Not so long ago, speaking out loud into your phone left you looking like a crazy person. Those days are long gone. Voice search is growing up, and thanks to the advent of gadgets like Amazon’s Echo, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple Siri, it has made talking to your tech something more of us are doing every day.
Like every development that affects search, voice tech is changing the way we use the internet, and as a result, it also has an impact on SEO. So how does voice search affect website owners, and what should you do about it?
What is voice search?
Voice search just means using your voice to search the web. Voice search is easy. Most of us talk faster than we type. Voice searches are intuitive, they let you multi-task, and you can do it hands-free.
We’ve been able to do voice searches on mobiles for ages. But, with the advent of gadgets like Google Home has brought things forward in leaps and bounds. These days, everybody’s doing it. In 2014 56% of US smartphone owners used a voice assistant, up from under a third the year before. By 2015 that had increased to 65%. By June 2016 55% of teens and 41% of adults used voice search daily. Voice search is borne out by improvements in the tech. In 2014 the word recognition error rate was more than 20%, by 2016, so it changed to 8%.
Voice tech uses ‘conversational’ search queries. Questions spoken in full, in the kind of natural language you’d use in a regular conversation, using whole sentences. Google initially made answering questions a priority via the 2013 Hummingbird update. The update was designed to revolutionise the way the search engine responds to queries. Over time a pattern has emerged. Now it’s clear that conversation led voice searches mostly answer who, what, when, where, why and how questions, and done right they can do it beautifully.
Answering voice search questions beautifully
Because voice search changes how we search, it deserves close attention. Thinking logically, if you’re keen to answer natural language questions you need to reflect these issues in your content, something that will make a lot of sense to anyone already involved in optimising their site for search engines. The same basic principles apply.
Do you answer the most possible/popular/common conversational queries people use to find stuff on your website? Google’s auto-complete feature will help you identify the most frequently used questions
How are your competitors in the search space handle voice search, if at all? If they’ve done a great job, follow their lead but do an even better job
Optimise the existing content you think is most valuable to people using voice searches, and create fresh content to fill any gaps
It’s a long-tail thing
To answer natural language questions with any degree of accuracy, you need to focus on long-tail search terms. They’re longer, of course, but that isn’t what long-tail means. The real difference between long-tail terms and head terms is that they focus on sales-led, decision-making led sales rather than information gathering queries from further back along the sales funnel. For example, the head term ‘yellow widgets’ doesn’t indicate a readiness to buy, whereas ‘buy a large yellow widget’ signals the intention to make a purchase right now, or at least very soon.
As a rule, long-tail terms are usually easier to rank for than head terms, so you benefit from a marketing double whammy.
Get your FAQ in shape for voice searches
You can imagine how a great FAQ section captures loads of powerful voice searches purely by answering very specific questions. Don’t turn your FAQ into a hard sell, like far too many site owners do. Instead, focus on delivering great information. With hard work and a fair wind behind you, you’ll improve on voice searches for those questions.
Optimising pages for voice search
You can optimise your web pages for voice search all you like. If your site isn’t adequately responsive, displaying perfectly on a small screen, you’ve lost the advantage. Every page needs to work flawlessly on mobiles. Adding proper Schema.org markup gives you even more of an advantage, helping search engines to classify the page accurately and giving them a reliable source to identify your authority. And when you optimise your pages’ microdata, ensuring vital stuff like geographical travel directions and XML sitemaps are readable to people and search engines, you’re tapping into the exact type of queries voice searchers will frequently make.
The future is conversational – Are you ready?
Content-driven websites have to answer the questions that voice-driven searchers are asking. Getting your site ready for the voice-activated searches involves carefully analysing your content to make sure it does respond to the questions people regularly ask. How’s your site looking for voice search? If you need help and fancy sparking up a positive long term relationship with a no-bullshit web design company that has proven SEO credentials, give us a call.