Voice Search: What Is It & How to Optimize Your Site For It

Sean Dilger
By Sean Dilger

It is true that SEO is forever-changing and posing new challenges every day for search marketers. One of the big challenges we are facing is voice search which is the fastest type of search right now. Voice search is a hot topic in the world of digital, but can you believe voice search actually started 15 years ago?

The main struggle with voice search to date has been the algorithm’s inability to understand what exactly a person is saying, as well as generating results in an intuitive way and, encouraging users to actually adapt to using voice search technology.

What Is Voice Search?

So what exactly is voice search? Voice search uses a voice recognition technology to allow searchers to make voice command search queries. By conducting a voice search, search engines will return answers to your search query. A voice search can be made by using Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Home product and voice command app. It is a more natural way to interact with devices with a more conversational voice. By using your voice, you can search for a local restaurant, play music, find out the weather, and much more.

Voice search is on the upward trend. Back in March 2016, 20% of mobile searches queries were made through voice search, which shows where it is headed. Interestingly, a report in Forbes found that Amazon Alexa and Google Home sold record amounts of products last Christmas in the United States. Additionally, as of January 2017, it is estimated that the number of voice-powered homes is at 8.2 million. Also, studies have found that if voice search continues to grow at such a rapid paste, fifty percent of searches will be from voice by 2020.

So what does this mean for SEO? Well, SEO professionals must start thinking about their content differently. It is also important to note that people who ask a question through voice search and the person who types a query are often after two completely different things. For instance, someone who types their query might be okay with doing research, while the person who uses their voice wants a rapid answer. But, we need to appeal to both types of people.

Tips For Optimizing Your Website For Voice Search

Think About How You Would Conduct a Voice Search

Put yourself in the mind of the consumer and imagine how you would use a voice search to find your own product or services. Then optimize your website for those queries. We no longer optimize sites for single keywords and machines. Instead, we use long tail phrases when optimizing our website’s meta-data and on-page content.

For example, if your website currently has the following phrase “pizza downtown San Diego” you should consider incorporating the following text to make it sound more natural, like “where is a great place to eat pizza in downtown San Diego?”

Use Question Phrases

As we search online, we are more likely these days to ask a question. Whenever I search online, I tend to use query words at the start of my searches more so than using short phrases that include two or three words in the search box. Query words, for example, include who, what, when, where, why and how. The type of questions I might use when searching include “where can I buy soccer cleats?” compared to “buy soccer cleats.”

Optimize for Long Tail Conversational Keywords

I do not think short tail keywords will ever disappear. However, I do believe that they will be less relevant for voice search as people use natural phrases when they use voice search. Therefore, the focus must be on excellent conversational content with long tail keywords. I recommend using a great tool such as keywordtool.io for finding long tail keywords.

Meta Data

Meta data such as title tags and meta descriptions are also important for voice search. Users speak to their devices and therefore want to have a conversation. Title tags should contain phrases that you expect searchers to use, and the meta description should start to answer the question to the user’s query or show that information that fulfills their search is included on your page. Include a call to action to indicate that the information they want is just a click a way.

Related: How to Write a Meta Description That Will Draw Your Audience In

Structured Data

Structured data or Schema.org allows search engines like Google to not only crawl your site but help them really understand the content on your website by generating rich snippets. Rich snippets are pieces of information that will then appear in the SERPs. Structured data markup will help mobile devices by providing them with information about your website.

Related: What is Structured Data?

Focus on Mobile

Those that use voice search are typically on a mobile device. If your mobile device provides a poor user experience (UX), they will leave your site and return to the SERPs.

As a result, your bounce rate will increase and hurt your rankings in the process. Mobile user experience has to be a big priority. With the mobile-first index already rolling out, you must act immediately.

Other important factors for mobile:

Improve Site Speed: People that use voice search are typically looking for a fast response and the better site speed you have, the better.

