As early as 2016, 20 percent of Google’s search queries in the US on its mobile app or on Android devices were done by voice. It’s been two years since that stat came out, and if general usability trends are anything to go by, that percentage has surged – and not only in the US. This poses new challenges for website operators.
The sorts of search queries users speak are categorically different from the queries they write. Of course, Google reacts differently to them too.
More than half of us already use a digital voice assistant
It is indisputable: the popularity of voice search functions just keeps going up. From Amazon to Apple, more and more technology companies are pushing their voice technologies to improve the usability of their devices and programs.
Likewise, as the voice technology of apps (like Siri and Cortana) continues to improve, they are pulling more users onto different platforms. Global, industry-wide push and pull effects towards the same goal, such as we’re seeing with voice search, are a sure sign that something is not just a fad.
The technology is amazing, but it’s not arising in insolation. For businesses that market online, the big worry is what impact the rise of voice search features will have for search engine optimisation efforts.
In this article, we’re first going to look at how the growth of voice search could affect SEO; second, we’ll share some simple tips on how to get ready for the voice search revolution … because it’s already begun!
What sort of content suits voice search SEO?
There are, above all, two types of content that are especially suited for voice search optimisation:
- Straight-up facts and information: Ask Google ‘How tall is Barack Obama?’ and the response will be a quick answer box reading: ‘1.85m’
- Local content: Google uses results from web searches, map searches or pulls answers from featured snippets.
Your website should, therefore, optimise content to suit these types of search. How you do this is the topic we’re going to go into through the rest of this article.
How do you optimise content for Google voice search?
On the 9 January 2018 in the Central Office-hours hangout, John Mueller, Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, spoke on what’s most important for optimising your voice search content:
“I think that’s very complicated. It’s still very early to learn about this Topic and there is still no patent solution for any website. “
“I think that’s really complicated because, from Google’s side, what we try to do is to understand your pages best and to figure out which type of voice queries match those pages. So that’s something you can help us with through using structure data on those pages,” Mueller said.
“For some kinds of content, that doesn’t make sense. If the answer is this big thing or a table or a list of links, that’s not something that really works with voice.
“Other kinds of voice assistants, they try to match the question more directly. So, they’re looking for maybe webpages that say ‘what is the tallest mountain’ as a title and then they read the first paragraph. I think for Google that’s probably overdoing it and quickly ends up in a situation where you basically create a doorway site with all these question variations and a short piece of answer.
“The pages themselves have really low value because they don’t have a lot of information. I think that’s very short-sighted. I really focus more on trying to make it so that Google and other search engines can understand the context of information a lot better.
“Make sure that your content is written in a way that can be read aloud, which I think is a general guidance anyway.”
This is just part of Mueller’s long and often speculative remarks on voice search. He touched on many things you can do towards voice search SEO. These points, combined with other advice we’ve uncovered, are summarised below.
Optimise content for mobile
Voice search is mainly used on the go. In addition, Google has announced it will gradually introduce the Mobile First Index this year.
Our tip: Use Google’s mobile-friendly test to check if your website is mobile responsive.
In addition to responsive design, you should consider the following:
- Load times: Your website should take no longer than 3 seconds to load all content. Check the load time of your website with Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool.
- Thumb-friendly: Many users use their smartphone with their thumbs or forefingers. For Buttons to be easily clickable, they should not be too small or too close together.
- Content above the fold: Make your content as clear, understandable and structured as possible. This is vital for the content ‘above the fold’ – the area visible without scrolling.
- Use structured data: Google’s software uses certain rules to understand a site and figure out what voice searches are appropriate for its pages. You can help this along by structuring your site to suit Google’s web crawling and indexing rules.
Our tip: Roll out structured data using Schema.org. This will allow you to enrich your content with more information and helps search engines understand which pages are responding to specific search queries.
Encourage featured snippets
Digital language assistants are software tools that answer queries using Google’s Knowledge Graph. Most of the time these questions are quite simple, for slightly more complicated questions Google often uses featured snippets. These are highlighted search results that contain a short, highly relevant piece of information taken out of a website. For a website to score a featured snippet is a fantastic SEO result.
