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What is voice search?
Voice search is a dialog system designed to be a conversation between a human user and a computer interface. That can be your smartphone, a home smart speaker, or any other speech-enabled device.
Voice assistants use a technology called natural language processing (NLP) to “learn” your speech patterns and recognize your voice over time. The technology isn’t perfect, but it’s becoming more refined. The more you use it, the better it gets.
Why are more people using it?
Convenience is a large part of why voice search is becoming more common. Saying an activation phrase like “Hey, Google” and asking a question the way you would in conversation, feels more natural than what you may type into a search bar.
Voice search is accomplished hands-free. Say you’re in the kitchen midway through a baking recipe with your hands covered in flour. With voice search, you can ask your phone to call up the recipe steps without getting it dirty.
According to data from Statista, other reasons people use voice search include:
- It’s more fun than a regular search
- It’s quicker than opening an app or booting up a computer
- People don’t like typing on their mobile phones
- It can be used hands-free in situations like driving
- People believe it’s a more accurate way to search
While younger generations are using voice search more often, people across all age groups make this tool a regular part of their lives. Though still in the early phase, businesses that get in on the trend now will be better prepared to capitalize on voice search SEO than the competition.
How is voice search SEO different from other types of search?
Voice searches are conducted like a conversation with another person. Because of that, there are a few key differences between them and a conventional keyboard search.
Keywords for voice search are longer and more conversational
When typing in a text search, the focus is on the relevant keywords we’d like a search engine to pick out — “meatloaf recipe,” or “gas near me,” for example.
Voice searches tend to be worded like actual questions because that’s what comes more naturally. You wouldn’t say, “gas near me” to another human. It’s the same thing for voice search. You’re more likely to ask, “Hey Siri, where’s the nearest gas station?”
Voice search favors local listings
Many voice searches are used for “near me” questions — people trying to find the closest gas station, restaurant, dry cleaner, etcetera to them right now. According to Google, “near me” searches that also contained some variant of “can I buy” grew 500 percent between 2016 and 2018.
Before the pandemic, searches like these were on the rise in public places, as people used them to find what they needed quickly while out. Other popular uses of local voice search included finding places to visit and lodging.
Voice search is quick and to the point
Voice search is designed to get results quickly and bring up an easy-to-read snippet with the most useful information right at the top of the page. Why? Because people using it are most likely doing something else while they search, like driving or cooking. They need information quickly.
When using Google, the featured snippet you’re likely familiar with at the top of the search page is what gets displayed in voice search. Not only does this mean quicker results, but a voice assistant will often read those results to you, so you don’t have to look at your screen.
What kind of keywords are people using for voice search?
Optimizing your online presence for voice search means knowing what kind of keywords people are using to search with their voice and why. When building your keyword strategy, consider:
- Question keywords — “why, when, what, how, and where”
- Long-tail keywords — the words you use to complete a question like “today” or “last week”
- Filler words and phrases — “I, of the, on the, for, to” and so on
These keywords adhere to voice searches’ structure, which is more like a natural conversation than a keyboard search. Consider how you’d ask a voice assistant a question about your business to get a better idea of what potential customers would search for.
Tools like Answer the Public provide rich feedback on likely voice searches generated from the main keyword. A search for the word “photography,” for example, brings back questions like:
- How photography works
- Can photography be a hobby
- What photography equipment do I need
Try this with a keyword relevant to your business and see what kinds of questions people are likely to ask.
Voice search is evolving
The tools people use for voice search are getting smarter, making it easier for people to find you. As search A.I.s like Siri and Google Assistant learn natural language patterns, they become better at interpreting the meaning behind a search.
For example, if you were to search for the actor Daniel Craig, Google might bring up his bio. If you were to follow up by asking, “How old is he?” Google would know that “he” meant Daniel Craig.
Voice search has also evolved to integrate more context into the search results you get. If you ask Google Assistant, “What’s the address of my office,” you’ll get the correct result without having to clarify who “my” refers to.
These advancements are something to keep in mind when building your voice search SEO strategy.
Strategies to optimize your site’s SEO for voice search
Once you understand how and why voice search is being used, it’s easy to figure out where your business fits in. Try the following tips to capitalize on searches people run on their mobile phones and smart devices.
