It seems to me like the concept of “natural language” has been everywhere lately in the world of SEO. Google’s Hummingbird update appears to be better equipped to deal with natural language, while voice search (which of course only uses natural language) continues to become more prominent thanks to the release of products like Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
Voice search has been hugely influential in the growth of natural language queries. For years now, products have been released that promise to revolutionize voice search and make it practical for the masses. Apple’s Siri seems to have been the most successful, but Siri is still not as responsive and accurate as one would hope.
However, we now appear to be in the middle of natural language’s big debut. Although the transition to using natural language in search queries is not entirely complete, it has definitely begun to happen rapidly.
Why Natural Language?
SEOs tend to agree that natural language processing truly is the future of search. Searchers want to be able to ask a rational, conversational question and receive a valuable answer from their search engine. Google has demonstrated its commitment to making this possible by releasing Hummingbird, which is able to provide more relevant answers to conversational queries.
In relation to voice search, natural language is clearly preferable because it allows searchers to treat their mobile devices like an assistant with whom they can have normal conversations. Whether SEOs are ready or not, voice searchers are asking natural questions that absolutely do not conform to the traditional keyword-based search query.
The Changing Face of SEO
So how can the SEO community prepare to handle this influx of natural language queries? Although it’s probably unwise to transform all of your content into a question and answer format, pages where you can naturally optimize for specific questions and answers may begin to perform well.
Clarity is important, since Google is searching for clear answers to searchers’ questions. Because Google can now provide many answers for searchers, it is likely that site traffic will decrease as searchers have less incentive to leave Google. If you can provide relevant answers that inspire follow-up questions, you may still be able to entice searchers to visit your site.
One of the most important things you can do right now is to establish your authority in your field. When Google is searching for answers, you want them to draw information from your site instead of a competitor’s page. If you are seen as the authority in the field, Google will be more likely to trust you and promote your site.
In addition, it’s time to completely revolutionize your approach to keywords. Obviously, keywords are much less important when searchers are using natural language, but you can still find keywords that will help you be found. The key is to focus on more conversational keywords and different variations of keywords that are more likely to be used in natural language.
What is your best advice for SEOs who want to begin optimizing for natural language?
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