Guide to voice search optimization: Six steps to undertake in 2019

January 7, 2019

Have you ever tried to search for some data online when you were multitasking and couldn’t type the text? It would be quite challenging without the opportunity to conduct voice search.

According to PWC report, 71% of respondents would rather use their voice assistant to search for something than physically typing their queries. And what’s the most important is that the differences between spoken and typed queries may cause different SERP. It means that your competitors’ voice search optimized websites have much more chances to engage most of your potential customers or subscribers.

If you want your website rank for voice queries as high as for the typed ones, this article will help you discover all the steps you should undertake.

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Voice search evolution

Do you remember when voice search required calling a phone number from your mobile device and saying your search query? Well, it was in the early days of voice search (to be more precise, in 2010), and few people actually used it.

Since then, voice search has improved significantly. On June 2011, Google announced they started to roll voice search on Google.com. Once being available only in English, today there are about 60 languages supported in Google Voice Search.

With ‘Hummingbird,’ updated in 2013, the concept of typed and especially spoken search changed a lot. The algorithm emphasized natural language processing and was aimed at considering the users’ intent and the context of the query. From that moment search questions structured in sentences got more relevant answers. So, it influenced voice search, which is usually formed from long phrases, a lot.

How to optimize for voice search

Experts’ opinions about optimization for voice search differ but each of them agrees that it’s an important part of an SEO process.

Here is, for example, Jenny Halasz’s mind: ‘While voice search is certainly the future of how we will do most searches, there’s not really too much you can do to optimize for it that is different than regular SEO optimization. Because Google’s goal will always be to return the best result based on the person, location, and history, it’s hard to guess exactly what the right answer for a query will be.”

And this is what Shane Barker says about it: “Facilitated by the launch of voice-based digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, voice search now constitutes a significant part of all online searches. And its share is only going to rise to a level that SEO experts can’t deny its importance. The question is, who will be best prepared when voice search takes up a majority share of all searches? And the answer to that is SEO experts who are devoting their time to it now. However, there is another side to it. Though voice searches are likely to be a really important part of SEO in the future, it is not the case now. While my advice would still be to start preparing for it, I would advise against allocating a substantial part of your budget to it.

So, start learning about the nuances of SEO for voice search, but don’t go overboard and hire a team for it. At least not yet. The best place to start is to learn about Google’s Hummingbird and other algorithm updates and how they changed the dynamics of SEO.”

So, let’s speak about the ways of voice search optimization.

Due to the differences between the results of typed and spoken ways of search, your site optimization for the traditional search isn’t the same as the voice search optimization.

The most significant thing to worry about is that people using their mobile assistants to conduct voice search get only one top result. As half of the search will have been conducted by voice by 2020, half of your potential customers won’t see your website even if you’re the fourth in the SERP. Ranking the top will be the main goal for every business owner.

So, what are the essential factors for you to consider optimizing for voice search?

Featured Snippet

Have you heard about featured snippets? These are ones which Google forms from the most relevant content and places in the top of search results, like this:

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The reason I mentioned these snippets is that Stone Temple Consulting claims that 30% of 1.4 million tested Google queries contain them. And you can be sure that if the results include featured snippet, your voice assistant will demonstrate it. That’s why one of your goals when willing to get ranked in voice search results should be providing such a quality data for Google to express it in the featured snippet.

User intent

Do people search for your website when they want to buy something or to find out some information? The reason a person looks for websites is called user intent. Sometimes it may be obvious and expressed in the query with the words ‘buy,’ ‘price,’ ‘how to,’ ‘what is,’ etc. Sometimes it’s only in the users’ minds.

Regardless of how the intent is expressed, due to the Hummingbird update, Google dwells into the context of the search query, investigates the sites’ content and provides you with the relevant answers. For example, if I say ‘oscar winners,’ it’s most likely I’m interested in the recent ceremony, not in the results from 20 years ago. And search engines understand it. That’s why you should consider user intent when creating the content which will enhance the relevance of your pages to specific search queries. If you want to optimize your page for a featured snippet, your main aim should be understanding user intent and giving your audience an immediate answer.

And here is what Jenny Halasz says about this topic: “Try to match your customers’ intent with your content, seek to answer questions, and provide details wherever possible. The same steps you take now to optimize for answer boxes are going to help you in voice search too.”

Long tail keywords & Questions

Searching for some information with the help of voice assistant, people behave as if they’re talking to a human. Most of them don’t simply use short keywords, but instead, they ask questions and prefer long phrases.

That’s what Shane Barker says about this subject: “Use more conversational keywords and phrases that people use while speaking, not while typing. Essentially, these will be long-tail keywords but phrased in the way people speak.”

