It doesn’t seem too long ago when non-techies rolled their eyes at voice search, dismissing the technology as a gimmick that didn’t have practical use. But as natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms evolved, people quickly learned to integrate voice search into their daily lives.
As of this writing, 33% of US consumers own a smart speaker, while 43% of the population use voice assistants. Moreover, Statista predicts that by 2025, transactions made through voice assistants on smart home devices will reach USD$164 billion. All signs suggest that voice search is no longer a trend that businesses can ignore but a catalyst of a pivotal shift digital marketing professionals must prepare for.
This article explores the emergence of voice search and what businesses can do to be part of this evolution.
Transition to a conversational search
In recent years, search engines have been integrated with new algorithms to improve their ability to connect users’ queries and intent to content that can give them the answers they want. Meanwhile, the ability to perform semantic searches has dramatically changed user behavior. Previously, users typed basic keywords to get the needed information, such as ‘Weather Perth’ or ‘AFL results.’
In contrast to these simplistic keyword searches, people have adapted to the amplified capabilities of smart devices and voice assistants. This has led to conversational queries like ‘What are the chances of rain in Perth today?’ and ‘What’s the best coffee shop in my area?’
While the rules for the voice search game are still being written, businesses must take the steps they can now—rethinking their approach to SEO, content creation, and developing a more nuanced understanding of evolving consumer behaviors.
Voice search optimisation tips
Just as the subtle technological shifts surrounding semantic search allowed search engines to better understand the intent behind voice searches, seemingly minor tweaks can go a long way towards optimising your business for voice search.
Here’s how you can get started:
Optimise for local search
With most voice searches having local intent, updating your NAP (name, address, phone number) on business directories—like Google My Business, Yelp, and Apple Maps—is crucial. Here are some other tips for optimising local search:
- Make sure your NAP is consistent across all platforms, including your social media pages.
- Incorporate local keywords into your website content. This can include the name of a city, town, or neighborhood paired with terms like ‘near me,’ ‘in the area,’ or ‘close by.’
- Consider consulting SEO specialists or using tools to analyse your local search performance.
These simple tweaks to your local SEO can boost your business’s visibility to potential customers searching for products and services like yours.
Enhance site speed
Whether they’re driving or preparing dinner, people expect to get quick answers when they use voice search. Optimising your pages to load quickly allows search engines to crawl your pages faster and find answers best aligned with user intent.
You can use tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights to identify areas that can improve page loading speeds, such as compressing images or minifying code.
Optimise content for Featured Snippets
Google-based assistants often read out Featured Snippets in voice search results. These appear as highlighted excerpts on top of Google search engine results pages (SERPs), featuring relevant content that matches user queries. And because they’re displayed above organic search results, showcased websites get boosted visibility.
Here are some ways your content can become Featured Snippets:
- Leverage the targeted keyword or keyword phrase you want Google to reference in its snippet. You can use the keyword phrase as a question in a header tag (such as an H2 tag higher up on the page). Then use one to two concise sentences to answer that header tag question.
- To appear in list snippets, include trigger words in the header tag question followed by a list of bullet points. Primary examples of trigger words include ‘best,’ ‘top,’ ‘how to,’ and ‘types of.’
Proper formatting and strategic keyword use are paramount whether you want your content featured as an answer, list, or table snippet. Using headings, bullet points, and lists makes it easier for Google to find information relevant to search queries and increases the likelihood of being featured.
Implement schema markup
Schema markup is a type of code that gives search engines additional information to help them better understand the context of your content. There are various types of schema markup, with the most common ones providing search engines with information, such as the following:
- Products: Names, prices, and availability of the products on your website
- Reviews: Reviews written for your products and services
- FAQs: Frequently asked questions about your products and services
- How-Tos: How-to guides on your website
- Recipes: Recipes on your website
Voice search queries are usually informative, so highlighting these types of content with schema markup can convince search engines you have the answers users need. In addition, voice search users tend to use natural language, so remember to make your schema markup sound conversational and natural. If you’re new to schema markup, there are WordPress plugins (like Yoast) that can help simplify the process.
Produce conversational content
As voice searches increasingly become conversational, so should your content. One way to go about this is by identifying common questions or pain points related to your products and services and producing content that answers them better than anyone else.
You can use tools like Google Keyword Planner or SEMrush to get insights into popular conversational phrases and queries related to your business, which you can then answer on your FAQ page. These insights can be valuable in creating content that helps people achieve what they want quickly and effectively.
Optimise your site for mobile
Voice search users are usually multitasking or on the go, so they won’t have the patience for content that isn’t optimised for their mobile devices. As such, search engines have long prioritised websites with mobile-friendly and responsive designs.
Here are the primary ranking factors:
- Simple and easy navigation
- Scannable content
- Fast page load times
If you’re unsure which areas to improve, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool, which scores your website’s mobile-friendliness and offers suggestions for improving it.
Optimise for multiple voice platforms
Different voice assistants may have varying requirements for voice search. For instance, while local SEO improves results for Google Assistant, high Yelp ratings will help you rank higher with Siri. As voice search continues to evolve, keeping tabs on these ranking factors and regularly monitoring your performance will help develop an agile strategy for sustained success.
The technological advancements in voice search are fundamentally changing how users interact with search engines. While targeting keywords used sufficed for organic SEO, voice search is shifting the focus to conversational content that provides real value to users. As such, businesses must recalibrate to adapt and adjust their strategies to avoid missing out on the opportunities afforded by voice search.