Optimizing For Voice Search

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Craig Smith  |  Founder & CEO

Smartphones and fast mobile broadband changed how people used the internet. Smaller screens and the ability to look up information almost anywhere in the world forced web developers to optimize for the mobile web overnight. Businesses were forced to change how they sought customers out, and new industries appeared that could not exist before shoppers could access their services with a computer small enough to keep in their pocket. With the rise of digital assistants, smartphones are poised to change search again. Whether it’s Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or Google’s Assistant, voice search is a brand new way to experience the web.

While voice commands and digital assistants seem like great novelty gadgets, they have a real impact on your business, and specifically your SEO. Failure to take these tools seriously could quickly make you fall behind in the world of search while your competitors optimize ahead of you.

Many experts believe voice commands are the next frontier changing search as least as much as smartphones did. Here’s what you need to know about becoming Alexa, Siri, and Cortana’s best friend.

Voice Search Isn’t Going Away

Before you dismiss voice search as a fad, consider this: In 2015, voice search accounted for just 10 percent of searches globally. By 2020, one study estimates that there will be more than 200 billion voice search queries per month. The same study estimates that this means voice search will account for half of all total search queries. That’s exponential growth.

People love voice search because it offers a hands-free way of getting information. They can check the weather while brushing their teeth, or use an assistant to look up how to make something for dinner.

People also speak faster than they type: the average person speaks 110 – 150 words per minute, but only types 38 – 40 words per minute (possibly even slower on smartphone keypads). Asking questions through voice search is convenient, it’s up to developers and companies to ensure the answers are as well.

People Use Voice Search Differently

Optimizing for voice search will require you to rethink how you present your brand and content to customers. Stale SEO practices like generic keyword targeting aren’t going to be as useful as
they are on screens because most people speak and type differently.

Purna Virji at Moz reviewed query length from traditional search versus voice search. She found that queries are typically one to three words longer when asked through voice search, and long-tail keywords are more pronounced.

For example, instead of saying the words “Facebook founder,” people might ask the question, “who is the founder of Facebook?” On the phone, searching for the weather might mean typing out “weather Philadelphia, PA” or you could ask Siri if it will rain that day.

As more users switch to searching with their voice, Google is emphasizing semantic search over precise keyword targeting. Having the right answer is far more important than ranking well for the particular words a customer might use.

Part of this is because we’re able to speak faster than we type, so it’s more natural to add a few extra words to convey the message. However, people also choose full questions because Google, Apple, and Microsoft have replicated the human element of a virtual assistant.

We talk to them as if they were real people in the room with us. Some bloggers even expected the Amazon Dot to act like a low-maintenance roommate that never left the apartment.

Think about how you use automated systems. On the phone, you might say “billing” over and over until the computer understands, but as soon as you get a real person, you say “I would like to pay my bill.”

Now that you know how people use voice search and what they use if for, it’s up to you to optimize your website to meet the needs of today’s searchers.

Users are Looking for Quick Answers

Over the past few years, car manufacturers have tried to create voice-command personal assistants to prevent drivers from trying to search or type while they drive. The results have been mixed, with many people ignoring the car systems entirely in favor of their smartphones and apps like Google Maps. However, some brands are starting to embrace existing technology. Ford announced at CES this year that Alexa will be available in its newer models.

Personal assistants in cars summarize exactly how people use voice search. They want a quick answer and they don’t want to take their eyes off of what they’re doing. For example, if you ask Siri what the symptoms of the flu, you don’t want a list of possible websites that talk about flu symptoms. In the time it took Siri to do that, you could have typed a Google search yourself — or looked it up through Google Voice.

Furthermore, customers expect smart assistants to better understand their needs in the future. When asked about flu symptoms, Alexa should also look up directions to a nearby walk-in doctor and schedule an appointment for that afternoon. She might be there yet, but eventually that’s the goal. It’s these next steps that will turn personal assistants from novelty gifts to essential devices.

Technical Optimizations for Voice

There are two steps you can take to optimize for voice search: reactive and proactive. The technical side tends to be more reactive. If you don’t have the optimization tactics in your SEO strategy, then you’re already falling behind in the rankings regardless of where your audience is searching.

Keep Investing in Local SEO

The budget you (hopefully) invested in local search in 2017 will also help you with voice search commands. Experts aren’t entirely sure exactly what percentage of voice searches are local (Kirsty Hulse at State of Digital has seen everything from 40 to 80 percent), but it’s fair to say that almost half of all queries have some sort of local intent. When people are asking Alexa for a plumber or to order a pizza, that want to find something nearby and something fast.

