Voice Search & Conversational AI: What Changes They Bring To The SEO Landscape

Illustrator: Franuk
voice search seo

Voice searching and conversational AI are some of the fastest-growing eCommerce trends. You can use them for everything from ordering goods and services to controlling your thermostat.

Conversational AI has a huge amount of potential for eCommerce. Chatbot marketing can even help you to grow your business. But before you can move forward into this brave new conversational world, you need to understand that a lot will change as conversational AI progresses — especially in the world of SEO.

Any alteration to the way people interact with search engines changes SEO. So, switching from typed to verbalized searches will naturally have a huge impact. If you want to benefit from everything that conversational AI has to offer, it’s worth understanding its implications for SEO.

What is Conversational AI?

Let’s start with what conversational AI is not — it’s not a voice search. Or rather, it’s not just a voice search.

A simple voice search uses voice-to-HTML technology to let people speak into a search engine and have results read to them. For example, you might say, “What is the capital of England?” and the digital assistant would reply, “The capital of England is London.” It’s good for returning basic facts but lacks nuance.

Conversational AI provides a more naturalistic experience. For example, you might ask, “What can I do in London?” and the AI would reply with something like, “London is a cultural hotspot with many available experiences and activities. Was there something, in particular, you were looking for?”.

The basic idea behind a conversational AI is a digital assistant that can interact with the internet with all the speed and data-processing ability of a bot. It can also interact with human users with all the depth and nuance of a human.

Conversational AIs don’t have to be voice-based. In fact, plenty of companies are doing revolutionary things with conversational chatbots. However, it’s likely that the big changes to SEO will come from the voice arena — partly because it’s growing so fast. It’s estimated that by the end of 2022, over fifty percent of all web searches will be verbal. It’s not a stretch to imagine that voice searches will quickly leave typed searches in the dust.

All in all, Voice SEO — or VSEO — is a fast-growing area to which any good company leader should be paying close attention.

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The Benefits of Conversational AI and Voice Searches

Before we can get into the big implications of conversational AI for SEO, it’s worth looking at why consumers like it so much:

  • Voice searches are faster. Typically, a voice search returns results 3.7X faster than typed searches. This may not sound like a lot, but every millisecond counts in the digital world.
  • Voice searches are more accurate. While this one is hard to quantify, customer reviews suggest that they get the results they want more easily with voice search than with typed searches. It may be because voice search results don’t offer many confusing options — more on that later.
  • Voice searches are more personalized. Verbalizing is how humans are designed to communicate. Asking something out loud will always feel more personal than typing it into a search bar. A good chatbot will be able to personalize any conversation and make it seem natural in a way that typing in a search bar just can’t.
  • Voice searches are accessible. Voice searches open up the internet for people with visual impairments or with mobility issues affecting their ability to type. It also enables people to interact with the internet at times when they can’t use their hands and/or look at a screen.

It’s also worth noting that people like conversational AIs in a way that goes beyond the practical. People are curious about their digital assistants and will have quasi-conversations with them just to see what they will say. Often, they are needlessly polite with their digital assistants. While this can be funny, it also indicates a big shift in how people consider their interactions with the internet. And that’s bound to have an impact on SEO.

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Conversational AI Challenges for SEO

The customer journey looks very different with VSEO. 

The research stage is largely reduced to a single, verbalized question. Purchases made via conversational AI tend to be more impulsive than purchases made via typed search. There is a very good reason for this: voice searches tend to return only one result at the so-called Zero Position.

Understanding the Zero Position is vital for understanding VSEO. The singular result that a voice search returns will almost always be the result at the Zero Position,  i.e., the snippet that Google displays at the top of a results page. If your result isn’t in the coveted Zero Position, it won’t be read out loud. And voice searchers can’t scroll down the results to find your site. 

The popularity of voice searches and conversational AI is bound to lead to changes in the way Google presents itself, resulting in changes in the algorithm. In order to maintain a good customer experience, it will make alterations to accommodate voice searches. 

For example, currently, there is no overt duplicate content penalty (although duplicate content may harm your overall SEO strategy). However, as duplicate content could lead to confusing repetitions for a digital assistant, it may become penalized in the future.

How can you Optimize Content for Conversational AI?

VSEO won’t make life impossible for marketers, just different. It will be less about short keywords and clever link anchor text and more about anticipating the way people may phrase a query in conversation. 

To get ahead with VSEO, try these tactics:

  • Structure everything in an answer format. Write your key content as though it’s answering a question. This is, admittedly, difficult to do while at the same time keeping your content natural and well-written, but there are certain tricks that help. Phrasing H2s as questions is very snippet-friendly, as is the use of short, conversational sentences.
  • Keep things short. This will help you to grab that coveted Zero Position. On average, the featured snippet in any search is no more than 50 words — and it’s always written in very straightforward, simple terms.
  • Keep a close eye on your metrics. Learning to work with/around any new tech requires trial and error. The rise in conversational AI is bound to throw up some surprises along the way. You can make sure that you’re going in the right direction by keeping a close eye on your metrics. Your Google Webmaster Tools will help you see how your site and your customers interact with Google, so keep checking that dashboard!
  • Use bulleted lists. This may seem counterintuitive, as bulleted lists aren’t ideal for an AI to read out loud. However, bullet points addressing specific aspects of a question often make the Zero Position. As such, they’re definitely worth including.

How will Keyword Strategies Differ for VSEO?

Keyword research and strategies deserve a subheading all of their own, as conversational AI is likely to change the way we use keywords. Don’t worry — some marketers actually prefer VSEO, as in many ways, it’s more “human” and more intuitive than the text-based version.

When people type questions into a search engine, they tend to be abrupt and lack filler words. For example, they might type “Activities London” or “Museums London.” This gives marketers a lot of scope to target and play with specific keywords. 

When people verbalize a question, it’s different. They’re more conversational. For example, rather than “Museums London,” they might say, “Find museums near me in London.”

Will your old keyword strategy work here? 


If you’re lucky, your museum might be the featured snippet. After all, the keywords “Museum” and “London” are still there. However, it’s not as certain as it used to be. The long-tail, conversational nature of the query throws some new elements into the game.

The way to grab the attention of conversational AIs is to be, well, conversational. For example, rather than using “London museum” as a keyword, try “London museums near me.” The “near me” plays to the conversational strengths of VSEO and will boost your chances of getting picked by the AI.

Additionally, pay close attention to filler words. These are used far more often in voice searches than in typed searches. For example, someone might type “Best museum London,” but that question verbalized is more like “What is the best museum in London?” 

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Conversational keywords are likely to become a big deal over the next few years. If you haven’t already, we suggest investing in a digital marketing tool to help with VSEO keyword research. Marketing platforms like Moz and SEMrush are already incorporating VSEO into their keyword tools, and we’ll likely see more specialized tools appearing in the very near future.

Embrace Conversation to win at VSEO

VSEO is going to alter the way we use the internet. But that’s not a bad thing. Marketers have spent decades trying to think like bots, creating clinical keyword lists, and manipulating content to please an algorithm. Now that the bots are behaving more like humans, marketers could find themselves free to create more human, more conversational, and perhaps even more interesting content.

Of course, it will take some getting used to — but that's how the marketing world works! 

It's always changing, always learning, always growing. That is why you must become acquainted with voice search and what it means for WordPress sites or any domain you manage. Also, be sure to check out our guide to AI in digital marketing.

Start experimenting with conversational VSEO, and see how fast you can reach the Zero Position.

If you liked this article, also check out our piece "Will generative affect search?"