SEO for Voice: Everything you need to know about where we are and where we’re headed
Voice search revolution is here, and it’s huge.
It’s predicted that 50 percent of all search sessions will be voice-activated by 2020. More interestingly, according to Gartner, 30 percent of all searches will be screenless by 2020 . But, how does that work?
Short answer: through voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Bixby, and Google Assistant.
Today, around 52 million adult Americans own some kind of a smart speaker, most notably Google Home, Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo. In fact, the number of US households owning these nifty voice-enabled gadgets is expected to jump to 55 percent by 2022, up from 16 percent in 2018. What’s more, voice shopping is anticipated to rise from $2 billion in 2018 to $40 billion by 2022.
And thanks to the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence and other new technologies, voice assistants use will become almost ubiquitous in 2019 and beyond. So, however you look at it, the future of search and SEO, in particular, is voice.
That’s exactly why we have put together this handy guide -- to help you understand what’s happening in the world of SEO for voice search, and learn how it might impact on your brand in the future.
Let’s start with the ABCs of voice search.
What is Voice Search?
Voice search is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an audio technology that enables users to get answers to questions they have by using a voice command instead of entering the keywords into a search engine. Thanks to the increasingly pervasive use of smart speakers, tablets, and smartphones, voice search has become commonplace.
The audio tech behind voice search is powered by speech recognition technology which helps understand user’s voice input with a high level of accuracy using Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.
From there, the voice assistant sends the query to a search engine which processes it and returns the closest answer it can find to any one given specific query.
While voice search might be a spanking new concept, voice recognition technologies like speech dialing and speech-to-text have been around for many years.
In addition, programs such as Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa all utilize voice search capabilities.
Although specific devices can be optimized for voice search, brands, platforms, and websites can be optimized for it as well.
What is SEO?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, which entails the practice, tactics or techniques people employ to improve search rankings for their websites and pages.
The primary goal of SEO is to increase both the quality and quantity of organic search traffic to your website and its constituent pages. The more users visit your website from search results, the more likely that you will generate more leads, boost sales and increase your brand visibility.
On the other hand, you also want more quality traffic because not all website visitors are created equal. After all, you want to pull in visitors to your website who are actually looking for what you offer.
Simply put, if you want to get found organically online through search, you have to stay on top of SEO. For an introductory discussion about SEO, you can also read our previous article: SEO for Dummies 2019 Checklist: Simple, Actionable, Scalable Tips for Better Rankings.
How are SEO and Voice Search Related?
At its core, Voice search is intimately connection to SEO. SEO is the science of ordering search results based on the relevance of a specific article to a search query. Voice search uses the same principle to find the most relevant answer.
But here’s the catch. When a user search online, they may or may not click on the first search result. In other words, even if your article is the tenth search result in Google, for a specific term, you can still get some traffic. With voice search, things are different - only one result is read to the user. In Voice search results, the winner takes it all.
As a result, SEO managers should pay specific attention to voice search. If the popularity of voice search continues to rise, more and more companies will never, ever get in front of their ideal customers.
Here’s a list of six factors SEO managers can and should apply in their marketing efforts if they want their content to surface in voice search results.
(1) Long Tail Keywords
If you want to rank in voice search results, the first thing you need to consider is the long tail keywords customers may be searching for. After all, people search very differently using voice than they do type on a search engine in a browser.
This is especially true after the 2013 Google Hummingbird update which essentially put short-tailed keywords in the backburner and opened the gates for voice search results optimizations.
The update optimized search results for semantic search, which attempts to deliver more precise results through a better understanding of user’s intent and context. As such, Google started targeting long-tailed keywords - those that are structured in the form of meaningful phrases and sentences.
Long-tailed keywords are in line with what voice searchers are looking for. That’s because when you speak to a smart speaker or ask a voice assistant a query, you aren’t providing keywords but asking a question.
For instance, when you ask Google Assistant: “What is the best restaurant near my location,” it instantly responds by providing you with a list of the closest top restaurants. In the past, the search engine will only capture the keyword “best restaurant.”
In short, Google takes the entire question or statement into consideration when processing the search query.
Last year, Google released another major SEO update around People Also Asked functionality which we covered in this article. In simple terms, for any search term you can think of (Google ‘healthcare marketing’ for example) Google actually tells you what questions people are asking via voice search.
(2) Voice Search Content should be focused on FAQs
To align better with voice search, your content should be conversational. You should structure the keywords in them in the way you talk. More specifically, the content should be focused on answering queries with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’ etc.
