How to Optimize for Voice Search

by Posted @ Jun 17 2020

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Voice search has changed a lot since Apple released Siri in 2011. Back then, Siri was more or less a fun novelty for Mac and iOS users, but now voice search has become a significant part of the search economy. Consumers are increasingly using virtual assistants and voice search in their daily lives as artificial intelligence technology has become the norm. Get your content ready to take advantage of voice search by implementing these strategies!

What is Voice SEO?

Voice SEO is voice-based search engine optimization designed to answer questions in natural human speech, instead of manually-typed queries. Voice search is typically powered by virtual assistants. There are four main voice assistants currently on the market:

  1. Google Assistant from Google
  2. Alexa from Amazon
  3. Siri from Apple
  4. Cortana from Microsoft

Apple’s Siri previously used Microsoft’s Bing for voice searches but it recently switched to being powered by Google. However, the popular voice assistant Alexa from Amazon still uses Bing to answer users’ questions.

How Many Searches Are From Voice?

According to Statista, 31% of US households own smart speakers with virtual assistants. Furthermore, a recent study from Adobe estimates that 48% of users use voice for “general web searches.” This makes sense considering that virtual assistants are now natively integrated with nearly all personal devices, such as smartphones, computers, and tablets.

Currently, about 44% of users use voice search technology every day. These numbers are expected to grow as natural language processing (NLP) technology continues to improve and users become more comfortable interacting with artificial intelligence (AI).

Frequency of Use, Voice Technology Devices - Adobe Voice Technology Study, July 2019

Source: Adobe Voice Technology Study, July 2019 (n=1,000)

Strategies for Optimizing Content for Voice Search

1. Write the Way You Speak

That’s right. Think about answering your question from a user experience (UX) perspective and try to write your content as you would if you were speaking to the user face-to-face. This helps make your content flow as though you were having a meaningful dialogue or conversation with your users in response to their questions.

Furthermore, readability makes your content easier to understand, especially when read out loud by a virtual assistant. A good rule of thumb for readability is to write at a high school or middle school reading level. These parameters translate to the lowest estimated level of standard education needed to understand your writing; they don’t necessarily mean that this demographic is your target audience. A handy tool to help make sure you’re on the right track is the Hemingway App, which can help make your content more accessible to your readers.

2. Answer Questions Succinctly

Short and to the point is the key here. Try answering questions in about 40-50 words maximum.

Formatting your content to answer questions quickly and efficiently also optimizes it for Featured Snippets. Virtual assistants frequently read answers from rich search results like Featured Snippets and Knowledge Panels, since they tend to answer questions briefly.

Optimizing content for informational search intent by using “definitive” phrasing and keywords (for example, using defining “to be” statements, like “Siri is a virtual assistant from Apple Inc.” instead of “‘Virtual Assistants’ can also refer to remotely employed administrative aides”) can help position your content to more directly answer users’ questions. Also, make sure your content is well-structured with semantic HTML and Schema mark-up (JSON-LD) to help search engines understand your page better. This can help reinforce the core content of the target page by providing search engines with supporting contextual signals.

3. Target Long-Tail Queries

We can get a good idea of how users might phrase their voice searches by looking at longer-tailed queries. These typically include inquisitive phrases like “what”, “why”, “which”, and “how” for introducing questions. AnswerThePublic is a great tool for brainstorming questions to answer in your content.

AlsoAsked.com is another free tool you can use to “reverse-engineer” user search intent by visually graphing Google’s “People Also Asked” questions into a hierarchy of related searches from other users. This helps us make sure that we are answering real questions that users are actually searching for.

4. Optimize for Local SEO

Voice search is frequently geographically targeted. For example, users commonly use voice search on their smart devices to ask for local directions or recommendations. Try using phrases like “near” or “in” when optimizing your content for local search.

Potential Uses of Voice Technology - Adobe Voice Technology Study, July 2019

Source: Adobe Voice Technology Study, July 2019 (n=1,000)

5. Improve Page Speed

Page load times are officially a ranking factor for Google’s mobile-first index. This means that it’s important for pages to load quickly in order for voice search engines to parse the information on-page more efficiently, so they can answer users’ questions faster.

For example, defer pesky render-blocking resources by inlining critical JS and CSS, and then minifying and loading the rest after the core HTML content is rendered in the DOM. Also, try compressing, lazy-loading, and serving images in next-gen formats (like WebP) with descriptive alt texts that are easy for search engines to understand and read to users.

Key Takeaways

Voice search is the future and continues to grow in popularity. This means that digital marketers and content creators need to adapt to the changing search landscape in order to stay ahead of the curve. By following these five simple steps, you’ll already be well on your way to staying top-of-mind and on the tip of the tongue (pun intended) of your target audience.

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