Between voice-activated devices like Alexa and Echo and personal assistants like Siri and Cortana, voice search is on the rise. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced in its 2017 Internet Trends report that this trend isn’t limited to AI assistants: twenty percent of searches on mobile were voice searches, and that number is quickly rising. Google noted that 52 percent of voice-activated speakers are placed in common areas of the home such as the family room or living room, where they are easily accessible and always available.
What does this mean for marketers? That's easy: SEO can’t be solely text-focused anymore. Any marketing team hoping to own the SERPs will need to incorporate voice search experience optimization. This method centers on increasing site or app visits by ensuring that the site or app in question is both highly visible and suggested often by voice search tools.
Similar to traditional SEO, sites that are recommended most frequently tend to be ranked higher and receive a correspondingly high number of visits. Pages accessed via voice search tend to load faster — 52 percent faster than average, according to a study from Backlinko. And with Google’s recent algorithm update, dubbed "Speed Update," performance enhancements focusing on the user experience via page speed will become one of its more powerful SEO ranking factors.
‘Alexa, How Do I Optimize for Voice Search?’
When people search aloud, their phrasing is conversational — people don’t speak in a way that can be accounted for with traditional keyword tools. Search experience optimization for these kinds of queries means understanding what an individual searcher will be thinking. What will she say to pull out the results she’s looking for? And how long should those results be? Most of the time, these search results are 29 words or fewer.
Users interact with voice-enabled devices in three main ways: by using the mic button to convert voice-to-text while searching on Google; by using a voice assistant like Alexa, Siri, OK Google, Cortana, Apple HomePod, etc. They might also use a voice app like Alexa Skill or Google Action.
Users who go for the first option will most likely get the same results as if they had queried Google search, even though Google knows the difference. Over time, search results will likely adapt to these queries to maintain an experience that is better suited for voice, but the industry hasn’t quite reached that point.
The second option is where things get different: if you ask a voice assistant a question, it will seek out an answer and speak it back to you rather than send you to a page with numerous site suggestions to peruse. Essentially, your page has one shot to appear as the top recommendation.
Choosing the third option requires users to install a particular voice app to use for searches. For example, my team has an Alexa Skill called Internet Marketing News, which helps users avoid making an accidental search or visiting a separate news site.
Regardless of which option a user selects, all voice experiences share certain attributes. Voice search experience doesn’t usually involve a visual aspect: screens aren’t always necessary. While the first option is likely to involve a phone screen, the second and third options will rely solely on sound to deliver results. Amazon does provide Echo devices with screens, such as the Echo Show and Echo Spot, but screen integration is left to the skill developer to incorporate.
Priming Your Content for Voice Search Results
Hoping to adapt your SEO content techniques to voice search? No matter which option your users rely upon, you’ve got a learning curve ahead of you. These four tips can get you started:
1. Organize your data the way people speak.
Schema markup and structured data can help you organize data in a way that matches voice query fulfillment. These tools act like a table of contents or an outline, sitting in your source code, organizing your data for search engines. This will ensure voice-enabled devices do a better job interpreting the information on your page and relaying it to users through voice interactions.
While these tools might not directly impact a page’s voice search rankings, they do enable search engines to understand the context of the information you’re presenting more accurately. Despite Schema.org markup helping search engines better interpret your content, just 36.4 percent of voice search results come from pages that use Schema, according to the Backlinko study.
2. Ensure your page speed is up to par.
Page speed can have a big impact on your site’s search rankings, especially when it comes to voice searches. Test your page speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix. Both tools will audit and score your speed; they will also provide you with ways to improve your page’s performance. Use the results these tools give you as benchmarks.
Above all, make sure you’re using a fast, reliable hosting provider that uses a content delivery network (CDN). Your host determines how fast your site speed can be, so upgrading to a more expensive plan might be worth it. After taking all of these measures, do a final test to score your site performance using a tool like Pingdom to identify any lingering problems.
3. Use an FAQ format to give concise answers.
Voice recognition software and natural language processing capabilities are continuously improving, making it more important than ever for your pages and apps to be optimized to the way people phrase their voice requests. According to the 2017 Internet Trends Report, nearly 70 percent of voice requests made to Google’s assistant are positioned in a conversational or natural style. Amazon’s voice assistant, Echo, started as a tool to facilitate shopping or media requests, but now it gives its users recommendations and even has video capabilities.
Putting content into an FAQ format ensures your content is structured appropriately for conversational questions. Think about how you or your friends interact with these devices. "Echo?" "OK, Google?" Your content should be well-positioned to answer the type of free-flowing questions people are using. FAQ-formatted pages are optimized for a conversational voice search experience.
4. Craft in-depth pages of 2,000-plus words.
The content you want to optimize for traditional search engines via SEO practices should also be optimized for voice search optimization methods. Search engines tend to favor pages with high-quality, in-depth, comprehensive content. Voice search results tend to follow the same pattern.
Most voice search platforms are more likely to recommend a page that has already proven authoritative in traditional SEO. Backlinko’s study found that of Google Home search results, 74.9 percent come from the top three ranked pages for a given keyword. Ensure that the new VSO strategies you’re implementing are complementing your traditional SEO efforts, not replacing them.
With more AI assistants on the market and NLP capabilities improving faster than ever, voice search isn’t going anywhere. By implementing voice search experience optimization tactics right away, savvy marketers can help their pages come out on top, no matter the search method.
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