Less Typing, More Talking: How Voice Search Is Impacting SEO

If you have the Google app on your Android phone or tablet, you have probably seen the app prompt you to “Try saying: OK Google”. Once you speak the words to your Android device, you would see a message asking you to tell Google what to do on your display.

 

Try saying: OK Google

 

More often though, your Google app may have asked you to “Speak now” with a microphone icon displaying on the top right corner of your screen.

 

Google app

 

Welcome to Voice Search, the technology that allows you to utilize Google Search by speaking to your mobile phone, tablet, computer or smart speakers like the Google Home.

 

Voice Search

 

The voice search app listens to what you say, figures out the meaning by linking speech recognition methods to its complex natural language processing systems, then provides results that best match what you asked in one or more forms depending on your device settings.

There are many voice search apps from different tech companies. They all work in similar ways, with slight variations. Google Assistant is apparently the most ubiquitous of all the voice search apps. It is available for use on multiple devices including iPhones and Windows OS, but is most popular on Android phones.

Apple has its own virtual personal assistant, Siri, which is in direct competition with the Google Assistant. This is probably the reason why you cannot wake your iPhone by saying “OK Google” to the Assistant.

Microsoft has Cortana, the company’s proprietary virtual assistant that is useful on Windows computers and phones. And Amazon has Alexa that people use on both Android and iOS devices.

 

Statistics: Users increasingly prefer talk to text in searching the internet

 

 

Voice Search on iwatch
Voice search on iwatch

 

People are increasingly turning to voice search to look for information on the internet. Apparently, most people find it easier to talk than text. Searching by voice is convenient, quick, and you can do it on the go.

More interestingly, voice queries take the form of a two-way conversation. A searcher can talk to the app and get answers instantaneously in a conversational fashion. This approach makes it far easier to complete tasks without as much as lifting a finger.

The voice search technology behind services like Google, Siri and Cortana has been on a constant growth trajectory for years now. Judging by all indications, this upward trend is only likely to continue.

Initially, users were hardly thrilled with voice search. A 2013 survey actually indicated that 85 percent of iOS users did not use Siri. Fast forward to 2017, and Siri is the most popular intelligent assistant, as Google dominates the Android world.

 

Optimize for voice search or be weeded out: SEOs

It is no longer deniable that voice search is taking internet search by storm. As early as December 2015, 40 percent of people with smartphones had started using voice search service on personal assistants within a period of just six months according to MindMeld survey.

With increasingly better user experience on personal assistants, the adoption has increased and continues to rise exponentially.

 

Google Voice Search Queries
Source: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Venture Capital at KPCB

 

The introduction of new devices like Google Home and Alexa that integrate voice search in people’s everyday lives also means that voice search is becoming mainstream. What does this mean to search SEOs?

It is critical to optimize their businesses for voice search while implementing search engine optimization, that’s what.

 

The “HOW” of voice search engine optimization

How can SEO experts make their sites and webpages more visible to voice search? The secret is to understand how voice search works, then optimize your webpages with these workings in mind. Let’s break it down.

 

1. Add natural language to your site’s content

People use direct questions when searching by speech. This is different from texting. Adapting a conversational, human language in your content will increase your chances of responding to people’s voice search queries.

 

 

Ideally you should put yourself in your typical searcher’s shoes. Think about what they may want to know and how they’d ask about it, then write content replete with phrases that they would naturally use. You are optimizing for people, not search engine bots. The days of exact-match keywords are long gone.

2013’s Google Hummingbird update meant that you no longer need to focus your SEO contents around a particular set of largely disjointed keywords. Instead of considering the text or individual keywords, search engines now look at the meaning of a phrase. This is why it is best to use a longer sequence of words that make up coherent phrases that people would naturally use in search.

As an example, you don’t expect people to say “Italian restaurants Montreal, QC”. Instead, people are likely to say something like, “OK Google, which Italian restaurants are in Montreal, Canada?”.

It is important to re-think your content with the customer’s conversational speech in mind. You may want to include filler words to help make your phrases sound natural. This is how you increase your chances of appearing in search results for voice search queries.

 

2. Include a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section as part of your content

One major way to add natural language to your website is by creating a section for questions and answers, or Q&A pages.

The beauty of this section is, you can easily include the phrases and words that people actually speak during their voice searches verbatim. This place you far ahead of the curve with regards to voice search friendliness. You can enrich your Q&A sections with relevant keyword phrases and keep them very conversational in tone for better results.

The questions and responses are likely to resonate more with people who perform voice searches. It takes getting inside the searcher’s head to succeed in creating the right questions and providing the best answers. Your answers should be direct and succinct, and directly addressing the searcher’s questions.

