Siri, Alexa, Amazon Echo, Google Home – How Voice Search Has Redefined SEO
Voice search SEO is one of the emerging trends of 2018
Siri, Alexa, Amazon Echo, Cortana, and Google Home are just some of the few entities powered by voice commands. Besides their ability to assist users with a variety of tasks, their ability to search the Internet to find information is a tremendous window of opportunity for marketers.
Voice Search goes beyond Google and is one of the biggest trends that will shape SEO in the following years, as users rely more “on vocal commands and personal digital assistants to handle their search queries.”
Here are some statistics relevant to the dissertation why SEO for voice search will become necessary in the following months.
- There will be 21.4 million smart speakers in the US by 2020 (Activate, 2017)
- And worldwide, there will be over 1 billion voice assistant enabled devices by the end of 2018 (Alpine.ai)
- There are over 1 billion voice searches per month (Alpine.ai, 2018)
- One if five searches on mobile is voice search. (KPCB, 2017)
- 50% of searches will be voice-based by 2020 (ComScore)
- 30% of searches will be done without a screen by 2020 and voice interactions will eventually overtake typing a search query. (Gartner, 2016).
- Last, but not least, the voice shopping market is expected to grow from $2 billion today to $40 billion by 2022 (Alpine.ai)
The statistics lead to an obvious conclusion: it may be in its infancy, but voice search is here to stay, and it will grow faster than we imagine.
How do you optimize without data from Google?
Usually, to optimize sites for search engines, we rely on Google’s best practices guidelines. But when it comes to voice search, there is no SEO guide, and Google is still gathering feedback from users and SEO experts to make the optimization process more effective. Because voice search is at its infancy, there are no precise statistics to show how many users perform voice searches in Google Home and Google Assistant, for example, although it is known that India leads globally when it comes to users with voice-enabled digital assistants.
Recently, John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, asked on Twitter why webmasters want to see separate voice search queries in Search Console. Over at Search Engine Land, Bryson Meunier delivered the obvious answer: because voice searches may be different on mobile or on Google Home, for example. He also observed that “store hours queries are likely to be searched much more on voice search than in traditional search,” concluding that understanding voice search queries is important for both marketers and Google. But how do you optimize when you don’t know what the queries are?
Just think about how you, your family, or your friends use voice search. You will notice that unlike traditional searches, which are based on clusters of keywords or keyword phrases rather than full sentences, voice search is conversational.
“Conversational search has many ramifications for the technology community. By creating responses that are perceived as human, Google is reaching toward the Turing principle, a well-used idea in artificial intelligence that posits a system as meeting the Turing test by having the capacity to appear or act human in various ways.”
Conversational is an essential term in this discourse because it is at the core of voice search optimization.
Many SEO experts found that conversational texts perform better in search even on the desktop since Google introduced its Hummingbird update in 2013. If you don’t remember it, Hummingbird named one of the most significant algorithm updates introduced by Google in the past decade. The change entered into effect in August 2013, but it was only announced on September 26, 2013. Hummingbird was Google’s first major update after Caffeine in 2010, and it encouraged website owners to produce content focusing on the natural language rather than keywords. Long tail keyword phrases became more relevant with this update. The purpose was to determine webmasters to focus on the humans visiting their websites rather than the search bots. Despite the update, many webmasters remained stuck in their old ways, continuing to optimize for premium keyword phrases. With voice search becoming the preferred method for many Internet users, those webmasters need to rethink their content strategy.
Conversational, natural language is the future of (voice) SEO
On mobile, when using voice search, people use complete sentences, like “OK Google, find restaurants near me.” Sometimes, the query skips “OK Google” and addresses a more direct question: “Where is the closest restaurant near my location?”
Right now, the most common uses for voice search on mobile are to call someone, to ask for directions, to find opening hours for shops or other businesses, and to play music. Also, according to the KPCB Internet Trends Report 2017, people use voice search for local information (22%), fun and entertainment 21%, personal assistant (27%), and general information (30%). When using voice search, people seek answers to the usual questions that begin with “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “how,” and “why.” Therefore, an old-school journalistic writing style can help your site a lot when you optimize for voice search and mobile. There’s also a sense of urgency when people use voice search to find information.
Google details this sense of urgency in its whitepaper, “Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile.” Because voice search is usually employed when people need something “right now,” micro-moments are relevant for voice search SEO. Here are some key takeaways from the paper:
- 68% of mobile users say they check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up in the morning.
- 87% of the Millennials always have their smartphone at their side, day, and night.
- 82% of smartphone users say they consult their phones on purchases they’re about to make in a store.
- 65% of smartphone users agree that when conducting a search on their smartphones, they look for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing the information.
And Google also recommends that you adopt these three strategies to meet the customers’ needs when searching on mobile: be there, be useful, and be quick.
Location plays a big role in optimizing for voice search too. Since it’s clear that people currently use voice search for directions and to find nearby restaurants, activities, and attractions, using Schema.org local business markup can give your site a local ranking boost. Implementing Schema.org microdata is a complicated process that requires a professional developer, but even if it turns out pricier than you planned for 2018, don’t delay hiring one. Technology evolves in the blink of an eye and SEO adapts quickly too. Every opportunity you miss is an opportunity gained by your competitors. Implementing Schema.org microdata should be part of your mobile SEO anyway.
Considering the location aspect of optimization, besides implementing Schema.org microdata, you should claim your business through your Google My Business account and start using it regularly. Update it weekly with posts and photos, as well as other information you consider relevant to your customers and peers. You should also consider updating your listing on Bing Places for Business.
Another important aspect of optimizing for voice search is optimizing for Google’s featured snippets. The featured snippets are those “answer boxes” displayed by Google at the top of the search results when the user asks a question. For example, “What are the best things to do in Kos in 2018?” delivers this featured snippet, but results may change when Google finds other pages that offer a better answer.
The presence of featured snippets in search is an indication that users are looking for answers to their questions, so when you optimize your website, write content that satisfies this need. To do this, consider the most likely questions your clients may ask about your business and write your content in the form of a response. Being clear and concise is important. Write short paragraphs that use long-tail keyword phrases and organize your answers in the form of a list. Some SEOs even recommend creating specific FAQ questions to address this need.
How to optimizes for voice search in a nutshell
Right now, no one has a bullet-proof recipe. As you notice in the paragraphs above, Google is still gathering feedback. Until voice search becomes a mature trend, the most important thing to understand before you craft your content strategy is that voice assistants respond to users’ needs, not users’ searches. Once you focus on these needs, you cannot go wrong.
- Write content that responds to the usual questions that begin with “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “how,” and “why.”
- Use a conversational, natural language tone and focus on long-tail keyword phrases.
- Write concise, information-rich answers, preferably in the form of a list.
- Claim your listing in Google My Business and pimp up your profile. Use only real pictures and information of valid interest for your customers.
- Implement Schema.org microdata to decode your text for the search engines: tell them what your data means, not just what it says.
- Optimize your content for featured snippets.
All these points should already be part of your mobile SEO strategy. But if they are not, it’s time to include them. This is particularly valid for hospitality businesses and shops. When a voice search user is on the go, she will ask the search assistant to find a hotel, a restaurant, a shop, a movie theater, and so on. Google usually displays businesses within two kilometers from the user’s location. It is then up to the specific business to differentiate itself from the competitors, and this is where Schema.org plays an important role, as it can add all kinds of relevant details to the listing giving a clear competitive advantage.
Voice search is indubitably the future of SEO, and now it’s the time to learn how to optimize content to improve rankings in the search results.