Voice search is an emerging trend in the world of search that’s already gaining traction and is only set to increase in use. It’s definitely something marketers should be monitoring, particularly from an SEO point of view.
60 percent of smartphone users who used voice search started using it as early as 2015, but now as many as 20% - 25% of all search queries are performed using voice search technology. And while you may not personally use voice search, there’s no denying it’s changing the future landscape of SEO.
What is Voice Search?
Whenever you ask Siri what the weather will be like tomorrow, or tell Alexa to read you today’s news stories, you’re performing a voice search – it’s basically all searches you perform using your voice and a voice assistant (Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, Cortana, Alexa, etc.) instead of typing your search into the browser on your phone or computer manually.
The voice search market is currently dominated by Siri and Google – which is no surprise when you consider the number of devices they’re available on. Here’s a quick overview of the top voice assistants and which devices they work with:
Apple Siri - Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod
Amazon Alexa - Echo and Echo Dot
Google Assistant - Google Home and Home Mini, Pixel phone, Android 6.0+ devices, iOS and Android apps
Microsoft Cortana - Windows 10, Windows phone, Xbox One, iOS and Android apps
How do we think Voice Search will affect SEO?
Voice search is gaining traction to quite an extent – so much so that ComScore estimates it will make up a whopping 50% of all search by 2020! But how can you, as a marketer, prepare?
1. Semantic search will become more important.
Google relies on other factors besides keywords – for example, the user’s previous search history or their patterns of search behaviour - to deliver search results based on what Google thinks the user is looking for.
This is called “semantic search,” and it’s basically Google’s way of getting a better understanding of what people are looking for. Here’s an example of semantic search: Say you search “movies London” from your computer in London. Google understands that you’re likely looking for movie screening times there, rather than films about London.
Movies in AND about London side by side: Before semantic search, either search would have made sense based on just keywords alone. But semantic search knows that if you’re searching from London, chances are higher that you’re looking for viewing times near you.
Because people are more conversational when they search using voice, you need to ensure your brand’s content accounts for that. Optimise for a variety of related, long-tail keywords to get the best results.
2. Content needs to cater to customers - in both tone and function.
“Optimised content” in the voice search era is optimised for customers, not search engines. In other words, the days of keyword-stuffed content are gone (thankfully!).
Write for the customer
Pay attention to how your customers talk about your business when they engage with you on social media or write reviews. Ask your customer service and sales teams what the top questions are that they get from customers (including the exact wording they use) and use the same kind of language when writing content for your site.
Avoid marketing jargon unless you actively want to show up in searches made by your industry counterparts. Instead, use “normal language” that your customers understand and would use themselves.
Remember that voice searches on mobile are three times more likely to be local, so optimise your website for local branches.
3. Having a mobile-first site is non-negotiable.
Google has given fair warning that they’re moving to a mobile-first world, and if you don’t adapt, you’ll struggle to survive organically.
If your site takes ages to load or looks bad on a mobile screen, your bounce rate will be higher. And if this continues for a long time, and your rankings will suffer. Check that your site works as best is it can on mobile and what improvements you can make to improve the user experience.
Having a mobile-friendly site is even more important when it comes to voice search as this happens predominantly on mobile devices. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you’ll get booted from page one (that’s if you ever make it there).
4. The scramble for "position zero" via featured snippets will continue.
Most voice searches are answered via the Rich Answer boxes that show at the top of the Google results page. These boxes usually provide public domain information (e.g. how many cm in an inch).
Featured snippets, however, are pulled from any website on page one of the results. Because you only have to make it to page one instead of position one, these are more easily attained. If you're already ranking on page one, you just need to make a few minor adjustments rather than a total SEO overhaul. Make your content easy for Google to read and understand by framing the question in header tags, and then answering it quickly. Bullet points and tables are also great formats for featured snippets.
5. Brand names will need to pass the radio test.
When Google uses a website’s information in a featured snippet, it shows the searcher where they pulled the information from, so they can click through should they want to find out additional information. This can drive valuable organic traffic for that website.
That means brands can benefit from increased brand awareness, but because Google reads out the website's name, having a brand name that’s pronounceable may become even more important for that awareness to pay off.
The radio test refers to people being able to hear your brand name (such as on the radio), and then easily understand and recall it. New brands will need their company name to be written such that a voice assistant can pronounce it correctly.
6. Directories will become even more important for local businesses.
Consumers don’t search for your local business; they search for the “best [type of business].” Directory and review websites rule these searches, so SEOs need to be thinking of them as search engines in their own right.
Having an optimised Google My Business listing isn’t optional. It’s required if you want to survive voice search, especially on Google devices. The better your listing is - with photos, positive reviews, and owner responses – it’s more likely to show up in the “3 pack”.
Review sites are also important, and not just for “best” searches. Some voice assistants (Amazon Alexa for example) use these third-party review sites to supplement their information. It’s for this reason Alexa is able to be more than just a shopping assistant because it uses thousands of other databases to answer people’s queries.
So not only do you need to be in the local 3-pack for Google results, you need to be ranking at the top of Yelp, too. If you’re an online retailer, treat your Amazon page like another search engine where you need to rank highly.
Encourage positive reviews and be smart about keywords in your product descriptions. And don’t forget that your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) should be consistent across all aspects of web presence.
7. Voice search will become the norm.
While voice search will change SEO, search marketers can find solace in the fact it’s changing it for good. All signs point to the fact that voice search is here to stay. And everyone’s invested in making voice search work, from Google to Microsoft. They are improved accuracy, which is why home assistants are catching on.
In a world where users increasingly expect brands, websites, and more to be ultra-personalized to them, voice assistants satisfy that need. They’re able to recognize their user’s speaking patterns and account for filler words or regional expressions.
Voice search is changing how we navigate the world, buy things, and learn. If brands want to stay remain relevant and visible, they need to change their SEO strategies accordingly.