How to Optimize for Voice Search: Goals, SEO Strategies, & Tools
Voice search is more than just the cool tool that set an alarm or plays a song for you. With an imminent, reformatory takeover on how people search the internet, marketers are now required to focus on voice search goals too - adopt several voice SEO strategies into the mainstream.
People now tend to multitask, while getting answers and information at the command of their voice.
While AI technology has powered voice assistants to work out things quickly and efficiently.
Such is the impact of the technology that about a third of internet searches are already being asked via voice. And this has possible due to the huge popularity of virtual assistants on smartphones and smart speakers coupled with the ease of natural human language.
Voice search has evolved through the years in terms of general usage. Yet, there's still a lot of growing to be done from the perspective of search marketing and voice commerce.
This article highlights insights from 50+ SEO experts and digital marketers into a compilation of best optimization strategies for voice search, voice SEO goals marketers to focus on, and a list of tools to aid your voice search SEO efforts.
How Voice Search is Being Used?
With increasing usage, voice-enabled searches are developing swiftly. Yet they’re still in the rudimentary stages of development.
Today, most of the virtual assistants and smart speakers operate via natural language processing with the voice as a primary method of interaction.
Here are some of the popular platforms, where voice search is being used for:
- Smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod, etc.
- Virtual assistants as a part of the mobile operating system such as Google Assistant, Siri, etc.
- Virtual assistants outside the mobile operating system such as Bixby.
- Virtual assistants as a part of the desktop operating system such as Cortana.
- Within mobile apps such as Alexa, Dom, etc
- Wearable technology, Internet of Things, etc
People use these devices widely for getting personal assistance on simple tasks to accessing vast fortunes of the internet.
From Where Do Popular Voice-Enabled Assistants Get Their Information?
When a user voice searches a query, the algorithm uses natural language processing to understand the search intent. Then, it looks out on the internet for the perfect answer that satisfies this search intent.
Search engines have evolved for decades doing the same thing.
Thus, most of the digital assistants source their information from major search platforms, using a specialized algorithm.
Here is how popular voice-enabled assistants get their information from:
For local search queries:
- Google Assistant - Google Maps
- Siri - Apple Maps
- Amazon Alexa - Yelp
- Cortana - Bing Maps
For other queries:
- Google Assistant - Google Search Engine, Actions
- Siri - Google Search Engine
- Amazon Alexa - Bing Search Engine, Alexa Skills
- Cortana - Bing Search Engine
What Elements of Your Websites to Optimize for Voice Search?
Let’s get started with how people use voice search, while what are voice search engine bots looking on your websites?
Content with Easy, Speakable, and Natural Language
The fundamental idea of voice search is simple, to communicate in a language comprehensible to everyone.
It surely changes how people search for a query on the internet. But aligned with smart speakers, it even changes how they get information on these queries.
It is astonishing how much search engines could get out of a broken language, a bunch of words regularly searched. Much of the content that ranks well nowadays is heavily optimized for these certain search terms or phrases.
"Which works fine for now," says CMO at Chanty - Olga Mykhoparkina, "but won’t do well in the future when voice search takes over. The things that will change are the phrases that rank well - they will be much more like natural speech, rather than fragmented words without grammar or any kind of structure."
“You must always keep your content very read friendly”, advises Anjana Wickramaratne, CEO of Inspirenix, “and implement keywords that make the most sense. This will make it easy for voice search bots to pick it up from your website and show it in the voice search listings. Keep in mind that voice search bots look for more natural flowing keyword implementations as it has to align with the actual voice search of a person.”
Speak your answer, rather than type it.- Jared Bauman
Co-founder and CEO of 201 Creative, Jared Bauman says, “Long-winded answers that use complicated vocabulary are not ideal for voice search. People ask simple questions and need answers that match that. Voice search answers that rank tend to be simpler.”
While at Ever Increasing Circles, Marketing Director and Co-Founder Alistair Dodds practice the same by deciding on primary and secondary keyword targets, preparing a title and topic for discussion, and making a video tutorial to match.