We created guides in the past for optimizing your pages for local, but a quick checklist to run through includes:

  • Setting up your Google My Business account and uploading accurate information
  • Claiming review sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, and Angie’s List to build your online presence
  • Promoting a local number and local street address
  • Acquiring links to your content from local blogs and news sites
  • Creating content with a local theme that optimizes location-based keywords
  • Building unique pages for each of your locations

All of these steps ensure that when someone asks Alexa a question like “What is the best pizza in Detroit,” your results, along with your hours, reviews, and a phone number, populate the search results.

Schema Markups Are More Important Than Ever

With voice search, personalized assistants don’t have the luxury that Google has and can’t display several listings that might be related to the keyword. The pressure is on for Alexa and Cortana to get the answers right immediately, which means they’re going to check to see what information is readily available and easy to serve. For websites, this makes schema markup more important than ever.

Many SEO experts believe adding Schema data should be one of the top priorities for businesses in 2017, regardless if you run an eCommerce company, brick and mortar store, or online business. Schema takes your information and highlights the most important information in a way that’s easy for the search engines to read, thus increasing the likelihood that Alexa will select your brand when she looks for an answer.

Improve Your Site Speed

Speed is a critical element for all websites, but especially eCommerce sites and pages that hope to drive traffic through voice search. The same logic for Schema data can be applied to site speed: personal assistants have a matter of seconds to come up with an answer, which means they’re going to reach for whatever information is easily accessible. If your page is slow to convey information to search engines and audiences, then it’s going to suffer in the rankings and voice search use as well.

Make Sure Your Result Has a Positive Mobile Experience

Getting mentioned by Alexa and driving traffic through voice search is only half the battle, but what happens when your customer gets to your page? A poor mobile experience frustrates your potential customers and causes them to bounce to other easy-to-find information. After all, they use voice search for quick results, they don’t want to get bogged down by a terrible site or complex cart.

As you optimize your content for local search, make sure the answers and the calls to action are readily available. This is where heatmap tools come in. If you’re unsure how the customer views your page — and if they’re finding the right information — study how they view your website and what they’re seeing instead. You might be driving customers completely in the wrong direction because you’re thinking like a business owner and not like a shopper.

Creating Content for Voice Search

If technical features are more reactive, then content proactive. Once you’ve caught up you’re able to create a strategy moving forward to improve your SEO. Here is how the professionals optimize for voice content to respond to customer questions.

Optimize for Question Phrases

Much to the relief of SEO professionals everywhere, the rise of voice search means we’re moving away from one-word keywords and into more complex phrases. Look at the long-tail phrases in Google Analytics (and Adwords) to see what brings people to your website, and create content that answers those questions.

For example, instead of stuffing the phrase “tax help,” into a million articles, take the next step and optimize for phrases like:

  • When are taxes due in 2017?
  • What is a W-2?
  • How do I get a W-2 from my employer?
  • What tax software is free?
  • What is the easiest tax software for beginners?
  • Where can I file my taxes?

The questions above can work for a small accounting firm trying to promote its services during tax time, or a national online tax software provider looking to increase its customer base.

Remember the 5Ws and H

The questions you find through your keyword research are a great starting point for creating content, but it’s also possible to be proactive in creating long-tail queries. Assemble your top keywords and assemble questions around them that could be answered. For example, take the keyword “running shoes.”

  • Who carries affordable running shoes?
  • Where can I find orthopedic running shoes?
  • What running shoe brands protect feet the best?
  • Why do I need to need to pay a lot for running shoes?
  • When do I need to replace my running shoes?
  • How do I determine running shoe quality?

Depending on your keywords, this content might fit into one long piece or smaller pieces for each question. You might not want to address some of these questions at all if they’re not relevant to your customers. Your goal should to create a chart of how adverbs were used in queries, and identify the questions your customers are asking and how you can answer them.

Understand Customer Intent

There’s a reason you treat each of the 5Ws differently and determine which ones are best for your brand: customer intent. Virji’s Moz article explained that customers use what/who/how when they’re interested in something, but switch to when and where once they’re ready to act. For example, the phrase, “How often should I change my oil?” is a top-of-funnel question, while the phrase, “Where can I get my oil changed?” is at the bottom of the funnel. This is a more basic example and both questions present the opportunity to close a sale, but this in important step for companies with longer funnels, more complex offerings, and more niche markets.

As you start brainstorming content, try visualization tools that help you filter the ideas. Every idea that you have should include:

  • Target keyword/phrase
  • Audience position in sales funnel/content goal
  • Content Call to Action

Not only will this ensure that the content you create matches the customer journey, it will also make it easier to track the success of your pieces — especially once you assign KPIs to match the goals of each piece.

Voice search shouldn’t be underestimated as an option for reaching out to customers and moving them deeper into the sales funnel. With the right optimization and content, you should be able meet this market head on, and grow with it as it continues to evolve.

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