Related: Mobile SEO Best Practices: A Helpful Guide

Make Sure Your Content is Well Structured and Clear: Those on a mobile device are less likely to read large pieces of content. Use header tags to break out the text and make your CTAs more clear. Use images to help illustrate your message. Use Google Analytics to see if you have higher bounce rates on mobile compared to desktop. If you find that your bounce rate on mobile is much higher, then there could be an issue with the user’s experience.

Search Intent

It is important to understand search intent. In other words, what is the meaning behind the search term? This is vital. You should always put the user first by addressing their questions or concerns. As voice search is more conversational, the artificial intelligence (AI) technology is evolving to understand user’s intent.

We tend to change our behavior when we use voice search. For instance, a text query would typically have fewer words usually between one to three words, whereas a spoken query is often three or more words. The longer query strings from voice search provide richer user intent data because they tend to explicitly ask a question. They use phrases like who, how, what, where, why and when, with the expectation that the search engines will provide an answer back based on their question.

For example, on my desktop, I would typically search for “soccer cleats.” However, if I was using voice search I might say “where can I buy a new pair of soccer cleats?” The intent behind my tone of voice is transactional as well as my desire to find shopping locations if I have granted it access to my geolocation. Therefore, consumers using voice search are typically at the top of the funnel.

Optimizing for Local SEO

Voice search will play a big part in local SEO. Most voice search related queries are made by people looking for places to go. For instance, people might say something very specific like “Thai restaurant in San Diego.” They may also search for “Thai restaurant near me.” When people use the phrase “near me,” Google looks at the user’s physical location to provide results.

So, what does this mean? A Google My Business listing is vital. If you haven’t set up a Google My Business page yet, you must! It is a great way for Google to learn more about your business by providing the industry your business is in as well as your address, phone number, business hours, and much more.

By having your listing updated, you can help increase your chances of appearing in the SERPs when a voice search is made that pertains to your location, local business, or category of business. Organizational and local business schema will also be important for your website to help optimize for local SEO.

What are the benefits of voice search to users?

  • It is convenient and faster than typing
  • It is hands-free
  • Helps you multi-task

Test On Voice Search Vs. Typed Search

When you type, you tend to enter a short query, so you enter something like “weather in San Diego” into your search bar. When you speak, you’re more likely to ask a more complete question like, “What’s the weather like in San Diego?”

So I did a test to see what the SERPs answered back using voice search compared to a typed search using desktop. Using voice search on mobile, I asked the following question “What’s the weather like in San Diego?” and I got the following results:

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.38.48 AM.png Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.39.31 AM.png

 

Using desktop, I typed the following into the search bar “weather in San Diego?” and I got the following results:

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.40.45 AM.png Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.42.24 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.43.01 AM.png Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.43.17 AM.png

Conclusion

The results were a little different. Using voice search, weather.com appeared in the top 2 positions whereas when I typed on desktop it appeared in the top 3 positions. Other sites appeared in different positions also – with sandiego.org and nbcsandiego.org appearing in the final two positions on desktop whereas on mobile when I did a voice search, Wikipedia and timanddate.com appeared in the final two positions.

Additionally, on desktop, there was a “top stories” section which was related to weather news in San Diego. Based on this test, when I used voice search compared to a typed search, I got some different results when looking for the same answer, but phrased differently. As you can see, using voice search, my question was more natural compared to my typed search which was shorter. This shows that Google is providing different results when someone types a query compared to using voice search. This means it is vital to start optimizing your site for more conversational questions to compete in the SERPs for voice search queries.

The Future of Voice Search

I believe in the future, within search console, Google will provide us with voice search query data like we currently have for mobile and desktop. As SEO professionals, we make decisions based on data so Google will have to show some keyword data from voice search. Long tail keywords will continue to develop as we move towards natural phrases via voice search.

Sean Dilger is an SEO Project Manager at Power Digital with a passion for all things digital. He was born in Ireland and moved to San Diego in 2015. Sean has many years experience in the digital space and has worked in email marketing, PPC, social media and of course SEO. Sean graduated college in Ireland with a Master's Degree in Marketing and Management Strategy.