What does an increase in voice search mean for your SEO strategy?
The rapid uptake of voice search technology presents challenges to the effectiveness of traditional SEO strategy.
SEO experts must learn to optimize websites for conditions where search engines results have become obsolete, search behavior is driven by new sets of user imperatives, and question construction is undergoing fundamental change.
Voice search users may not physically interact with their devices.
Whether or not clicking on contextual links will remain a part of the search process is a question that remains to be answered. It is clear that successful optimization in a world dominated by voice search calls for some departures from traditional SEO tactics.
How did we get here?
Voice search has been shaking up the SEO world almost from the day Google Labs launched it in 2002. Google Voice Search first appeared as Voice Action, a service activated by calling in from a mobile device and responding to a recorded prompt by saying search keywords. An open webpage would then be updated with results for the query, or a link to a search engine results page (SERP) would be offered.
Voice Action drove advances in speech recognition technology that Google leveraged by integrating voice search into many different products, starting in 2008 with the BlackBerry Pearl version of Google Maps for mobile. Now voice search works with many different Google products and applications and is a core part of the Google experience. Voice Search was briefly challenged in 2011 by the iPhone 4S and Siri, and the successful counter-attack set in motion by Google is now in the process of changing the basic search user experience that underpins the SEO industry.
What is the future of voice search and SEO?
According to Alpine.Ai, voice searches have already reached an estimated one billion per month. Comscore predicts that 50% of all searches will soon be voice-driven. App-builders are already moving to provide AI-powered tools to voice-optimize the consumer experiences provided by brands or retailers. The goal is seamless search-to-purchase processes supported entirely by voice and voice+visual.
Such solid adoption rates for voice search combined with the release of the Google Home and Amazon Echo devices have intensified discussions around tuning SEO for voice search. Much remains to be seen, but one thing those in the SEO game need to understand is that the ultimate destination of voice search is foreshadowed now by the Google Home and Amazon Echo devices.
Finally, voice search will not be about users talking to their phone and then scrolling through a list of options. The door is opening on a world where SERPs play a diminishing role in the way people get their information and physical contact is an increasingly unnecessary feature of human-computer interaction.
As people become accustomed to getting voice answers to their search queries, they lose interest in getting lists of links to websites. Although listings and ranking management will still be important for a while, enhanced content and data optimization will grow in value as apps proliferate. Schema markup techniques are also increasingly critical for meeting the demands of voice-powered, single-result, screenless search. On a web dominated by voice search, there will still be a need for SEO along with ways and means to accomplish it, but change and adaptation are in the cards.
How can I adapt my SEO for voice search?
Even though voice search has been around for years, recent dramatic breakthroughs in form and function have essentially opened up a new frontier as far as SEO experts are concerned. Things are still in flux, but Google Home says a lot about where the game is headed. Here are a few quick-response strategies to put in place now:
Tune up your traditional SEO
Start optimizing for voice search by making sure standard SEO best practices are in place, then begin fine-tuning the way you structure websites and content. Try to respond as directly as possible to search user intent. Visualize the type of questions that people are going to be asking and make sure your site answers them accurately in a search-engine friendly way.
People use voice searches to get specific pieces of information: the location and hours of a business, the availability of a certain product or service, the price of something. Make sure your address, hours, and contact information are easily available to search engines in simple HTML, not hidden inside images or buried on your terms and conditions page. Then think about what you provide for customers and consider the typical questions that they ask. Be sure that site content answers those questions while making your unique selling proposition clear and offering the critical information that will help customers make an informed decision about using your business.
Related to this, be sure that your Google My Business listing and other social profiles are up to date. Make them as comprehensive as possible with any additional information you can think of to make the listing relevant and useful, particularly to the valuable “near me” voice searchers. Information about parking, high-quality images – anything that might persuade a user to choose your place instead of a competitor’s.
Really, much of working to account for voice search user intent is about the basics. If your SEO strategies are in place and up to date, your site should have most of these factors covered.
Target long tail keywords
Targeting long tail keywords is a useful strategy for responding to voice search-driven changes in query construction. When people use voice search, they query in a way that embodies the conversational nature of everyday language use. In general, this means they use longer and more varied phrases and questions than when making typed search queries.
As the name implies, long tail keywords are longer and more specific than typical search queries. They are often unique to one search. Long tail keywords are difficult to manage and predict, but they drive a lot of traffic and frequently produce better click-through rates than shorter, more competitive queries. Long tail keywords can also be much less competitive, making them easier to rank for.