One way to make this happen is with the help of tools like QnA Maker by Microsoft, or FAQFox. The tool allows you to enter keyword phrase (or keyword) and select a category, then finds for you a collection of full questions that your target audiences have asked at different places on the internet.

With that information, you can easily locate and delete the questions that are irrelevant to your purpose. If you like, you may use the exact questions from the QnA or FAQ tool in your Q&A pages or articles.

Alternatively, you can visit popular forums in your area and identify popular questions there. Whichever method or number of methods you use, incorporating questions from these tools in your content increases your chances being more visible to voice search.

 

3. Use long-tail keywords

Because voice search queries are more conversational in nature, they are also usually longer than the normal text keyword search queries. A surge in search by voice means that we are likely to see more of the longer keyword phrases and increasingly less short-tail keywords.

From an SEO standpoint, short-tail keywords are quickly becoming less useful as far as attracting traffic from voice searches is concerned. It’s time to make a shift and embrace long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords are conversational, more complete phrases that resemble the natural speech patterns of voice searchers. Building your work around these complete keyword phrases will contribute to making your content appear natural and boost your SEO.

Suppose you’re selling hamburgers, the short keyword “burgers” will hardly help you capture voice search traffic. Using a keyword phrase like “meat burgers in Berlin” however is more likely to reflect what your prospective customers are looking for.

Additionally, this long-tail keyword carries a stronger intent, another important element of SEO. It helps you better capture people who indicate that intent in their voice searches.

 

4. Claim your business and update its information

Majority of voice searches are local in nature. The 2016 KCPB Internet Trends Report indicates that approximately 22 percent of users search for local information and content using voice.

 

Hound Voice Search & Assistant App
Source: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Venture Capital at KPCB

Because of this local nature of voice searches, businesses with up-to-date listings on Google My Business and other major business directories have higher chances of showing up on relevant voice searches. You may be leaving a huge amount of traffic untapped if you haven’t claimed your free Google My Business listing.

Claiming your Google My Business listing and updating the information are a major part of local SEO. It helps Google to discover more information about your business, and be able to send appropriate search traffic your way.

Your optimized listing should tell the tech giant about your business category, store location or physical address, business hours, phone or contact number, and more.

It is critical that you be extremely specific when picking your business category while claiming your Google My Business listing or setting up Bing Places for Business. This detail can increase your chances of appearing on voice searches targeted to your local niche.

Additionally, Google search is intelligent and can identify a person’s physical location when they use vague search queries like “near me” or “here”.

Suppose you live in New-York and travel to Los Angeles, when you search for a restaurant; your phone is likely to anticipate your current location even if you don’t specify it. As such, it will show you the search results for restaurants nearby, as opposed to those in your home town.

This intelligent search metric underscores the need to make sure you claim your business and optimize it for local search – with accurate name, address and phone number (NAP) information.

 

5. Optimize your business website’s microdata

Since most voice searches are local, you can expect searchers to be interested in directions to your business or where your stores are located. It is important therefore to ensure that details like XML Sitemaps and physical address or store location data are readable to both search engines and site visitors.

Other than your Google My Business or Bing Places for Business, your business’ information should be accurate in other online business directories, or citation websites as well. You don’t want to mislead users, it may lead to significant loss of business.

Search engines can also punish your business if it has fragmented and misleading information in various business directories even if the information on your website is accurate.

Search engines will use the information on both your site and citation sites to pull up your business in voice search results. If the two are different, the bots will not know which address is the correct one.

 

6. Optimize your site for mobile

Nearly 60 percent of internet searches occur from mobile devices today. This way, you can be sure that majority of your target customers are discovering your business through their mobile phones.

The emergence of voice search is making the mobile even more popular and important. Most voice searches happen on-the-go, when people are driving, riding or doing other things altogether – via smartphones.

Added to Google’s mobile first policy, it is more important than ever to optimize your content for mobile devices so that it can appear higher on voice search rankings.

To ensure that your content is optimized for mobile, take Google’s mobile-friendly test and see how your webpage appears on mobile devices. This lets you know whether or not your content will rank in mobile search.

 

7. Ensure your content has schema markup

Schema markup is a HTML add-on that helps search engines with understanding the context of your site’s content. Though this structured data vocabulary is not an official ranking factor, it helps your business to rank better in Google’s normal searches nonetheless.

Structured data makes your content more relevant in specific voice search queries, and this contributes to your overall ranking.

With its semantic search, Google is much interested in understanding searcher’s intent to provide them with accurate results. Providing your context with schema markup is one way to ensure your content is in synch with Google’s semantic search.

In another article we covered how to add schema markup for local SEO website.

Last words

Younger generations are excited about voice search than anyone else. Since they are the markets of tomorrow, it is inevitable that voice search will dominate future searches. SEOs must embrace this change and prepare for it by making it inherent in their search engine optimization going forward.