6 Ways to Tailor Your SEO Strategy For Voice Search
From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Her, we’ve been promised that computers in the future will respond to our voice, not just our touch or keyboard strokes.
With the rapid advance in voice recognition technology, that future looks more and more like a possibility.
Thanks to these advancements, you have the widespread popularity of devices like Amazon Alexa and voice assistants like Google Now, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.
What does the growing dominance of voice computing mean for SEO? Will voice search change how people find information online. If yes, what can you do to tailor your SEO strategy for voice?
In this article, I’ll show you several ways to adapt your SEO strategy for voice search.
- Voice search has taken up a big share of mobile searches, and is poised to grow further as voice recognition technology improves.
- Voice search usually focuses on long-tail keywords and is more action-focused than conventional search. This means that voice search tends to yield higher quality traffic.
- Tailor your SEO strategy for voice by creating long-tail focused content, figuring out how your target audience uses voice, and emphasizing local searches.
What is Voice Search?
At the most basic level, voice search converts spoken words into text on search engines.
Smartphones and desktops today feature digital assistants such as Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now which can perform a host of functions when activated through voice. One of these functions include carrying out searches.
For example, let’s say you want to determine how many ounces fit in a cup. Instead of typing it out, you might speak like this:
Voice search offers users the ability to carry out hands-free search and multitask effectively. As a result, people are drawn to searching by voice as it involves less hassle to achieve the same result.
Take a look at the growth of voice usage on Cortana:
Another study found that voice search queries on Google were 35x higher in 2016 than in 2008. It’s safe to say that voice search is here to stay.
Why Voice Search Matters
Voice search matters for three crucial reasons:
1. More and more people are using it
If the data above wasn’t persuasive enough, consider this: according to Google, 20% of all searches on mobile are now voice searches. This study also found that most people were early adopters of voice search:
There is a clear bias towards younger users as well with a majority of millennials preferring voice search over text on their mobile devices.
As more and more users shift to voice search, it will become even more important to tailor your site for it.
2. Search engines are pushing voice search
From Apple Siri and Google Now to Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa, all major tech players today offer their own virtual assistants. These virtual assistants are primarily voice driven. They are also bundled closely into the core product.
Apple Siri, for instance, is always a tap away on any iOS device, while Windows includes Cortana in its search functionality by default. On Google, you can access Google’s voice search by simply saying “OK Google” on any mobile screen. If you’re on the desktop, you can just hit the microphone icon on the search box to enable voice search.
Clearly, search engines and tech companies are heavily promoting voice search. This will invariably impact the adoption of voice search even more.
3. Voice search is action-focused
Unlike traditional text-based searches, people who search by voice are trying to find information that ultimately leads to an action or conversion.
For example, consider a person who searches for “good Italian restaurants in Chicago”. This person wants to find a good Italian place to eat and is likely to follow through once she finds the right restaurant.
The action-focused nature of voice search users means that any traffic coming in through this medium will be more targeted and relevant. If you rank well in voice search, you will likely see better traffic..
What It Means for Your SEO
When a user searches by voice, they use conversational phrases to look up the same information as opposed to when typing a text-based search. Conventional keywords suddenly become less important in this scenario.
For example, instead of searching for “libel vs. slander” (a keyword with 5,400 searches each month), your users might ask a question – “what is the difference between libel and slander?” – when using voice search.
This ends up creating unique queries that are processed differently by algorithms.
One factor these algorithms now look for in such conversational searches is user intent. It comes as no surprise then that search engines reward sites that understand intent and deliver a direct answer to the user’s query.
With this in mind, let’s see how you can optimize your SEO strategy for voice searchers.
1. Focus on long-tail keywords
There is some confusion about how long-tail keywords are defined, but for most purposes, any keyword longer than 3-4 words would be called a “long-tail keyword”.
Long tail keywords are information rich. They tell you a lot more about the searcher’s intent than a head keyword (1-2 word keywords).
For example, when someone searches for a broad keyword like “Italian restaurant”, the only thing you can say for sure is that the searcher wants to see a list of Italian restaurants.
However, if you increase the length of the keyword by adding extra data to it, say, “Italian restaurant in Chicago open right now”, you suddenly get a lot more data about the user. You now know that the searcher wants to see a list of restaurants in a specific location (Chicago) that meet a specific condition (i.e. they are open right now).
When people use voice search, they instinctively use a conversational voice to ask queries. These queries inherently contain more data and have a long-tail focus.
In fact, a study from Moz found that a majority of voice searches are based around 3 keywords.
Subsequently, these long-tail keywords are “wrapped” around supplementary text that provide context about the query.
Which is to say, voice search is structured similarly to real life communication.
To keep pace with this demand, retool your keyword strategy to focus more on long-tail keywords.
2. Understand how your customers use voice search
To determine what phrases your audience is using to refer to your product or industry, spend some time collecting data. This should be subjective data, not just an objective list of keywords. You want to see how your customers actually communicate – what words and phrases they use in actual conversations (and thus, in voice search).
Here are a few places to get some inspiration:
A. Customer surveys
Surveys are an easy way to engage with your customers and receive direct feedback.