She goes on to detail her action plan, “By allowing an expert presenter to speak at length on the topic with an outline plan, they can talk naturally in a way that is going to fit with voice search. From there we extract the transcription and edit the transcript accordingly ensuring to edit as appropriate and insert any natural variations in the language used that will be attractive to voice search.”
Accustoming content for natural language that humans speak and listen has proven to be a highly effective means among top marketers for targeting natural voice searches in topics from music to fishing tutorials, home insulation to financial services.
Featured Snippets for Specific Questions
Position zero - Google's featured snippet - attempts to give a singular, descriptive answer to particular queries by people; so does voice search.
Needless to say, most of the answers, that smart speaker readout, to your queries originate from these featured snippets.
Optimizing for voice search is the same as optimizing for featured snippets.- Anthony Martin
Anthony Martin, CEO of Choice Mutual says, "Voice search basically delivers a short answer to your question, which is essentially what the featured snippet does just in written format."
For example, Google Home, or even the Assistant, would read out the same answer for voice search - "how is almond milk made" - that the featured snippet would have shown on a typed query.
Typically, featured snippets make use of three formats:
- Paragraphs (Avg - 45 Words, Max - 97 Words)
- List (Avg - 4.2 Bullets, Max - 8 Bullets)
- Table (Avg - 3.6 rows, Max - 9 Rows)
Rob Marsden, head of SEO at Search Laboratory, explains the gravity, "Unlike a traditional 10 result SERP, where as long as you’re positioned anywhere on the first page you have the chance of a click, with voice search you generally have just one chance to be returned – you’re either the voice result or you’re not. So it’s worth spending some time really trying to understand how to gain more featured snippets. This is particularly important on screenless devices such as a lot of the home smart speakers."
Keep in mind, ranking #1 on the search engine is not equivalent to getting content for a featured snippet.
As asserted by Adam Gingery, paid search manager at Majux Marketing, "If you're a content-heavy website with lots of info-laden pages, the first thing you should do for voice search is complete for structured snippets.” Their firm recently ran an audit on all of their clients' content ranking on position #1, to see how many of those results also had the structured snippet. Surprisingly, competitor sites that weren't in position #1 owned the structured snippet for about half of those queries.
Optimized for Local Search
Voice queries are often intended for immediate assistance.
For example, a huge percentage, if not most, of voice searches include the words "near me" or "now". People are constantly asking Google for a "coffee shop near me" or "which salons are open now". The results people see for these kinds of queries are the businesses that fought their way into Google's Map Pack.
This proves especially true for highly prevalent “near me” or "open now" voice searches where consumers look for local businesses in their vicinity.
As Michelle Levine, organic search manager at Vistaprint, observes, "Since they are happening on a mobile device, there is definitely a possibility of local search intent." She suggests ensuring your Google My Business and other local listing profiles are up to date with accurate information for the best chance at ranking in the search results.
Also, try to encourage good reviews and ratings from your customers on these listings. Cause, often people tend to search local businesses with adjectives such as 'best' or 'top', which are returned with replies that have the best online ratings.
For example, if you asked Siri on your iPhone - “Hey Siri, where can I eat Mexican food nearby?”, you will be returned a list of Italian restaurants closest to your current location.
If you then followed it up with “Siri, which is the best one?”, Siri will mostly reorder the results based on the reviews to show the highest rated restaurants closer to the top.
In today's mobile-first world, if your website is not optimized for mobile, then you're already missing out on a lot of organic traffic.
Furthermore, smartphones remain elemental, and dominant when it comes to voice search user base. Not to mention, it would continue to do so.
There has been a colossal growth in the usage of screen-less, voice-first devices. But most of these are immobile devices, whereas most people spend the majority of their day moving; while voice-searching on the go.
Technology like Siri, Ok Google, Alexa, and Cortana have transformed the way customers search their mobile and browse through the internet.- Nathan Finch
Naturally, content that voice search answers on their screens are the ones optimized for mobile search.
"People tend to use voice search on mobiles when they are out, rather than while they are at home," says Nathan Finch of Aussie Hosting, "The trick here is to write content that reads just the way people talk."
Search engines favor information from mobile-friendly websites.
