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It’s Time to Optimize for Voice Search

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Why You Need to Optimize Your Website for Voice Search and How to Make it Happen.

“Ok, Google, how can I optimize my website for voice search?”

As of 2019, there are more than 33 million voice-first smart devices in use. They are everywhere now–inside vehicles, homes, and our pockets.

More than ever, voice search is being used to answer common questions or fulfill basic needs. Smart home devices like Google Home or the Amazon Alexa are hugely popular and can perform seemingly any task you ask of them. Want to know Samuel L. Jackson’s latest movie role? Need to reorder pet food? Research a medical condition? Perhaps purchase new furniture or even a new car?

The booming popularity of smart devices in recent years has led to about 20% of all Google queries originating from voice search–and that number is expected to grow to nearly 50% before 2021.

From those numbers, it’s clear that optimizing your website for voice search is a smart idea from a user experience standpoint. But what other benefits might you observe from voice search optimization?

  • Higher search ranking. With the growing importance of voice search, all major search engines are emphasizing voice search-optimized websites, which means your website will be ranked higher for all searches.
  • Increased organic website traffic. With a higher search ranking comes elevated organic traffic…and with elevated organic traffic comes a greater chance of attracting, and thus engaging with new customers.  
  • Growth of conversions and sales. Voice commerce makes shopping quick and easy; consumers can literally make purchases with the sound of their voice from anywhere.
  • Improved user experience. Voice search optimization provides 52% faster query results and increased productivity for users, which means your website experience will be meeting the expectations of today’s savvy customer.

How Exactly Did Google Voice Search Originate?

Highly-reliable voice recognition was not born overnight. It started as a concept at the turn of the century–applying speech recognition to a few software applications to generate transcripts and automate user functions. However, it was far from trustworthy.

Around 2010, Google Voice Search blossomed into a hybrid proof-of-concept that required a phone call and still resulted in rendering a link to view a standard Google Search page.

Semantic implication (which refers to the ability for a search engine to understand the implied meaning of a query) and the user experience still needed quite a bit of work.

In 2014, Google released a critical search algorithm update that improved semantic implication by leaps and bounds.

With the use of its innovative machine-learning system, Google Search semantic interpretation will only continue to enhance with time. As we approach the end of this decade, we are seeing that voice recognition has evolved into a highly compatible, extremely accurate voice recognition tool, that can be integrated into hundreds, if not thousands of devices and applications.

Image source: https://www.stonetemple.com/voice-usage-trends/

Making Voice Search Work: Optimization Strategies

Voice Commerce

To optimize for voice search, we have to consider the questions people will ask and how they will ask them. Think about the informal tone of general conversation. Voice search needs to recognize and respond to the way people speak and the primary functions they are trying to accomplish.

Voice commerce is one of the biggest benefactors of voice search. Consumers typically want to:

  • Reorder a household product
  • Purchase a new product
  • Gather information to plan a purchase
  • Locate and purchase tickets
  • Ask a specific question about a specific product
  • Purchase and play music
  • Order groceries

By expanding our content into detailed categories, tags, and product features, we can allow consumers to get granular details about individual products and services, and therefore make a highly-informed purchase. This user experience is ideal for intuitive usability and best leverages consumer impulsivity–what easier way to facilitate a purchase than to locate the exact products consumers want and allow them to purchase simply by saying the words?

Content Search

Semantic search improvement has great implications for locating content and answering general questions. Not only are voice search engines better at understanding queries, but they are also starting to be able to find similarities between recent queries to infer additional details about user intent

The good news is that if you are already using best-practices in search engine optimization, or SEO, you might not have a ton of extra work to do to optimize content for voice search. At worst, you might want to create some additional highly-targeted pages, optimize some titles and metadata, and move important information such as addresses and phone numbers from images to text copy.

Answer the Questions People are Most Likely to Ask

Consider searching for information about a male professional athlete. A user might want to know a bit about the athlete’s biography, perhaps which teams he played for. They then might be curious about his salary or action graphics. Finally, the user might decide to buy a sports card, statue, or other memorabilia for that athlete.

Semantic voice search allows the user to drill down into all of those details simply by stating the athlete’s name once, then using interpretive reasoning with simple cascading queries rather than using full repetitive sentences.

To optimize for these search workflows, we need to structure our copy to match user question structures. In the example below, it is only necessary for the user to state Tom Brady’s name one time. After that, semantic voice search determines the following queries also relate to Tom Brady.

“Alexa, who is Tom Brady?”

“Alexa, which teams did he play for?”

“Alexa, find me some football cards”

Using FAQ-style to Answer Conversational Questions

A great example of a long tail key phrase in conversational search optimization is the standard FAQ. Answer questions about your product by optimizing for the question, providing an answer, and following up with a few potentially related questions.

A recent study on voice search ranking factors concludes that voice-first devices tend to answer queries with an average of 29 words, and that when applicable, those short answers are also displayed at the top of text-based search results pages to answer the question directly rather than forcing users to sort through the “top 10 best results”. This result further shows that the FAQ format is perfect for providing brief answers to conversational questions.

Search engineers have also recently noticed the difference between the query structure of text-based search queries and voice-based search queries. Consider a user looking for recipes. Years ago the user might have typed the following search into a browser:

“pulled pork recipes”

When using voice search, the user is now able to simply ask,

“How do I make barbeque pulled pork in a crock pot?”

By optimizing for these longer, conversational questions, you are more likely to become the authority result for this and similar questions, which also improves your ranking for text-based search results.

Therefore, by optimizing for all of these long tail key phrases within a centralized hub (your website), voice search engines are more likely to trust you as a  resource and establish your website as an authority on the topic.

As a result, you will get more traffic from voice search and contextual search, ultimately increasing organic traffic and conversions.

Use Local Search to Bring Users to your Location

Roughly 97% of all consumers have used, and likely regularly use, voice search to find local businesses. To optimize for these consumers, you want to get listed on search engine maps and on the local results portion of standard search engine results pages. The first two steps in optimizing for local search are:

  1. Getting your business listed in Google Business
  2. Getting your business details listed on your website. These could include:
    1. Business Name
    2. Address
    3. Hours of Operation
    4. Phone Number

Don’t forget to wrap your business details in schema mark-up for easier parsing by search robots. Schema mark-up is an oft-neglected SEO tool, which should be used to identify specific details about your business using an HTML syntax standard specifically designed to do so. You want to be clear and structured in the way you present your business information so the search engines know exactly who you are, where you are, and what you do.

To further bolster your local search visibility, you might want to invest a few dollars into Google Adwords, where you can use the Adwords Locations and Google Maps local search ads to appear above the organic results in both Google Search and Google Maps. This action requires a small marketing budget but could pay off great dividends depending on the product or service.

OK, Google, How Do I Summarize Voice Search Optimization?

When optimizing for voice search, answer conversational questions with short, direct answers; embed long-tail key phrases in your content, and make your business easy for search engines to locate.

An SEO review of your website is the first step to determining if voice search is right for you. Contact us today to get started!