Let’s say you want to rank in voice search for specific queries tied to healthcare marketing. First, you Google healthcare marketing. Second you see the long for questions people have for a specific term (Google updates these questions frequently by the way, so keep a close look on them). At the time of writing, here’s what we found:
As you can see, all these questions are FAW style. They refer to very specific questions people have. Use this information and incorporate it in your content. Have subsections in your article that very directly answer these questions. That will increase you likelihood of getting picked up by voice search engines considerably.
(3) Anticipate Questions and Provide Answers
Voice searchers are asking smart speakers and assistants direct questions. The more direct the answer, the better the ranking of the content. SEO managers should try to anticipate what questions will be asked and be prepared with the right answer.
Rather than focusing on specific keywords (which you can still do at an article level by the way!), you should pay more attention to how users may phrase specific questions. When you anticipate these questions properly, you will be in a better position to provide a concise answer. The endgame here is to center your content around these questions.
(4) Content Is Still Key
Like other search channels, content is key in voice search as well. However, the delivery of the content is different.
In voice search, content should be more direct, informal and conversational. The goal should be to answer questions naturally.
Another easy way to figure out how to optimize for voice search is simply to use it. Once you’ve come up with a specific question you want to rank for, ask that question via Alexa or Siri and see the result that comes back.
The goal with voice seo content should always be to come up with a better and more concise answer than the one currently shown to you as a user.
(5) Search Intent is Crucial
By knowing the intent of the voice search is half the battle of SEO. You need to also know your ideal users’ purpose of using voice search.
For example, 20 percent of teens use voice to search for movie times, compared to only 9 percent of adults.
(6) Site Security and Loading Speeds
With the rise in popularity for voice search, site loading speed has never been more important.
If your website is slow to load, it will likely not appear in voice search results (because it would take the smart assistant too much time to retrieve an answer).
According to Backlinko, 70.4 percent of voice search results are either secured with an SSL certificate or HTTPS encryption technology.
Know The Facts about Voice SEO
By 2020, according to comScore, voice searches will account for approximately half of all searches.
If you ignore voice search SEO, you are not only jeopardizing the future of your digital brand but also neglecting 50 percent of people using voice to look for what you’re offering.
In addition, 30 percent of all search sessions will be conducted without the use of a screen by 2020. Otherwise put, close to one-third of all searches will be done using screenless smart speakers (like smart speakers). People will shop, look for recipes or research their next home and using purely voice assistants.
Smart speakers are (and will be) at the forefront of the proliferation of voice search. It’s estimated the number of smart speakers in the American households will reach 21.4 million by 2020, up from 7.4 million in 2017, according to Activate. The deeper the penetration of smart speakers, the higher the demand for voice search.
In addition, voice search is playing a bigger and bigger role in shopping and e-commerce. CTA says that 25 percent of shoppers used voice-activated assistants in their 2017 holiday shopping. Moreso, voice shopping sales are expected to hit $40 billion by 2022 in the US alone, an uptick of 2122 percent from 2017 ($1.8 billion).
According to Edison Research, 22 percent of owners of voice-enabled speakers have already used their devices to shop
The other thing to consider is that voice search is going local.
Search Engine Watch reports that mobile searches that are conducted through voice assistants are three times more likely to be local than text-based searches. This is a huge plus for businesses that are trying to ramp up their local SEO efforts.
When you go voice, there’s no going back.
That’s right; according to a survey carried out by GeoMarketing, 65 percent (close to two-thirds) of smart speaker owners (owners of Google Home or Amazon Echo, to be exact) said they can’t imagine having to go back to using pre-smart speaker days. This goes to show that positive impact voice search and assistants are having in users’ daily lives.
According to Google itself, users are happy to welcome brands and third parties as part of their voice search experience. 52 percent of people want brands to provide them with promos, sales and deals through voice-enabled speakers.
Voice search usage cuts across all demographics. 40 percent of US adults say they use voice search at least once per day. However, users aged between 25 and 36 account for the biggest portion of smart speaker ownership.
Surprisingly, Millennials carry the mantle when it comes to voice search use. 35.8 percent of them use voice assistants at least once per month, which is by far higher than only 10.1 percent for baby boomers.
Questions dominate voice search with 20 percent of all voice searches are prompted by a combo of just 25 keywords. In fact, the word "how" is part of around 8.64 percent of all voice search queries.
Why Should Businesses Care About Voice Search?
The stats in the previous section show that voice-activated speakers have taken the world by storm.
They are used in the bedroom, kitchen, living room and bathrooms, just to mention a few places. But these nifty devices go beyond your home - voice search has a cozy home in our smartphones, tablets and other gizmos, too.
So, why should businesses have to pay attention to voice search?
