Do Google voice and image search mean the death of Keywords for SEO?
I just noticed that Google has introduced a couple of quite exciting new features to their standard search bar, at least on the US version (what’s with that, why do we have to wait so long for all the shiny new toys?). I’m talking of course about the voice and image search functions. These functions have existed for a little while on smartphones, and in fact, Google have been doing a great job of publicising their Voice Search for mobile functionality using lolcat spk ads on the London Underground, and other forms of transport too. But this is a whole new feature for their standard internet search engine. What does this mean for SEO, and does it mean the end of keywords as we know them?
On the main page, you will notice a new little icon in the search box, shaped like a tiny microphone. Click on it, and Google will record what you say and then work out what you said and run a search for it. Amazing! Or at least I thought so, maybe I’m just easily impressed by gadgets like this one but I like the idea that in the future I can just tell, quite literally, my computer what I am looking for and hey presto, it will find it. With the Xbox 360′s Kinect allowing its users to control their games consoles with their voice and gestures, and now Google’s adoption of voice search in its core search product, maybe the Gmail Motion April fool’s day prank wasn’t so crazy after all.
But I digress. While this innovation is interesting from a purely technical, geek-toy point of view, it also has very obvious impacts on our day-to-day business as SEOs. How is this going to impact the way we do SEO in future? I personally think that it is, for the moment, of only marginal importance. People are still going to fundamentally use Google as they have always done, most will not use voice search on their computers. And even if they did, they would likely use it the exact same way they would if they were typing in the search term. So if they wanted cheap car insurance, they would still just say “cheap car insurance” rather than typing it. I do, however, foresee that as we become more accustomed to Google voice, and it becomes as standard as “Googling something” has become, people’s search behaviour will change. They will, I think, go back to Ask Jeeves style searches, demanding that their computer act like a virtual butler, and if (read when) that happens, we as SEOs are going to be forced to adapt big time. Or maybe I’m wrong….what do you think?
The thing with developments in search is that they invariably impact how we operate, and the tasks that become, or cease to be important. A few years ago, keyword research was of critical importance, and we here at Red or Blue remember when SEOs used to agonise over whether to use “jewelry” or “jewellery”. Those days are well behind us, and all SEOs, as we focus more on how we build traffic and engage in search more generally. Do these developments in search further diminish the importance of keywords? If in future searches are carried out by voice for very long, specific searches, what value does keyword research and optimisation have? I feel that the focus of SEOs is going to be more on asking clients about what their business does, and what makes them money, then working on creating the kind of content that potential customers will be looking for. This more specific searching pattern is going to require an ever broader knowledge of the internet from SEO professionals, and is going to require us to think a lot more broadly about how to drive and boost traffic from search engines. Keywords, I think, are just not going to cut it in future.
The other new feature is even more exciting. Google Image search now lets you search using pictures, rather than for pictures. Wait, what? It’s a slightly odd idea, but it works quite well, most of the time anyway.
You just have to either drag and drop a picture from your desktop into the search box, or put in an image URL, and Google will search the web for that image for you, as well as telling you what it is. It’s a bit like the Google Goggles app for mobiles that lets you take pictures of objects to find out what they are and/or search for them online. This particular innovation seems to make a lot more sense on mobiles (to be fair, so does voice search), where it lets you take pictures of things while out and about to identify them and look them up. But it’s still an interesting evolution of the beast that is search engines, and even more than with voice search impacts on how people will, in future, use search engines. As I already mentioned, I can’t help but feel that this heralds the demise of keywords as we know them. While these innovations were born from Google adapting and experimenting with its Android smartphone platform, it appears that they believe this is the future of “the search engine experience” and that users are going to be searching in ever more specific ways by telling their computer what they want to find by speaking or taking a picture. And that will radically change the way the SEO industry evolves, as it has continuously evolved since its birth. But that’s why this is such an exciting industry to work in.