"Google recommends a responsive web design", advises Boni Satani, digital marketing manager at Zestard Technologies, "For this, you need to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. If everything is okay with your website, you will get a message, 'Page is mobile-friendly.' However, if your website needs to be fixed, then Google will show the particular steps that you need to take."
Google Actions and Alexa Skills
AI-powered smart speakers have made branded customization in voice search marketing simple.
Remember, the voice-based search is just another form of a user query. And if your content is struggling to make the mark, these devices have the option to do your bidding in a distinct, direct way.
By creating Actions on Google and developing Skills for Alexa, marketers have an opportunity to penetrate directly into the lives of millions.
SEO manager at Revium, Kyle Douglas notes, "With the rise of voice search on home devices like Alexa on the Amazon Echo, or Assistant on Google Home Hub, crafting content designed specifically to be read back to the searcher is just as important as having it appear in an easily digestible, readable format."
Alexa Skills and Google Actions are specific commands that users can voice for added functionality such as playing music or reading content from a specific website, ordering food, controlling home functions, etc.
They provide simplified, branded conversations for consumers, making them connected to your content and services.
How to Create a Voice Search Optimization Strategy for Your Website?
Now that we are aware of what voice search bots are looking for, here are the 8 SEO strategies to optimize for voice search:
Use Conversational Keywords
There is a key difference between traditional text-based searches vs how people search using voice.
Text search tends to be short and to the point.
Voice search tends to be more conversational and has far more variety.
Shane Black, the founder, and CEO of Pearl Digital Marketing, says, "When speaking, we naturally provide context around the topic that we are talking about so that anyone listening can understand. The same carries across to voice search. A searcher using voice will naturally use a query that has more words in it than a typical search."
For example: While a person would type 'beginners exercise tips' on Google search engine, the same person would ask 'what are some of the exercise tips for beginners?' on Google Assistant; both have almost the same search intent.
It's essential to note that voice search terms are not the same as long-tail keywords, as they tend to be question-based. And each of the five Ws - what, when, where, who, why (and how) - can change the search intent.
And with artificial intelligence, voice assistants understand and develop search intent queries by queries.
"If we try some close conversational variations like 'what are some exercise tips for beginners?' here we can see we will get the same result," points Bowler Hat's SEO & Digital Marketing Consultant, Marcus Miller, "Yet, if try other variations - 'what are some good beginners exercise tips' or 'what are the best exercise tips for beginners', with the exact same intent, I now get different sites - a very similar answer but results from other websites."
"Never use acronyms, and if you do, spell them out in parentheses", Mom Beach LLC's Becky Beach shares her insights, "People who voice search will say the whole word out and not use the acronym unless under specific circumstances. ASAP is a commonly said acronym, for instance."
So, as with much SEO, this comes down to keywords and content. You have to get inside the mind of your target reader and consider the way that they will ask the question.
Blend Q&As into Your Content
Using the most relevant questions, and their answers, in normal content formats is as tricky as it is important.
"When you write a blog post on an advanced topic, even for the people who are familiar with the niche," Roman Roams, marketing manager at Travel SEO Agency points out that "it is still a good practice adding explanation sections like ‘what is…’, ‘why do you need...’ and similar to make sure everyone understands the main topic of the article."
The key to doing this is to make the format conversational.
As said by Matt Erickson, marketing director at National Positions - "Structuring this conversation, question-and-answer style, into your content can go a long way in serving your content for voice search. So, rather than just saying 'Curry is made with XYZ', you could rework this content to read 'So you may be asking...what are the ingredients in spicy curry? The ingredients in spicy curry are XYZ'. When voice search can find answers directly related to the question asked, you are more likely to show up in the results."
While marketing manager at The Kyle David Group - Keri Lindenmuth points out one important element here, "Answers should start with the keyword - 'The ingredients in spicy curry are...' or 'You can make spicy curry with...' - and be short and to the point. Use formats like bullet points or numbered lists, something easier for a voice search device to read aloud."
Create a Dedicated FAQs Section
Most voice search queries are questions: how, who, what, why, where, and when; makes it difficult to optimize content for all these questions.
FAQs help you precisely with this, to provide answers to each of these variations that might be asked on voice search.