While Google hasn’t officially incorporated voice search into their universal algorithm, it is still playing a crucial role in semantic search. After all, voice searches are fundamentally different from text-based searches in terms of both results and the queries themselves.
Here are the top reasons why businesses have to focus their attention on SEO for voice search:
(a) Stay Ahead of the Curve
Businesses will have to now start strategizing to effectively support voice search if they want to remain ahead of their competitors. Remember that the value of the voice-activated speaker market is anticipated to be $30 billion by 2024.
If you don’t hop onto the voice search bandwagon early enough, you will play catch-up as your rivals reap big. Don’t forget that organic search ranking takes time and call for efforts well ahead of time.
(b) Stay Ahead of Google
If Google’s past is something to go by, it is just a matter of time before the search Giant incorporates voice search element into its official algorithm. Once it does so, Google will start giving ranking priority to businesses and brands that have included voice search into the overall SEO strategies.
So, it’s your choice. Do you want to stay on top of SEO for voice search now? Or, scramble with the rest once Google has made the update.
(c) Don’t Alienate Voice Search Users
With more and more customers relying on voice search, the numbers who use just browser-based search will keep dwindling.
So, not adapting to include customers who prefer voice search can lead to losing a large number of customers.
The last thing you want is to risk losing the 20 percent or so consumers who are already actively using voice search to research, shop, and whatnot.
(d) Make Sure Your Business can be Discovered
Business discovery is often the first step in customer acquisition.
Even better, voice search can help your business get discovered by those who are trying to find the nearest place to shop, drink, relax, shop, etc. Given that more and more people are on the move and avoid using screens, voice search will affect your business directly.
(e) Voice E-Commerce
In 2017, $1.8 billion worth of sales were completed using voice-activated shopping.
In the near future, more and more shoppers will turn to their smart speakers and voice assistants like Siri or Alexa to make purchases. No matter how you look at it, this prompts businesses to be prepared for a voice-driven e-commerce world.
Know What Voice Search Is All About
Voice queries are conversational and have long tail keywords: This means looking for long tail keywords while creating content that is natural and conversational in nature. The content should be able to answer who, why, how, when, what questions.
A good percentage of voice queries are for local content: This means your content should be designed in such a way that it incorporates localization. It should include local elements, like neighborhood, city and ‘near me’ tags.
Users search with intent and want immediate results: Searching on browsers is done to research a topic. Voice search is more intent focused. Many times, people who use voice search also take the next step of ordering or contacting a business. So, the content should be optimized for the search engine to rank the business at the top of the results.
Start Optimizing Your Content Strategy for Voice Search
Optimize for Featured Snippets: Businesses should learn how to get featured snippets for their sites. It comes with multiple benefits for your website and brand:
It helps to prepare for the future.
It also benefits the site immediately with higher traffic.
It helps increase your conversion rate and lead generation
If done right, it can increase your brand awareness
Build and optimize a conversational interface: Learn how to consume a voice search query and deliver results to satisfy a query. For example, in traditional search, a user first searches for a product then filters the results, then goes to a product details page and finally orders the product. However, using voice search, a user may tell the engine exactly what they want, skipping several intermediate steps. The algorithm should be smart enough to understand and translate that conversation.
Optimize for local SEO: Use elements to offer localized search results that address a user’s immediate query and provide relevant answers to what they are seeking. Make sure the all contact details and references to the business are properly listed to support localization.
Use Schema Markup: Schema markup allows search engines to understand a page in a more structured way, and hence, realize its purpose. So, proper schema markup will help the site feature at the top of search results, making it more likely for voice assistants to pick it up as a part of search results. Learn more about schema markup in our article titled: The Only Guide to Technical SEO You Will Ever Need to Read (23 Actionable Tips).
Voice is the next big frontier of search results.
And with an increasing number of users every day, it is becoming apparent that voice search will be equal to (if not more important than) traditional search in the near future.
In fact, it is expected to surpass traditional search one day.
What does voice search mean for businesses?
Remember that with traditional search, users still have the option of scrolling down to see all ten results on a page, go to the next page, and so on.
But will they have the patience to listen to all ten results and then want even more? Highly unlikely.
So, the time to optimize and be prepared for the future is now.
To move to the next phase and stay ahead of their competitors, businesses need to start working on their voice search strategy now.
It is not an impossible task.
It just needs a thorough understanding of what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and a way to implement it.
The benefits will be immense.
Your business and brand will get discovered far and wide, your sales will go through the roof, and you’ll provide your customers will the ultimate user experience.
Better voice search SEO translates to higher organic quality traffic, better engagement and more brand visibility.
The opportunities are truly unlimited with voice search.