“What is the name of the actor who plays Harry Potter?
“How can I make the perfect sponge cake?”
“What is the best Indian restaurant near me?”
Sound familiar? Voice search is becoming the go-to way to find information on search engines, made infinitely more prevalent with the introduction of Amazon Alexa and Google Home, joining the already successful Siri from Apple and Microsoft’s Cortana. Moreover, mobile users are utilising voice search when on the go, looking for simple answers to perceivably simple questions. But are they that simple? And can you optimise your website’s content to be recognised for voice search?
No Longer a Novelty
When Siri first hit the market as the iPhone’s voice assistant, it was fun. The novelty of being able to talk to AI and get an answer – however obscure – to your question was a novelty that many thought was heralding the start of fully integrated artificial intelligence. However, Siri struggled to understand some of what she was asked, and when she did return results they were often not quite what we had in mind.
Nowadays, virtual assistants and voice-controlled speakers are returning much more accurate results. In fact, Google is the most accurate at 84% and the rest are catching up too. Whilst it may have started as a novelty, it is continuing as an imperative tool for consumers. A summary of info from Location World shows that 40% of adults use voice search at least once a day and those uses vary, from finding information to streaming music.
The use of voice search is also multi-generational, with almost all age brackets utilising it in some form. With these hugely varied demographics, there is great potential for increased visibility by optimising content for voice search.
How to Get Started
First, you need to look at the statistics and work out where you can bridge the gap and bring your users content they are actually looking for. From devices to location, the way in which your demographic uses voice search can help to dictate which content to optimise.
Google and Amazon are the alpha and omega of in-house voice search, with their smart speakers (Google Home and Amazon Echo respectively) accounting for a massive 94% of the market. For mobile, it’s Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistants that are the go-tos.
One element to consider when you optimise is that each of these platforms uses a different methodology when finding answers to voice search queries. For example, Google delivers results based on answer boxes and featured snippets, whereas Cortana is more likely to offer location-based responses. This is why voice search SEO needs to be broad and versatile to be compatible with the range of devices and platforms being used.
There are numerous reasons why your customers may prefer using their voice to search over their fingertips, and most are down to ease and convenience. We can speak 150 words per minute on average, whereas the great majority can type just 40, so many consider it a quicker way of finding information.
So, what do you need to think about before you start optimising?
Voice searches are conversational
Traditional search, conducted with screens and keyboards, is structured very differently from voice search. Searches on desktop are usually between 1-3 words and are often not full sentences. But, with voice, searches are full sentences made with prepositions. We ask questions in a conversational style, often more colloquially that we would when we type.
Therefore, your website should be optimised for this kind of query – meaning looking at longtail keywords starting with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘how’. We’ll delve deeper into keywords later on.
Think locally for mobile voice search
Mobile phones and tablets have revolutionised web design and SEO, with responsiveness being a all-or-nothing element for most businesses. In fact, according to research from Global Web Index 1 in 5 adults have used voice search on their mobile in the past month. Moreover, people are 3x more likely to use voice search for location-based queries (“…near me”, or “… in [my town]”).
Your consumer wants immediate answers
Your consumer wants answers, and they want them fast! If they had time to visit your website and discover all your beautifully-curated, helpful content, they would. They want to get the most relevant answer to their query and the best way to be the source through which they get this answer is to appear as a Google Featured Snippet – more on that later too!
Methods for Optimising Your Content for Voice
There are a few techniques that can be implemented for better voice SEO, let’s take a look:
Update your Google Business listing
To make the most of consumers’ prevalence for location-based searches on mobile, you should claim and update your Google Business listing. You can provide Google with lots of details of your business, such as opening hours, contact information, address and email, which is then saved on its servers to deliver on SERPs (search engine results pages).
Local businesses are able to get a free business listing with Google My Business and can dictate a range of information that can correlate with search terms, thereby increasing your chances of being at the top of a voice search.
Use structured data (Schema.org)
Structured data is a way of telling search engines more about your website, by marking up certain bits of information within the code. For example, if you run a cooking website that often shares recipes, you can tell Google which bits of the copy are ingredients. Then, when a user uses their voice to search: “What is a great lemon cake recipe?”, your content is recognised as a recipe and delivered as such.
You can mark up almost anything – contact information, reviews, on-site video content, blogs, FAQs, and more. But, what does this actually mean? Well, essentially it helps to increase your chances of becoming the fabled rich snippet. If you can help Google define what the actual content of your website is, then it is more likely to be delivered as a relevant response to a voice query.
However, there is some debate as to whether it is worth using structured data. Statistics suggest that there are not that many websites featuring Schema that take precedence over those that don’t. 31.3% of voice search results do not feature Schema mark ups, and 36.4% do. So, even though it may not be a direct influence on voice search results, it is still a solid SEO technique that will improve your chances of being a rich snippet, becoming immediately visible for screen users.
Focus on longtail keywords
As we mentioned earlier, people tend to ask full questions when using voice search. Loaded with preposition, you should look to optimise longtail keywords that are specifically geared towards the whos, whats and whys.
Prioritising longtail keywords will underpin the natural way in which people speak and make requests. The AI behind voice assistants utilises a type of computational technique called natural language processing (NLP). It works by analysing and recognising speech, which is then converted into a programming language, statistically determining what words were said. After this, POS (part-of-speech) tagging works out which words were verbs, nouns, adjectives and the like. The final stage is converting this answer into an audible response for the user.
This technology is helping voice assistants understand the semantics behind a query, helping them return the right answer. Having said that, voice assistants aren’t perfect and often misunderstand certain requests. But, as is the nature of AI, they will hopefully learn from their mistakes.
Use a good old-fashioned FAQ!
Google prides simple question/answer content for voice search, looking for short, concise responses. The average answer to a voice search is about 29 words long, which means you would need to make your answer snippet as short as possible, whilst still answering the query effectively.
A great way to provide these simple question/answer snippets without reducing your quality long-form content is the good old-fashioned FAQ. Frequently asked question sections can be optimised for search engines anyway, but with Google prioritising this format, you can make the most of your FAQ and enhance your chances of reaching position zero as a rich snippet.
Also, be mindful about the style and layout of your content. For example, content displayed in tables will not be easily read by Google, so following accessibility best practices will help significantly.