1. Understand the customer
Not everyone will use voice search the same way or for the same reason. Get to know your target audience and their demographic breakdown so you can better understand how to meet them where they live.
Millennials and Gen Z, for example, will likely be online often and use voice search more frequently than their Boomer or Gen X counterparts. Different groups of people will also use voice search on different devices — one group may prefer mobile voice assistants while another might use a smart speaker like Alexa.
You also need to know what your audience is searching for. Local voice search can usually be divided into a few common categories:
- Finding an address
- Getting directions
- Finding a business phone number
- Finding business hours
- Finding how far away a business is
Local voice search queries like these can be grouped into three broad categories:
- Discovery queries — where users are looking for a type of business (i.e., “Find a coffee shop near Dodger Stadium”)
- Direct queries — where users want to get specific information or take specific action related to a business (i.e., “Call Joe’s Coffee House”)
- Knowledge queries — where users are looking for the answer to a question (i.e., “How many actors played James Bond before Daniel Craig?”)
As with on-page text SEO, designing your site to answer common user questions and needs is the key to getting your site to the top of search results.
2. Focus on conversational keywords and user intent
People are more likely to speak to a voice assistant or smart speaker the same way they would talk to another person. Instead of saying a couple of keywords, they’ll use entire sentences, and you should plan your content accordingly.
Try to think of the natural phrases people would use when looking up your business using voice search. Make sure your page and business listing answer those questions and as many related ones as possible.
For example, you could optimize your business listing and site for the search “coffee shops near me,” as well as “coffee shops in Houston, Texas,” or “What are the best coffee shops in Houston?”
3. Use schema markup to make your page easy to categorize
There are other tools, apart from backlinking and specific keywords, you can use to let the programs that scan web pages — known as “web crawlers” — know what your page is about and what questions it answers. One of the easiest ways to do this is by using a tool called schema markup.
Schemas are HTML website add-ons you can use as labels for web crawlers. They tell Google and other search engines where your website fits — letting them know that your site is a good match for a user’s search.
Using schema markup helps web crawlers put your website in the proper category, which helps optimize your site for SEO by making the defining information easy to find. This way, people using voice and mobile search will get to your website faster.
If you don’t have a huge amount of coding knowledge, don’t worry. There are free tools you can use to apply schema markup to your website. Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is particularly useful. Just enter your website URL and follow the prompts to choose what data gets displayed in your site’s search listing.
4. Build a detailed FAQ page
An obvious way to answer as many relevant questions as possible without keyword stuffing is an FAQ page. It can provide answers to common questions about your business, which provides value and gives your page more authority.
Common searches tend to include “who, what, when, where, and how,” so consider incorporating these terms in the questions you answer. Write conversational answers to each question to optimize for longer keywords common in voice search.
Ensure your FAQ page is easy to find, loads quickly, and functions smoothly. Each question and answer should be clearly marked. To improve the customer’s overall experience, it’s a good idea to include a way for them to let you know if they still have questions after reading your page.
5. Optimize for local voice search
Most people will use voice search to find a business near where they live, where they plan to visit, or where they are at the moment. Optimizing your page for mobile and local search helps direct these searchers to your business.
Factors that help a business show up in local voice search include:
- Close to the searcher
- Positive reviews regularly
- Frequent links to their website and content
- Engagement with people on social media channels
- Local, industry-specific directory listings
Updating your Google My Business (GMB) listing is key. Make it as complete and specific as possible, including reviews, relevant keywords in your site description, and photographs of your business. Leave no field blank, as the more information Google has, the more likely it is to include your business in a “near me” or another local search.
Update other directory listings like YellowPages and Bing as well. Complete profiles on multiple platforms can only help drive more traffic to your business. Just be sure they’re updated regularly with current information — once every few months should be fine.
Claiming business profiles on multiple platforms can also help you optimize for multiple voice assistants. For example, a complete Bing profile makes it more likely that you’ll be found by Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant.
6. Optimize for mobile
When out and about, the device people are most likely to have with them is their smartphone. This means it’s the device they’re most likely to use for a “near me” search.
Once you pop up in the listings, you don’t want to lose them with a poorly optimized site. Ensure all your pages load quickly, display relevant information, and allow users to find answers easily.