Conversational Search – An SEO Issue

Google often changes its algorithm to help users, but sometimes, users change how they interact with Google. This brings up a whole new set of challenges for SEO’s. The most recent changes have been a move towards voice-activated systems such as OK Google and Siri. The question for those in the industry is “How do you integrate conversational search keywords into your SEO Strategy?


Traditional Searches:

We have all become used to the way we search. As Google does not have a visible personality, we tend to type in queries that address it like any other machine. This means that we take shortcuts and miss out many of the words that join together our search terms when we are writing more formally.

If you look through your lists of search terms in the AdWords interface, words such as “AND”, CAN etc. are largely missing. This form of words exemplifies our dealings with the technology. A typical search request written in this form might read “England football score”.


Conversational Searches:

Unlike traditional search, conversational terms tend to be in the form of a question. Taking our football example from above, its conversational equivalent would be “What was the England Football Score?” This is a markedly different form of interaction between man and machine than in the search above but is likely to result in similar pages being served, at least for the moment.
However, pages that clearly answer a question are becoming more prevalent and are more likely to appear in search, especially if they give the end user the information they are looking for.
One of the most successful conversational search systems is “OK Google” The system uses conversational search terms to return information from the webs and to perform actions on mobile phones and through the Android-based Google Home System. Looking at some of the recognised commands from this system gives a better idea of what conversational search can look like.

Function Android Instruction
Start a Voice Search: Say “Ok Google” or tap microphone icon
Set an Alarm: Say “Set an alarm for 7 AM” or “Set an alarm for every Friday at 7 AM.”
Set a Reminder: Say “Show me my messages from Brian about dinner.”
Check your schedule: Say “What’s my day look like tomorrow?” or “When’s my next meeting?”
Call someone: Say “Call Lindsay or “Call Mom.”
Text a friend: “Text Jason that I’m running 5 minutes late.”
Check your voicemail: “Listen to voicemail.”
Play music: “Play [Artist name]” or “Play [Track name]”
Identify a song: Say “What’s this song?”
Get directions: Say “Navigate to [place] or “Directions to [place]”
Check the weather: Say “”Do I need a jacket today?”
Get stock prices: Say “What’s the [company name] stock price?

The next step in the development of conversational search is for more “human-like” responses from the speech-based system deployed by Google and Apple.  However, Siri and her ilk are constrained by the information provided. You can only sound human if the information sources enable the machine to sound human.

Do I Need a New SEO Strategy for Conversational Search?

A low ranking site for traditional searches is not going to leapfrog more established sites just because it uses conversational search terms. However, articles that successfully answer a question could help you rise up the SERP’s page. The key, as always is relevance and user experience. A full blown strategy is probably not needed if you are already writing pages with relevancy to queries in mind, but you should definitely review your site if you are offering a low-quality experience.

What are the Top Tips for Conversational Search?

Conversational search is still very much in its infancy, but the following tips will set you on a path to better performance in this emerging space.

  • Think about what are the major questions you would ask your business? Your questions probably mirror the mainstream searches you are likely to attract, so create content to match them and present them in the form of a question.
  • Content does not have to be in a normal ‘promotional’ web page style. You could answer in an FAQ, or you could answer in a blog style. If your answer is relevant and provides information that someone searching for the topic would like, you have won half the battle
  • Pose negative questions that meet the needs of a customer looking to buy your products. For instance, if you are in IT you could blog about “Why does my PC run slowly?” or a mechanic could create a blog answering the question “Why is my petrol mileage getting worse?”
  • Try to make your post engaging. People are usually looking for a solution to a problem. Your product should be the solution, but do not oversell. Contrary to popular belief claiming to be the best often leads to client disappointment and results in poorer reviews on systems such as Feefo and

The main takeaway when dealing with conversational search is one that is often repeated in traditional search and forms the basis of SEO strategy. High quality, readable content attracts visitors to your site. Focus on providing things that will actually draw visitors, rather than blatant PR, and you will find your online reputation will improve.