What impact will Apple’s Siri have on SEO?

Are you getting Siri-ous?

Siri is Apple’s new voice recognition app that allows users to control their smartphones using speech by talking directly into their handset.  I’m sure you’ve all see the latest iPhone TV ads showing how you can check the weather, search for restaurants, set reminders and even write and send emails. So, you can understand why so many Apple advocates are starting to say it’s only a matter of time before smartphone users start to dump Google in favour of Siri.  But in my opinion I can’t see this happening and Google will continue to dominate ‘Search’ for some time yet. Let’s not forget that Google has had voice-enabled search functionality for some time on iOS and Android devices, so it’s hard to call Siri an “innovation” when it’s more of an evolution of an existing piece of technology.

However, as digital marketers there are a few things we need to be aware of when it comes to understanding how Siri and voice enabled search results are generated and how this might impact our search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy.

Where does Siri get its information from?

Firstly let’s try and understand a little more about the information Siri is able to access and where that information is drawn from. If you use Siri to search for local information in the US such as “Italian restaurants nearby,” Siri returns results from Yelp instead of Google Places. If you need a quick fact from Siri such as “how many ounces are in two cups?” you will most often get results from Wolfram Alpha instead of Google Calculator.  At present Siri can only look for local businesses in the US, so users in the UK will just get Google search results. So if you say to Siri, “Search the web for a private GP in London” or ask a question it can’t answer it will search Google by default (unless you change the default search engine setting within Safari). How exactly Siri collects and processes information is not fully known, but it’s safe to assume that the program is drawing on well-cultivated public data sources, like Google Places, Yelp and similar sites. If Siri is eventually able to pull information from third party apps, as many predict it will, it could significantly reduce traffic to traditional websites.

Optimising for Siri and Smartphones

So what do you need to do to make your website appear in Siri and related voice generated search? Here are our 5 tips for developing a voice search engine optimisation plan (VSEO):

  1. Optimise for smartphones
    We’re not stating anything new here as smartphones and mobile search capability has been around for some time now. A recent study conducted by Ipsos OTX looked at general smart phone usage and the searching behaviour of over 5,000 adult smartphone users. The study revealed that for many individuals their smartphone acts as a pocket PC and extends their desktop experience. As with more conventional web surfing, search engines like Google are the most visited websites via a smartphone (77% of visits). In terms of what people are searching for on their mobile phone – ‘News’ came up top at 57%, ‘Medical related information’ was the second most popular topic (26%) and ‘Health & Fitness was third at 23%. The message is clear – make sure you can be found via mobile search as both healthcare professionals and consumers are regularly using their mobile phones to search for information.
  2. Build a specific mobile site template as part of your web assets
    Building a mobile optimised version of your site will improve the user experience and usability of your website when it is being accessed via a smartphone and thus users will want to browse more. For web developers that have the right skills, this isn’t a difficult job to do, and many web publishing platforms like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal already mobile-optimised themes that can be integrated into your site portfolio. Furthermore, it’s also worth exploring the use of ‘responsive web design’ techniques. Responsive web design is a term that describes the concept of building a website design in a way that allows the layout to change depending on what screen resolution the viewer has. For example, an advanced four-column layout that looks great with a screen width of 1280 pixels (or higher) could be simplified into a more simple 2-column layout on screens with 1024 pixels width – and further down to a single column on small screens such as those on smartphones or small tablet computers. It is an alternative to building separate mobile sites.
  3. Implement a local search strategy
    In the US Siri’s main source of information comes from the Local Business Review Website – Yelp. Siri also uses data from Google Places, albeit less frequently, but it is still worthwhile creating and optimising a Google Places listing. Creating a well optimised Google Place is vital if you are serious about increasing your chances of showing up in a set of localised voice activated search results in the UK. We’d also recommend that you set up a presence on these other sites too and where possible start to encourage customers to rate your business for maximum exposure:
    – Yelp UK
    – Yahoo Local
    – Bing Local
    – Yellow Pages
    – Facebook Places
  4. Address any potential content access problems
    The use of Macromedia Flash and JavaScript are already “no-no’s” when it comes to mobile optimisation and there are no immediate plans for the Apple operating system to support Flash graphics. Burying important information within PDFs and sub-pages could put your site at a disadvantage, so think carefully about where certain content sits within your site hierarchy and how it is presented. One other important element to consider with regards to content is to add ‘rich snippets’ (microformats) into your HTML.  Google started supporting rich snippets in 2009, and they allow your site to incorporate relevant microdata such as business details, i.e. name, address, URL, and phone number that could help Siri extract important information about your site more quickly. You can also include a ‘review rich snippet’. Review information such as ratings and descriptions can help users to better identify good content positive reviews. Check out the many different kinds of snippets that Google supports, as the number keeps growing.
  5. Monitor the number of people coming to your site from smartphones
    Using tools like Google Analytics you can measure the number of people visiting your site from smartphones. Understanding mobile traffic to your site can give you an indication of whether you need to design your site to accommodate both smartphone and PC traffic, or whether the traffic justifies the build of a site devoted exclusively to mobile platforms with streamlined content and simpler navigation. You can also create segments for different devices or operating systems, so you can compare visits and conversions from Galaxies, iPads, or Android and iPhone devices. If you have developed an app for Android or iPhone then you can also track their usage by adding Google Analytics tracking scripts into the source code of the actual app.
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