Send out surveys with open-ended questions that lets people answer freely. Your goal is to notice tone and style of language used and identify a pattern.
B. Niche community websites
Reddit and Quora (Q&A site) are both great places to subtly observe how your target audience communicates.
On Quora, type in a phrase in the search field and see what you get.
Go through the resulting list of suggestions and note any patterns that emerge. Don’t forget to take into account popularity of the phrase (number of answers)
Over on Reddit, head over to relevant subreddits and find patterns in the comments.
Alternatively, you can also use a site like Answer the Public to determine the exact phrases your target audience is using on Google and YouTube.
C. Create keyword lists from broad keywords
Take your broad keywords and ask yourself: what other information would searchers looking up this query be interested in?
For example, someone looking up a broad keyword like “Italian restaurants” might also want to know:
- Restaurant location (“Italian restaurants in Chicago”)
- Restaurant timings (“Italian restaurants in Chicago pen right now”)
- Restaurant ratings (“top rated Italian restaurants in Chicago”)
This will give you a better understanding of searcher intent and tailor your content for voice searchers.
3. Answer questions (cleverly)
When searching with voice, people generally tend to ask questions. With voice recognition software continually improving, there has been a marked increase in number of question phrases being voiced.
Specifically, there has been a 61% increase year over year.
Questions beginning “who” and “how” are more prominent than their counterparts.
Ideally, you want to repurpose your content to ensure that you answer a “who” or “how” question within your content.
However, be careful not to answer questions that are easy for Google to aggregate and answer directly (i.e. Google “Rich Answers”).
For example, let’s say a user asks “what are recent NFL scores”?
Google will pull up the answer directly to this question directly on its SERP page at the top. This discourages users to click-through to a site.
These results make your content obsolete.
Here’s how you can solve this:
A. Answer more complex questions
Focus your attention on crafting responses to questions that are hard-to-aggregate.
For example, instead of simply stating the final score of a game, look at other questions your target audience may have in relation to scores. They might want to know why a game ended the way it did, or what was the best play of the game.
Google’s search engine algorithms are not capable to retrieve suh on-depth answers (at least yet).
B. Create a FAQs
Another method to answer questions is by creating a FAQ page on your site. Providing a FAQ page that includes long-tail keywords and targets questions your audience has will give you an edge over your competition.
Check out this example from Wordle:
Notice how the questions are lengthy and target a specific issue? This makes the question hard to aggregate. Even if Google shows one of these questions as a Rich Snippet, there is a good chance your answer will rank at the top, earning you a large chunk of traffic.
4. Pay close attention to mobile-friendliness
60% of searches are now carried out on mobile devices.
To put that differently, sites optimized for mobile have become important to Google. Recent updates to their algorithm have ensured that mobile-friendly sites receive a ranking boost.
Why does this matter?
A key part of the mobile experience entails voice search. As I mentioned earlier, 20% of searches on mobile are voice searches – and that was nearly a year ago (it is likely to be higher now).Though you can search by voice on desktops, far fewer people actually use it that way. At the moment, voice search is almost exclusively mobile.
If you want your pages to rank well for mobile queries, you have to first make sure that your content is mobile friendly. An easy method to do this is to analyze your site on Google’s mobile-friendly test service.
Google will tell you straight up whether the page is mobile-friendly or not.
5. Focus on local SEO
One of the biggest uses of voice search is to look up local information. Research shows that people are always looking for places to shop or eat, bars to visit, or discover events that are happening around them.
It helps that phones are perpetually active GPS devices. This makes searches like “x near me” (example: “best Italian restaurant near me”) possible.
Voice recognition software is smart enough to realize ‘near me’ as local intent and deliver relevant results.
In fact, 89% of people who search on mobile do so with local intent.
There is a real sense of urgency behind lookups done by voice with people expecting to find answers they can immediately act on.
When ranking local results, Google pays close attention to NAP information. You need to make sure your business’s’ name, address, and phone are consistent across the web. Google uses this information to determine legitimacy of your business.
Here are some places to start:
- Homepage of your site
- All your social profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
- On major review sites (Yelp, BBB)
6. Understand difference between Cortana, Siri, and Google Now
Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are not search engines.
Rather they are third-party applications added on top of services such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google that can search for you. When you use them for voice search, they yield results from different search engines.
For example, voice search on Microsoft’s Cortana displays SERP from its own native solution BIng whereas Google Now pulls up results from Google. Siri uses a combination of data from Wikipedia, Google and Wolfram Alpha.
This can make optimization a bit difficult as each search engine has notable differences.For most purposes though, always aim your content for Google.
However, this doesn’t mean you should dismiss Bing entirely. If you’re targeting content for voice searchers specifically on Cortana, it’s better to follow Bing’s algorithms to ensure higher ranking on their SERP.
Lastly, don’t forget to test out voice search yourself.
Carry out searches for which you want to rank and see the kind of results being returned. This should give you a good idea on what type of content to create for voice search.
Voice search is still at its infancy. Yet, in just a few years more than half of all search queries are expected to be carried out through voice.
For your business, the time to evolve beyond text-centric SEO is now.
Tailor your campaign to include information that captures this new breed of searcher and get a leg up on your competition.