One way to find long tail keywords is to use Long Tail Pro. Simply login, enter a keyword, click Volume to sort keywords so the ones with the highest volume of monthly searches appear first, then select the ones that are appropriate for the given page. Target words like ‘online sales’ for ecommerce pages, or questions like ‘how to’ for blog pages. This will set the content up to rank for a multitude of random word combinations in addition to the keywords you’re specifically targeting.
Keep up with changes in query style
Two major user phenomena were observed early in the rise of mobile search. For one thing, certain keywords were used more often in desktop searches, compared to mobile searches. In addition, new categories of queries arose as users realized that GPS and other features unique to mobile search supported queries that were useless in desktop search.
For an example of the first case, mobile queries for “store hours” peak on Christmas Day and other times when shoppers are known to be moving among stores. The second effect is exemplified by the dramatic growth of “near me” queries that are mostly used on smartphones. Clearly, search behavior changes as users learn which types of queries work best on a particular platform.
Extending this understanding, we can now see that devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo are likely to drive the emergence of further new forms of search query construction. Indeed, it has already been observed that virtual assistants are training people to voice search by interacting in a conversational style with their search devices. This contrasts with a more concise truncated style often used for typed queries. Be aware that such change is taking place and modify your keyword search and acquisition strategies to take it into account.
Focus on Featured Snippets
Featured snippets are promoted organic search results that appear in what Dr. Peter J. Meyers refers to as position #0. This is an important SERP position, even above the #1 organic ranking. Featured snippets contain a display title, an answer to the search query, and a URL. They can also include an image, bulleted lists, and simple tables.
Anyone who has used Google should be familiar with featured snippets. They are presumed to have been rolled out by Google as part of a long-term shift to filling the need for search results optimized for display on mobile devices and use as voice search answers to be read back by search assistants.
Dr. Meyers notes that optimizing for featured snippets is key to optimizing for voice search. While it is still unclear how voice answers might translate to source site click-throughs, achieving featured snippet status also positions a site well in desktop and mobile search. If you can score #0, your site will always get listed twice on page 1. And even though a featured snippet hands the search user desired information from the source site, evidence suggests that ranking #0 in a snippet boosts click-through rates.
Two factors are necessary to get into a featured snippet: Organic ranking on SERP page one and content that targets the search query. A #1 ranking is not required, but it is helpful. Research suggests that position #0 is about relevance rather than ranking/authority. If you already rank at #2-5, moving to #0 may be easier than getting to #1. Focus on content, making sure your page header targets the query, then immediately opening with a clear, concise answer to the question. Continue down the page with more detailed coverage in an overall structure that journalists refer to as the inverted pyramid.
Being able to predict potential questions then provide answers in your content is key to getting a featured snippet. Without going into too much detail here, focus on questions that Google can’t answer by pulling simple factoids from the Google Knowledge Graph. Formulate What, Why, and How questions that call for some in-depth explanation. This will play into the way Google parses and puts together information to build the Snippets.
Do I need to consider Bing and other search engines when doing voice search SEO?
The most efficient strategy is to optimize your site for Google. Although iPhone’s Siri voice search relies on Bing as the default search engine, Android phones are still the most common smartphones in the US market. Optimizing for Bing is essentially tying your SEO strategy to the popularity of one type of mobile device that only has about 35% of US market share.
Remember that the overarching advice for effective SEO is to maintain high quality and relevance of content as the primary objectives. Trying to keep up with the specific and mostly secret machinations of a wide range of different search engines is probably a waste of time; you’re best focusing on Google and prioritizing creating engaging content and high quality links.
Roll with the changes.
In SEO, as with technology in general, change is a feature, not a bug. It’s not like keeping up with the Google search engine over the past decade or so has been a study in stability. Voice search will present some new twists, but heads-up, proactive SEO strategists will spot fresh opportunities as well. Stay in touch with what’s happening in terms of the technology and the way users interact with it. More importantly, work on understanding what your customers will be looking for and asking about. Know how they use voice search to get what they want and you will know how to use SEO to get what you need.
About the Author
Martin Woods is the co-director of Indigoextra Ltd, a multilingual SEO company who specialize in helping clients expand their business in Europe through keyword research, creative content writing and multilingual link building from high authority sites.
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