SEOs may need to shift their focus from keywords to natural language as more internet users take to voice search.

More internet users are embracing a hands-free lifestyle, speaking directly into smartphones or search engines to skip typing altogether. This development appears to be favorable because it means fewer people are typing while driving, walking or waiting in line. However, the trend could force marketers to drastically change their keyword strategies.

Voice queries in, keywords out?

In a recent Google Webmaster Help Channel video, Search Engineer Matt Cutts answered a question about how query syntax has changed since voice search has taken off. Apple iPhone users have had hands-free search capabilities for a few years with Siri, but Google also incorporated voice recognition software into desktop experiences, Brafton reported. Instead of manually typing words into the Chrome search bar, users can conduct a query vocally by prompting the engine with the command, “OK Google.”

When users perform voice queries, there is a break from their typical search behaviors.

“People are more likely to use natural language,” Cutts states. “They’re less likely to use search operators and keywords and that type of thing … At some point, we probably have to change our mental viewpoint a little bit.”

SEO strategies must consider natural language

A shift is already in the works for Google, Cutts adds, but it aims to continually improve its ability to read and answer users’ questions regardless of their phraseology. Brands will similarly need to adjust their content marketing strategies to ensure articles and landing pages are optimized for users’ search patterns.

Take for instance the use of “and” between words in queries. Cutts points out that frequent use of this term will currently narrow search results because the engine only serves web content that’s an exact match. This will likely shift in the future, because individuals using “and” during spoken questions are actually giving the search engine more information and should yield more results. 

“People are more likely to use natural language. They’re less likely to use search operators and keywords and that type of thing.”

“People want to be able to search in all kinds of ways,” he states. “They don’t want to think about keywords, if they can avoid it. And I think over time, we’ll get better and better at understanding users’ intent whenever we’re trying to match that up and find the best information, or answers or documents – whatever it is the user’s looking for.”

Keywords are still at the core of successful SEO practices, but marketers might be forced to broaden their perspectives in the future. Content can also be optimized for long-tail phrases that accurately reflect the way people speak about products and services or field questions that will lead them to web content.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.