regulation like GDPR, or because technology arises like we're seeing with the move from Google having the monopoly to multiple voice search assistants? Do you think it's gonna be technology, or regulation, or potentially both that really drives that decentralization of the search landscape?

Matt Howells-Barby: I think that this will be, and [00:51:00] always ultimately has came from in the search landscape in particular, the consumer. Now I believe that regulation and the tech behind this will be a driving force behind decentralization of search in particular. Facebook, and Google, etc., all of the companies that are ultimately owning our online experiences have, in their early days, been [00:51:30] seen as wonderful companies and everybody loves them, and still a lot of people do like Facebook. I think last year versus this year, the sentiment of Facebook has dramatically changed. Google, similar things, and with a rising sentiment of what are you doing with my data; when people really start to see tangible things happening that impact them in a way that is not asked for.

It's one thing [00:52:00] seeing an advertisement on a website when you're browsing it and being like that's annoying, I'm gonna have my ad blocker block that. It's another thing opening the fridge and something telling you that you should buy more food. Technology's gonna become a lot more invasive. It's gonna impact, it already is in every aspect of our life in such a more intimate, physical way. The notion of online search is [00:52:30] gone. There is blurred line between what is online and what is offline nowadays. Even when you're in your car, a lot of this information can be pulled back into app services. With self-driving cars, this is even more.

There was a huge story with the early days of Uber where, I don't know if heard about [inaudible 00:52:51] God-mode where a party-trick for early Uber execs, which has now been completely shutdown, would be [00:53:00] the Uber execs at parties would bring up their God-view where they could take anyone's name, and they could see exactly where they were in an Uber car at any moment in time. They would call up that person that they knew to say "Hey you're in here." I'm told one time there was someone who didn't enjoy that experience and now they've had to encrypt all that information, but this is a perfect example of these kind of things, you're trusting everyday life pieces of data, not to get too political here, but [00:53:30] like with huge centralized bodies that this will ultimately-

Jorie Munroe: They will use that data.

Matt Howells-Barby: This is the only reason why these platforms are being built. This isn't out of the goodness of the heart of Jeff Bezos, and the rest of the entire industry. This isn't just Amazon. This is Microsoft, this is Facebook, this is Google, this is everyone in this whole sphere, Apple as well, and more will be coming. I think that whilst I don't believe sentiment will change [00:54:00] overnight, the next decade is, in my mind, gonna be the most transformative decade of, not just search, but tech and data as a whole.

Jorie Munroe: So when sort of the convenience is outweighed by how invasive this new age of search is, that's when we'll see more or a revolution, I guess you can say.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, and to bring this back to SEO. I'm talking quite abstractly now, and as a listener, you may be thinking [00:54:30] what the hell has this got to do with SEO man? This actually got everything to do with SEO because the goalposts are being moved. Everything is changing. It's one thing to say more of our users are going to voice, but what happens in, say, the decentralization of search when no longer is it just Google you're thinking about? If Google doesn't own data, actually the consumer owns data, your whole way of understanding your customers, and everything [00:55:00] that comes within that changes fundamentally. What is a search engine?

If the typical web interface no longer exists, how do you even define what a search engine is, let alone rank in it? What is the concept of ranking in this new sphere? All of these things are really interesting and I could honestly talk about this all day, but people would probably get bored, the things that's gonna be the biggest change from a business point-of-view, I believe, is [00:55:30] how we approach content creation. That has ultimately been the thing that has been anchored towards tech. Nobody in 2015 was just creating tons, and tons, and tons, and tons of video content for their blog with the idea that it will rank well in search because broadband speeds were nowhere near the kind of place to facilitate that. Mobile devices weren't there so the consumption patents were not ingrained in us.

This is not that long [00:56:00] ago, it's [crosstalk 00:56:00] years ago, right? When you think about what's happened, when I say things like back in 2008, the dark ages of SEO, that's 10 years ago. This is gonna just get more and more accelerated. So in 2028, I think we're gonna be, if we were to look at what things look like from a search point-of-view, from a web point-of-view, we're gonna be looking at a whole different world and with that comes whole new approaches to reaching consumers.

Jorie Munroe: And really understanding [00:56:30] the implications of those changes, for sure. So we went from zero to Terminator really quick in this episode. I actually think that's all we have. Well, we're still seeing some sort of sunshine in the distance. So actually this is the final episode of our SEO season. For everyone out there, thank you so much for listening.

Matt Howells-Barby: Yeah, and thanks for doing this with me Jorie, it's been real good fun.

Jorie Munroe: Absolutely, and I've learned a lot. As always, if you liked this lesson, please leave us a review on Apple Podcast and [00:57:00] tell your coworkers, bosses, and friends and family all about us. Anyone who might be interested in learning more about SEO can check us out on Twitter at HubSpot Academy.

Matt Howells-Barby: Just before we go, I wanted to say thank you to Jami Oetting, who wrote and produced this season. Big thank you to Kierran Peterson, who directed the season, and Corey Wainwright for all of her wonderful guidance. Final things, thank you to Tyler Littwin for his awesome design work.

Jorie Munroe: [00:57:30] If you wanna know when the season will be released, you can subscribe to our email list by visiting skilluppodcast.com. I'm Jorie Munroe.

Matt Howells-Barby: I'm Matt Howells-Barby.

Jorie Munroe: This has been Skill Up. Thank you so much for listening.

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