Rochelle Burnside, the content specialist at Best Company, says, "FAQ pages are a great way to get some of these long-tail keywords optimized and under your belt."
Jot down all the questions that could be asked. It's important to understand user intent when you're covering a topic and deliver practical solutions for common questions.
"Include an FAQ section at the end of your article," says Rob Powell, founder of Rob Powell Biz Blog, "Google will detect that you have frequently asked questions, together with answers. And that’s going to make your web page a prime candidate for answering a voice search query."
Peter Mesarec, CEO of seos.si, agrees too, "what you should do is update that content in such a way that you add two most frequently asked questions from that topic to the top of the article, and add short (500 characters) answers to those questions. An added benefit to this one is that you can mark this content as FAQ Rich snippets and get additional exposure on search results."
Use of Hierarchy for Headlines
Structuring your content points search bots towards content that can be pulled for a featured snippet, and thus, voice query.
Well-structured content, such as headers, lists, and tables, is important here. Depending upon the structure of the answers (lists vs paragraph of text) search engine can easily grab the answer to formulate the snippet.
Especially, for leveraging question and answer format, as Jarrod Miller-Dean, content Marketing Coordinator with Housecall Pro, notes, "Ensure that the H2s and H3s are phrased in the same manner."
It’s best to begin header sections with mobile-friendly keywords and phrases such as who, what, when, where, why, and attach them to the long-tail keywords.
The content below the H2 and H3 should answer the query (question).
Structure Your Data
With only one answer to return for a voice query, search engines look out for the most specific answer to the question asked.
Structuring data on the website ensures that your pages are easy to crawl, and effectively pointing out to specifics that people are generally searching on the internet.
Nikki Bisel, the founder of Seafoam Media, notes, "Over 20% of voice searches aim to get quick and accurate information about local stores, services, eateries, and the like."
Schema markup is an essential piece of coding vocabulary that is designed to structure this microdata throughout the information on your website.
Here is an example of data markup for contact information:
Nikki says, "By having your structured data accessible to Google, you're able to put your phone number, address, hours of operation, and product or service offering within arm's reach of Google and voice searchers."
Though structured data markups don't really elevate your rankings on search pages, it is required to exhibit relevant information for voice search bots to pick up.
Perfect Your Business Listings
Start with optimizing your website for local SEO, ie. prospective customers searching within close geographic proximity to your offices will easily find your company’s website and Google listing. In addition to the 'contact us' page, add your local address and phone number on the header or footer of select web pages.
"For Google results to show your business in a user’s search," notes Sameer Somal, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Technology, "it is of utmost importance to take ownership of your Google My Business listing, optimize the registry for search and regularly update the profile showcasing most accurate and informative information."
Below are some tips to optimize your Google My Business listing:
- Complete all the information: name, address, phone number and working hours.
- Use a professional business email from your website domain.
- Check if other listings on the internet share consistent information about your business.
- Upload high-quality pictures that represent your business and appeal to prospective clients or customers.
- Stick to relevant categories for your business and avoid generic or irrelevant ones.
- Add an optimized and engaging description for your business, product or service.
- Highlight customer satisfaction and positive feedback within google reviews that will feature prominently on the listing.
- Share and publish posts on your listing that relate to how your business provides value.
Additionally, Andrew Vinas, SEO specialist at T3, advises to include hyper-detailed information to entice the consumer, “Make sure to include any deals or specials you might be running. Also, make your listing dynamic with additional details like parking or special hours.”
Check Your Page Load Time
Loading speed is the jack of all mobile-friendly things (voice search too!), if not the master.
Lesser page loading time would hint search engine bots for instant user experience, encouraging them to consider the content for snippets & rich results. This reflects as personal assistants would be able to access and deliver information quickly.
Andrew Jacobson, an SEO specialist for 9thCO Inc, says, "By further optimizing the page speed of the locations pages your site will have an increased preference over other sites optimized for voice search."
Google, Bing, and Yahoo recognize 'site loading speed' as a ranking factor for mobile pages. This reflects as personal assistants accessing information from here, would be able to deliver quickly.
That being said, there are simple programs available that outline where you can improve your site's backend and frontend performance.
