It’s not unusual for SEOs to roll their eyes when the topic of voice search comes up. This is because, around 2016/17, voice search was hailed as the next big thing. As more and more people invited the likes of Alexa, Cortana and Siri into their lives, it was predicted that the search landscape was about to experience a drastic and permanent transformation. Buuut that never really happened.
The trend soon plateaued, and the whole thing felt like a bit of an anti-climax. While it’s true that voice search has not had the monumental impact that was hyped, it can still form a vital component of your SEO and content strategy. Indeed, for some businesses, optimising for voice search is a must. Here’s what you need to know!
What is voice search?
Thanks to AI technology, we now have access to our very own virtual assistants. They come in the form of home smart speakers (like the Amazon Echo and Google Home) and smartphone or computer assistants (like Siri and Cortana). Wherever you are, simply call their name—literally!—and they’ll be at your service.
When interacting with these devices, we use voice commands that can be split into two categories: voice actions and voice search. A voice action tends to be a basic question to which we receive a single, spoken result. For example:
You: “Hey Siri, what’s the current temperature in Manchester?”
Siri: “The current temperature in Manchester is 16 degrees.”
A voice search, on the other hand, involves the user asking a longer question, to which the virtual assistant will return a list of search results. In other words, it’s just like a regular online search, but you speak instead of typing your query into the search box to produce the SERPs. As you can imagine, voice search and voice actions need to be targeted by marketers in slightly different ways. In this article we will largely be focusing on voice search, but there is a slight crossover.
How popular is voice search?
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According to statistics obtained by Adobe, by July 2019, 48% of consumers were using voice search for general web searches. A lot of well-informed SEOs predicted that by 2020, over half of online searches would be voice-activated. As it happened, sales and use of virtual assistants leveled out and text-based searches still dominate.
While the short term impact of this technology was certainly overestimated, it has still influenced the market in a way that will be felt for the long term. In a recent Moz article, Nicole Hallbery summed up how SEOs should approach voice search:
“Voice searchability isn’t necessarily what you should build your entire SEO strategy around (…) because voice isn’t exactly replacing text search — it’s supplementing it.”
In certain markets, voice technology is being used for informational, navigational and transactional searches. A 2018 study by BrightLocal found that those using voice search favoured it for tasks like making reservations and discovering which products businesses had to offer. The same study revealed that 58% of participants had used voice search to discover information about local businesses in the previous 12 months.
Make sure it’s a good fit
Before you get started on a voice search strategy, ensure that it’s necessary for your particular business. Voice search wields both possibilities and limitations, and for some it may not worth be investing time or money in at all.
So, who is likely to benefit from optimising for voice search? If you’re a location-based business with Millennial and Gen Z customers in your target market, then you’d better get on board!
It’s also important to consider the type of content you’re offering in the first place. If your pages are filled with dense articles, voice search users are unlikely to stick around. Those offering short and snappy product descriptions and how-to lists, however, may have a lot to gain here.
5 ways to optimise for voice search
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1. Go for long tail keywords
When performing a search, the way we type is very different from the way we speak. If you’re writing something in the Google search bar, the search term is likely to be short and to the point: “Best Italian restaurant Manchester.” If speaking, though, you are probably going to use a full sentence: “Which is the best Italian restaurant in Manchester?”
Voice searches tend to be longer and more conversational in style. To target the latter, stick to language that reflects natural speech. Don’t focus on the search engine—think about the words people would use in day-to-day conversation. The good news is that more words being used means that you can gain a strong understanding of search intent. This should make the keyword research part of your job a lot easier!
2. Structure content around questions
A majority of voice searches are in the form of questions. A great way to get your strategy off to a winning start, then, is to structure your content around questions. If you already have some keywords in mind, the website AnswerThePublic is a really useful tool. Simply enter your keyword and it will show all of the most common questions internet users ask around the word or topic. The best news? You can get lots of the information for free!
Another great way to target the question and answer format voice searchers favour is to add FAQ sections to your pages. This tactic may also help you to target related keywords, along with the ones that are priority.
3. Target featured snippets
Featured snippets are positioned right at the top of the search results pages in the spot known as position zero. Though they don’t appear on all SERPs, they are pretty common and very coveted (for obvious visibility reasons). Targeting this particular real estate can help you optimise for both voice search and voice actions.
A 2018 study by Stone Temple found that over 40% of spoken responses from virtual assistants came from featured snippets. As voice actions only return one result, if you even want a look in, the best place to start is by aiming for the snippet!
In order to do this, take a look at existing featured snippets for keywords linked to your content. You’ll notice that the copy is clear, concise and to the point. They can take the form of bulleted lists, tables or a simple paragraph. Integrating some of our previous tips will also help you here, as snippets are often structured as a response to questions and the copy sounds natural when spoken aloud.
4. Improve your business listings
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As explained earlier, voice searches are largely focused on local businesses. People want to know what is on offer around them and a quick way to do so is by consulting their handy virtual assistant. To meet these needs, smart speakers and other AI helpers will trawl through business listings. If you want to come near the top of the pile, you need to make sure yours is adequately filled in and up to date!
Vital information like contact details, specific location, opening hours and available products should all be easy to find. Also keep in mind that people using voice search for these services are looking for quick answers. Keep everything short and sweet!
To boost your chances of beating out the competition, you should also make sure that you have plenty of authentic (and hopefully positive!) reviews available. Sites like Google My Business and Yelp provide great platforms on which you can keep all of these features together.
5. Take a well-rounded approach to SEO
In a way, optimising your pages for voice search isn’t that different from regular SEO practices. Staying on top of other features like page speed, image size and mobile optimisation provides an excellent foundation for your overall strategy and will help your pages rank for voice searches.
One general SEO practice that is particularly important in this context is structured data. Make sure you include schema markup on all of your key content so that search engines have a clear idea of what your pages are about. There is even a specific schema designed for speakable content available to those for whom voice search is priority. Some of this is still in its early stages, but the fact that it is being developed suggests that voice search optimisation is here to stay!
Looking for more handy SEO and content tips? Take a look around the Supersede Media blog.