The Current and Future Role of Audio Content in SEO

I’ve read a very interesting stat the other day, courtesy of Neil Patel:

62.41% of all searches globally get zero clicks.

Zero. Nil. Zilch. Nada. Blank. Ok, I’ll stop.

Neil was also kind enough to illustrate that this is an ongoing trend, with the percentage of Google searches producing no clicks constantly on the rise. In 2017, that percentage was 54.11%.

I fully expect Google to start treating audio as a separate search soon. The search engine will start answering with audio clips within the website, just like it’s now able to detect key parts of videos to help people jump directly into the right moments. This means that if you have audio content, your page could be the one that is featured in the upper part of the search ranking.

And in the case there is a click after the query, including a voice one, your page will be on top.

But first:

Why are there fewer and fewer clicks happening?

I don’t have concrete data on the exact reasons behind continual growth in the organic ‘no click’ percentage but I do have two potential (and highly probable) culprits:

  • Featured Snippets
  • Paid ads

As you may or may not know, Google likes to constantly tweak one of its primary moneymakers, which is why, every once in a while, we see a design change of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). These include organic search results, paid Google Ads results, Featured Snippets, video results, and occasionally knowledge graphs.

With increasing frequency, search results feature listings where descriptive information in a special box (aka the snippet) is listed, displaying relevant content from a page. By showing the descriptive snippet first and thus reversing the “standard” search result, Google sees this format as an easier and faster way for users to find what they’re searching for.

Many people do, which is arguably one of the reasons why they don’t follow through by clicking on the link of that page.

The fall of CTR can be partially attributed to the growing commercialization of search results but also to Google taking away traffic from certain products and services information, especially on branded keywords (e.g. dedicated Google pages such as Flights and Hotels).

So, searches that:

  • were answered by the results organically, via paid or snippets
  • ended abruptly because something interrupted the user
  • ended on the off chance that a user couldn’t find an answer
  • ended for any other reason without clicking on a result

all count as “zero-click” searches.

Here’s more bad news: the media industry has it especially bad, with 63% of searches being no-click, 33% organic, and 4% paid, according to Searchmetrics’ SEO Report: 2020 Year-End Review report.

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What can you do?

There is only one thing you can:

adapt to Google’s changes.

Basically, the tech titan is keeping users locked on the SERPs as opposed to them clicking through to the respective URLs.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of folks from the media industry who say that this isn’t fair. While they are likely correct, it’s not the point. You gain nothing from worrying about developments and events you can’t control. You can focus on things you can affect, though.

In situations like these, I tend to see a new opportunity on the horizon and try to make the best out of it.

User experience is key here.

As of May 2021, Google is directly measuring how users perceive the experience of interacting with your website as a part of its Core Web Vitals update. In other words, user experience has just become one of the more important SEO factors.

Creating an optimal user experience combines several factors such as the perceived load time, interactivity, visual stability, mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines. You need to create a fine balance of all of these so that not only your site behaves and loads as every user expects it will but that every user enjoys it and comes back again and again and again…

This leads me to:

What does this have to do with audio?

For the past two years, ever since Google first indicated a neural network-based technique for natural language processing called BERT, I’ve been highlighting the importance of audio SEO.

Admittedly, I was a bit shy about this concept compared to my usual ‘audio is golden’ routine because audio SEO is still a new territory that is largely uncharted.

A great user experience is simply one that includes audio. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

Today’s audiences are growingly more demanding and picky, driving content consumption on their own terms: when, where, and how they want it.

Audio fits that bill perfectly because it’s able to engage people on a deeper level, arguably more than any other digital media because of its intimate and immersive nature. I often catch myself thinking about this: I typically browse most websites for a minute or two at best but for some reason, I have no problem whatsoever listening to their audio versions for 5, 10 minutes, or longer if we’re talking about a podcast-like format.

This is a quickly progressing space – just take a look at social audio. It literally exploded over the course of a few months, and now every major social network and a dozen more startups are getting in on the action.

The key is to put a strong emphasis on audience needs and adapt to their shifting listening habits. A lot of these changes in our media diet will remain.

Google has been very specific about prioritizing mobile pages with the Core Web Vitals updates. This is important because listening on a mobile device now accounts for 30% of all time spent listening to audio by those aged 13+ in the U.S. Among those aged 13 to 34, 46% of total daily audio consumption is done on a mobile device.

As more people embrace listening as either a complementary or dominant way of obtaining information, it’s vital to offer that experience as a means of relevant user experience.

Now, before you say anything: yes, I am aware that Google doesn’t do anything special with audio content in terms of SEO, yet.

However, having an audio version now does have UX-related benefits. For starters, it makes your content more accessible to a huge population segment. Then, there are indirect effects such as users finding your page useful and recommending it further. Plus, an audio version doesn’t count as duplicate content so it certainly doesn’t hurt to have it.

I fully believe audio content is about to be processed separately by Google, just like images and videos. All the signs are there: BERT, improving its understanding of what’s being talked about on a podcast, podcasts themselves having a dedicated page when searching for one, a new deep-learning model that further improves natural-language processing, ‘hum to search’ feature…

Are you going to tell me that this means audio SEO won’t grow in importance over time?

I think we both know better.

The best part of audio? There is no right or wrong answer about the proper format or correct length. What’s important is to offer some form of listening experience, and it’s far simpler to start than many think.

Final thoughts

Optimizing for clicks is always going to be a never-ending story because Google is not going to stop making minor and major tweaks in order to maximize its revenue potential. SEO is becoming more influenced by context as opposed to keywords, which is why I see audio content as the next frontier.

In my mind, it’s not a question of whether Google will actually favor sites that are audio-friendly and make them easier to discover but when. The enhanced user experience they deliver will count big time, especially since this will hardly be the last search algorithm update focusing on user experience.

Right now, we’re in the very early stages, which means there’s enough time to move in and get ahead of the rest.


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