Experiment and Test Your Strategies
Voice SEO is still new; most of these marketers have proactively experimented with their content to get featured for a voice search.
Marcus Miller, of Bowler Hat, suggests experimenting and test - "you have to be constantly monitoring, looking for new variations, tracking, and testing. Experiment with your content, monitor the SERPs and constantly test to ensure you retain your snippets and voice search results."
You need to test your content for a variety of devices and search engines from Google Assistants to Alexa; even how each device pulls answers.
Meanwhile, more and more people are using voice search, which can be leveraged to get insight into how your SEO efforts can fit user experience through voice search.
Which SEO tools can be used for voice search optimization?
Most of the current popular SEO software are not compatible with voice search optimization, to find which phrases are voice search queries or whether you appeared for those queries.
Yet, WO Strategies LLC's Katherine Watier Ong points out that, "The first task is a bit of a guessing game using data from your Google Search Console, looking at long-tail question queries in an SEO tool, or using a tool like AnswerThePublic.com. For the latter, you have to measure your success manually by asking your query to the various devices to see if you appear."
Similarly, other marketers have suggested several other tools.
Here is the list of online tools that can be used to aid your voice SEO strategies:
As discussed, voice-based search terms are more question type and conversational, the kinds of which would be missed by popular keyword research tools.
"When people search through voice, it can be very different than how they type," says Sam White of GT Automotive, “Answer the Public is a great tool to take keyword we may target for non-voice search, and get ideas on how that keyword would be used in a voice search.”
Here, you just need to type your root keyword, and it delivers a chart - a bunch of general questions regarding that keyword.
An impressive list of natural language phrases is provided as well as search volume. Most importantly, these questions help you target different users based on their search intent.
Results for featured snippets are the least analyzed, when it comes to SEO.
With Google Search Console, you can track the queries listed in the SERPs that led people to your webpages.
"A little common sense goes a long way here." says Page 1 Solutions' SEO specialist - Cary Haun, "Look for the queries that are structured as full sentences. This is not to say that people don't type full-sentence queries into their devices. Rather, the chances are much greater that those full sentences you're seeing in GSC were spoken aloud."
This is where you can find raw voice search terms for your content.
And with all the data available like total impressions, clicks, and the average click-through rate regarding these queries, you can rank and maintain the positions on maximum variations of answer boxes.
Schema markup is an essential piece of web-page code which points search engine towards the microdata available throughout the information on your website.
"Writing and applying structured data to your site is a nice bit of icing on the cake," thinks Cary Haun, "But since it's good/best practice to basically do as much work for search engines as possible - making their job 'easier' - schema can only help to facilitate your voice-based search optimization even more."
The core vocabulary of schemas consists of 614 Types with 905 Properties and 114 Inventory values. These schema types are arranged in an algorithmic hierarchy.
Some of the popular types of schemas are:
- Creative works (Books, Movies, Music, Recipes, etc)
- Embedded objects (Image, Audio, Video, etc)
- Health and medicines
- Geographical (Place, Business, Restaurant, etc)
- Product (Catalog, Offers, etc)
- Ratings and Reviews
One of the most important factors for voice SEO is the time it takes for your website to load.
Nate Masterson of natemasterson.com recommends, "starting free and simple with Google's PageSpeed Insights for optimizing page speed. Google's Page Speed Insights analyzes your website and provides you with a detailed review while also offering actionable tips on how to improve your speed."
The tool provides the performance of your web page for both mobile as well as desktop versions, and it’s easy to use.
Voice search is impending to grow at a mammoth scale. Yet, only a few SEO marketers are prepared to brace the impact in 2020.
Marketers who optimize their content for virtual assistants, hold the key to the future of search marketing - to win new voice traffic.
With consultation from 50+ SEO experts and digital marketers, we have arranged a guide to voice search SEO strategies that can aid your overall optimization efforts.
If you determine that you have a demographic that is using voice search or if you see queries related to your product that seem like they are voice queries, you need to start optimizing your website for voice search. For the same, you can reach out to the top SEO companies listed by GoodFirms, whose sheer experience in the segment is aiding businesses to brace for the changing markets
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