Featured snippets come in different formats – text, lists, tables, even videos. Displayed above organic search results (i.e. position zero), they’re designed specifically for end-user devices that can only show a few search results – or even just one. And digital language assistants typically only return one result.
Our tip: Check which searches return featured snippets and try to give a better answer. Google may then select your answer for position zero. Featured snippets usually result from answering ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions – exactly the sort of content we mentioned above as suiting voice search SEO. Tools like KWFinder and Moz Keyword Explorer are great for finding suitable questions to answer.
Optimise content for local search
Local optimisation of voice search is essential. Therefore, provide the digital language assistant responding to queries with the most accurate, up-to-date, and complete local data you can. It’s also particularly important that your local data – such as address, telephone number and business name – are used as consistently as possible in every place they appear on the web. If your address is ‘123 Smith Street, Los Angeles’ in one listing, don’t write it as ‘123 Smith St, LA’ in another.
Our tip: Use business listings like Google My Business to help find your business in relevant locations for ‘Near Me’ searches and keep your entry up to date.
Recognise user intention
A large part of claiming top spot in voice search rankings is predicting the user’s questions as precisely as possible. As well as knowing what users will ask, you also have to know why they’re asking. In other words, you must predict their intentions: “Find an emergency dentist” might have a very different search intention from “Find a local dentist”.
If you understand the needs and motivations of users, you can build content that gives the most relevant and useful answers to their questions.
Our tip: Use Answer the Public to find out what users are asking about regarding specific search terms.
Use spoken language
If your content sounds as natural as possible, you also stand to do better in voice search SEO. In the Central Office-hours hangout mentioned above, John Mueller gave the general guidance that content should be written in a way that can be read aloud.
“Like the old school kind of keyword stuffing, if you read it out loud it doesn’t make that much sense it – sounds really unnatural. If you write in a clear kind of language that’s consistent across the type of queries you want to target, then that’s the type of information that we could pick up for voice search,” Mueller said.
The lesson is clear: adapt content to the language used in spoken searches and you’ll get the most natural sound possible.
Our tip: Ask your customer service team which specific questions are frequently asked. Create FAQ webpages from which you can answer the most important questions precisely. These also increase the chance of your content being displayed as a featured snippet.
Use long-tail keywords
Due to the longer search queries of spoken voice, you should optimise your content for the long tail. These niche keywords typically contain multiple linked terms or entire keyword phrases that are similar to verbal language. They also target a more specific audience than generic keywords.
How is the language of search evolving?
In the future, the emotional mood of the users will increasingly influence voice search results, at the same time the monetisation of voice search will increase. In addition, more and more content will be able to be indexed for voice search. Podcasts and news reports are the most immediate candidates.
In this context, Google has recently launched the Google Assistant Actions directory. This tool provides an overview of actions that are triggered by Google Assistant search commands that in turn help find content on specific websites. Site operators can view the Actions pages of their content, edit the information and make adjustments to improve its findability.
Early days and exciting times for voice search
The use of voice search is still in its infancy, however, it will continue to develop strongly in the coming years. The commercial promise is just too strong. Remember, users are pulling for voice search just as much as online platforms are pushing it. Now is the time to identify how best your site can get on board.
If you want a cheat sheet, here’s the easy first steps:
- Pursue featured snippets
- Answer questions your users ask as precisely as possible
- Make your site mobile responsive
- Get your local listings in order
- Create content that suits voice search.
The final word for now might be best left to Google’s John Mueller – after all, he will be a key player in making this all happen in the near term:
“This [voice search] is a topic that isn’t going to go away, but it’s also a topic where it’s still very early days. We don’t have a simple meta tag that you just put on your pages and everything works for a search,” Mueller said.
“There’s still a lot of work to be put in from our site, from the ecosystem in general and from users. What do they expect from search? How do they expect search to work on voice? All of that needs to be figured out.”