Recently, Google announced the addition of a new Schema.org specification called “Speakable.” The new markup is currently intended for use in News articles and by Google Assistant.
If the Google Assistant determines that your News result is a good fit for the user’s needs, users who ask for the latest news from a specific brand or about a specific topic will have your Speakable text read back to them.
Speakable is meant to provide a summary of the key points about a news story currently, but the documentation indicates that it is intended for any text that is “particularly ‘speakable’ in the sense of being highlighted as being especially appropriate for text-to-speech conversion.” If the markup catches on, it may see adoption outside of News articles.
The introduction of the new markup also has important implications for the future of the search ecosystem.
Let’s talk about what it is, how it works, and what it means for SEO.
Google Assistant is slowly but surely revolutionizing SEO
To understand how valuable the Speakable Schema.org markup is, we need to talk about just how much Google Assistant is changing how search engines work.
First unveiled in May of 2016, Google assistant has been easy enough for many in the SEO industry to ignore, but it is slowly becoming an increasingly important part of the way people interact with the Google search engine.
Replacing Google Now, Google Assistant added the ability to have two-way conversations to the previous feature list of performing internet searches, scheduling events, and adjusting hardware and profile settings. It also allows you to interact with devices on the internet of things, like ovens, coffee makers, refrigerators, and air conditioners.
Perhaps more telling, it incorporates with Google Express, which allows users to shop via Whole Foods, Costco, Walgreens, PetSmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and more retailers to come. Google clearly sees Google Assistant as a major source of monetization and a way of competing with Amazon’s online shopping empire.
And if Google’s Duplex works as promised, it will be capable of calling and making reservations with a very human-sounding voice, even dealing with scheduling conflicts and handing the phone over to a call center if it has a problem understanding the conversation.
While we can’t be sure how the technology will continue to evolve, it’s clear that Google is expecting Assistant to handle more of the work and users to handle less. It may not be too long before users are simply asking Google Assistant to book a reservation at the nearest decent Italian restaurant, rather than performing a search for “Italian restaurants near me.”
Interactions like these can’t replace traditional web search entirely. Some tasks will simply always require the use of a screen interface and accessing traditional websites. But as this technology evolves, the need for this kind of search will become less relevant.
Meanwhile, Gartner estimates that 30% of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020, and ComScore estimates that 50% of searches will be voice searches. Needless to say, this will have a dramatic impact on SEO in terms of when it’s useful to optimize for traditional web search, and if and how it will be possible to optimize for Google Assistant and its decedents.
There is the possibility that Google (and similar digital assistants, for that matter) will attempt to build a “walled garden” out of these technologies. Should they choose to, if Google Assistant becomes the primary way users interact with the search engines, some businesses may find themselves cut out of the search ecosystem entirely.
It’s encouraging, then, that Google is introducing the Speakable schema, indicating that it does in fact want sites to optimize for interfacing with Google Assistant. Sites that take advantage of developments like this will have a chance to get their foot in the door before others, so it’s important to keep your eyes open for similar developments in the near future.
Approval for Inclusion in Google News Results
For Google to include the news from your Speakable markup in Google Assistant conversations, you first need to be included in Google News. While you can certainly include Speakable markup without doing this, on the off chance that other digital assistants will adopt the markup or that Google will eventually start using this tag outside of news results, as it stands currently the tag won’t do anything unless you are eligible and approved for Google News results.
In order to be accepted into Google News, there are several criteria you will need to meet first:
- No grammar errors
- Transparent author and contact information
- Publication dates
- Ads don’t exceed content
- No explicit, graphic, hateful, dangerous, or illegal content
- No concealed sponsored content
- No harassment, deception, spam, or malware
While not explicitly stated in their content policies, we highly recommend the following if you hope to get approved:
- Publish timely, fact-checked content
- Google News is not for evergreen content
- Public journalistic standards should be published and followed
- Where topical expertise applies, journalists with expertise in the subject matter are best
Google also states that you need to meet these technical criteria:
- Each article should have a unique and permanent URL
- Articles should be reachable from HTML links
- Articles must be in HTML format
- Robots.txt and meta tags should not blog Googlebot
- Multimedia content can’t be included in Google News
- Use a Google News Sitemap to ensure that Google is updated with news as soon as you publish it
Implementing the Speakable Schema
When people ask for news from the Google Assistant, it returns an excerpt from a news article. The Speakable markup acts like a meta description for Google Assistant, allowing it to read the excerpt and tell the user the source of the content, in addition to sending a link to the article to the user’s phone.
In addition to the Google News guidelines above, Google offers the following technical and content guidelines:
- Don’t use Speakable markup for content that doesn’t make sense without a screen, such as photo captions or source attributions.
- Do not use Speakable on the entire article. Only use it for key points. There doesn’t seem to be a character limit like there is for meta descriptions, but the idea is to summarize the key points of the article.
- Google recommends that the Speakable text should take about 20 to 30 seconds to read, which is about two or three sentences.
- The story should be broken up into short sentences so that Google Assistant doesn’t read long run-on sentences.
The easiest way to see how the markup works is to look at an example. Here is the one provided by Google:
Let’s walk through this. The magic is happening between the tags. The first thing you might change is the “@type”:
Next we have the name:
This is just the name of the object, whether it is an Article or a WebPage. This is a good place to put the most relevant keywords, but do not keyword stuff.
Now we get to the actual Speakable markup:
The “@type” will always be SpeakableSpecification, but the next property can either be cssSelector or xpath. The values that you set here determine which text is selected for use by the Google Assistant or any other voice assistant that might be interpreting the markup.
Here, the xpaths pull the title and meta description from earlier in the page. If you were to use this markup it should do the same on your page if it is structured correctly, although you should check this with Google’s structured data testing tool.
The URL, of course, should link the URL of the web page or article.
Implications for the Future of Search
What the Speakable markup means for the future of search will depend in part on how well it is received. If it is adopted widely enough for it to prove useful to the Google Assistant, we may see its use expand outside of news results, especially since it is already listed as a property of WebPage objects, not only Articles.
Also depending on how widely this markup is put to use, this could be a sign of more to come. As voice search takes up a larger piece of user activity and screenless interactions become more important, we may also see Google further pushing for markup and meta data, as well as more official approval requirements for acceptance into emerging Google ecosystems, in contrast with more traditional open crawl.
Whether you see these changes as a threat or an opportunity, it’s clear that the way users and search engines approach the idea of search is changing. Google sees its future as a user’s personal assistant and Star Trek computer, not just as a list of web results. That means SEO is bound to change, but it also means SEO can only become more vital.