Voice search is a hot button topic in marketing circles at the moment. As more and more of us welcome voice operated technology into our lives, marketers are noticing an understandable knock-on effect on how we search the web. And anything that affects search behaviour naturally affects search engine optimisation (SEO).
When SEO best practices change, it can be a minefield for anyone who relies on being found online. But should business owners and marketers be worried about the rise of voice-enabled devices? Or is it just a case of incorporating a few new practices into the mix?
What is Voice Search?
Voice search is the practice of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) speech recognition technology in order to search the web; speaking your query out loud rather than typing it into a search engine. In response, the most apt search result is read out to you rather than presenting a list of results to choose from.
Though voice search capabilities are included in most smart phones, tablets, and PCs, voice operated assistants like Google Home, Siri, or Amazon Echo are most synonymous with the current trend; in fact, 72% of people who own a voice operated device use it as a part of their daily routine.
How is Voice Search Changing SEO?
Voice search is causing a lot of discussion in marketing and SEO circles because of how it’s fundamentally changing the search optimisation landscape. Voice-enabled search is incredibly convenient for many users because they receive a single, succinct answer – they don’t have to trawl through pages of results.
But for those whose livelihoods rely on maintaining their search ranking, voice search is particularly concerning. Vying for a single top-spot makes SEO appear so much more competitive.
Though older, more established SEO practices are still essential, voice search brings new practices and considerations into the mix. Agencies and business owners now have even more search optimisation “plates to keep spinning” at any one time.
A Balanced View on Voice Optimisation
If the online buzz tells us anything, it’s that marketers are eager to rise to the challenges that voice technology presents. After all, it provides a new and exciting way of engaging with audiences.
And though voice search is a valuable trend to keep on your radar, text search isn’t going anywhere. It’s highly unlikely that 100% of people will use voice functions 100% of the time. People will still use text search to find content quietly on their commute, in the office, and when relaxing at home.
With this in mind, more “traditional” SEO practices are still totally applicable. Businesses still need to keep an eye on their websites’ loading speed, mobile responsiveness, backlinks, domain authority, and many other key factors in order to rank. These practices aren’t being abandoned in favour of voice search, we just have a few extra things to bear in mind.
With any new SEO development, it’s important to take a measured approach. You aren’t going to be able to optimise your whole website for voice search – only areas that lend themselves to the “question and answer” nature of the new technology. Blog posts, FAQ pages, and content about specific products or services are all great places to start your voice optimisation efforts.
How to Prepare Yourself for Voice Search
Here are 5 easy steps to help increase your chances of being quoted by the likes of Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri, or Cortana.
1. Familiarise Yourself with How it Works
If you have limited experience with voice operated tech, get into the habit of using it more in your day-to-day life. Make a point of asking a variety of queries so you become accustomed with the scope of questions that can be asked and the kinds of responses you receive in return.
The aim here is to give yourself a first-hand picture of the benefits and limitations of voice operated devices. Consider your own content and specialisms here – are there any topics that could lend themselves well to the “call and response” format of voice operated devices?
2. Focus on Long-Tail Keywords
In marketing, the best decisions are always backed up with data. Take a look at your website’s Google Analytics or Google Search Console and establish which search terms are being used to find your website currently. Are there any questions being asked – either directly or implicitly? What sort of intent do each of these queries seem to have? Are they looking for a quick answer or something more in-depth?
Next, we need data from the web at large. Use keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, and Answer the Public to identify in-demand search queries within your niche. Answer the Public is particularly useful here as it provides search data specifically about questions that contain your keywords of choice.
3. Optimise for Questions and Answers
Featured snippets are select results that appear prominently in Google search on both mobile and desktop. Google’s algorithm picks out a single result that it feels answers your query most succinctly.
Because featured snippets appear above all other search results, it’s quite a coveted position. It also has a part to play in voice search too – SEO experts Backlinko found that 40.7% of all Google Home voice results were taken from featured snippets. This tells us that appearing in the featured snippet slot isn’t a guarantee that your answer is going to be selected by any given voice-enabled assistant, but it does help your chances somewhat.
So how do you maximise your chances of appearing in featured snippets for relevant questions? It can be as simple as reframing your content around questions and answers. This may not be appropriate for all of your online content, but be mindful of voice-enabled devices when you’re putting written content together.
When you rework your content in this way, use appropriate on-page formatting: format your question as an HTML header tag (<h2>, <h3>, </h3>, <h4>, etc.) and your answer as regular body text placed directly afterwards.
If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider publishing an FAQ page on your website to maximise your “question and answer” potential.
4. Write Conversationally
Voice operated tech is designed around how we talk naturally, including our inclination to frame commands as full sentences. For example, rather than saying “OK Google, gazelle max speed”, we’re more likely to say “OK Google, what is the maximum speed of an adult gazelle?”.
Be mindful of this conversational tone when putting your questions together. Consider how you could ask the question a way that sounds natural, yet includes any relevant keywords.
Answers also need to be written in a natural, conversational tone that uses keywords sparingly, but the main concern is keeping them concise. SEMRush report that featured snippet length is usually around 40-50 words, so you either need to completely answer the question in this space or give just enough information to get the searcher wanting more.
As well as keeping things brief, you also have to keep them easy to follow. It’s advised to keep your text simple enough that an average 14-15 year old could comfortably understand.
5. Ongoing Maintenance
As with any SEO activity, optimising for voice isn’t a “set it and forget it” endeavour. You need to keep an eye on how your keywords change over time, new questions you’re able to answer, and indeed how the voice optimisation trend itself progresses. So schedule time to repeat these steps every couple of months alongside your other search optimisation activities.
Are you currently optimising for voice search? What other SEO activities are you prioritising? What is your opinion of “voice assistant” devices as a whole? Please let us know down in the comments.