By the way, using long tail keywords is a good practice not only for voice search optimization but also for traditional SEO. The fact is that the key phrases containing more than 2 words have the lower difficulty (or competition) level and provide the great chances to rank the top.

As I’ve already mentioned, along with long phrases, people also tend to use questions for voice search. For instance, when typing the query, a person tries to use the most relevant keywords and writes something like ‘the best coffee in NYC.’ But voice query sounds much more natural. First of all, talking to your voice assistant, you should start with ‘Hey Siri…,’ ‘OK, Google,’ etc. These phrases make you think you’re communicating with your device, not just conducting the keyword-based query. That’s why looking for the best coffee, you’re most likely to ask the question, such as ‘Hey Siri, where can I drink the best coffee?’

To find out what questions your target audience may ask and not to spend much time, you can use special services, such as Answer the Public or Serpstat Search Questions. If you go with Serpstat, simply type the word or a phrase best describing the subject of your content and see how people usually search for it.

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Answer

Shane Barker: “Answer your customers’ common questions on your website or blog. Use a conversational tone for phrasing these questions, to rank well for voice queries.”

When you choose the questions you’re writing about in your post, add them to the pages around your site. Create h2 headers using these queries and provide an answer in the body text. Answer the questions concisely and make sure the main idea is stated briefly.

After you answered the question directly, you can also cover other related search questions. It’ll help you rank for as many variations of queries as possible.

Not to lose your position at featured snippets, keep your content fresh and update it regularly.

Page speed

The time needed for your page to load influences whether it will appear in voice search results or not. So, if you want your page to be visible to all those people who prefer voice search, make sure its loading speed is high enough.

As people searching by voice are always on-the-go and don’t have time to wait, it’s difficult to overestimate the importance of optimizing your page speed. Before taking any actions, analyze your website speed with PageSpeed Insights. The service will tell you whether your site’s loading time is low enough, and what you can do to lower it. Mind that mobile speed data is the most important for optimizing for voice search. Also, to Shane Barker’s mind, you should make a website mobile-friendly because a majority of voice searches happen via mobile devices.

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Structured data

What is structured data? It’s code added to HTML markup and used by search engines to better understand your site’s content. Using structured data, you make search engines crawl and read your content efficiently.

With schema markup, you can better control the way you provide the brand information, and the way machines interpret it. Structured data implementation results in rich snippets which are known to increase click-through rate, drive traffic and bring you competitive advantages. Here’s the way these snippets differ from the normal ones:

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Having this data can also help your pages appear in featured snippets and, consequently, in voice search results. Shane Barker also appeals to use structured data markup to provide better information to mobile devices about your website and its content.

So, if you do everything correctly and produce content interpreted by search engines as highly relevant (and if you’re lucky enough), your snippet will become featured:

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Here’s what it looks like in the code:

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To find out how you can implement structured data to your site, use Schema.org vocabulary. There’s a set of schemas which enables SEO experts to markup their websites.

When elaborating structured data, you should remember it’s easy to become spammy. Use the data which is relevant to the content you provide. Moreover, it’s essential to update your markup, as everything tends to be constantly changing, and your website isn’t a conclusion.

Local SEO

The BrightLocal report says that 58% of consumers use voice search to find local businesses. It isn’t surprising as most people conduct voice search when they’re walking or driving somewhere and willing to discover where they should head for.

For the cases when people search for something like ‘best donuts in LA’, it would be good to use the keywords including the cities or countries where your business works.

What’s the most important, conducting voice search people are even more likely to use ‘near me’ phrase. If I decided to eat some donuts, I would rather say ‘OK Google, donuts cafe near me,’ than ‘donuts cafe in Los Angeles.’ In this case, the search engine will use my location to understand which cafes are the closest to where I am at the moment. To appear in the relevant results for such queries, don’t add ‘near me’ key phrases to your content. Jenny Halasz also thinks the same way: “Keep in mind that “near me” queries are simply adding a location intent to a search. It’s not necessary to actually use the words “near me” on your site anywhere. If you want to rank for “pizza near me”, then, by all means, track that keyword’s performance on your ranking tools, but don’t worry about putting “near me” in your actual site code.”

In most cases, search robots use Business Listings information. So, make sure you’ve added all the necessary information, such as brand name, address, opening hours, etc. to Google My Business page. Shane Barker talks about this as follows: “Optimize your Google My Business listing and provide accurate and updated contact information. A lot of voice searches are for local queries and listing your business there will help you rank better for such queries.”

To wrap up

People use voice search widely. And its popularity is going to grow dramatically in the coming years. Those who already consider it in their SEO improve their content visibility significantly, as voice search results show only top pages. You can either benefit from these changes optimizing your website for spoken queries or suffer not doing anything. The choice is yours.

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