At this point, it is hard to deny that voice searches are changing how people use the Internet and query it for information. Virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, which were mere novelties a few years ago, have quickly come to be relied upon by people around the world.
2017 statistics show that voice-activated computing is rapidly rising in popularity. Looking towards the future, the debate is not over whether people will keep using voice search, but rather when voice search might come to equal typed searches in popularity.
This raises obvious questions for an online marketer: How do voice search and SEO interact? How might voice search SEO differ from previous SEO? And how will these strategies change in the future, and voice search becomes more ubiquitous?
These are the questions we will examine in this blog. First…
What is voice search? Basically, it is anytime a user uses any virtual assistant or other voice-activated application to query information online instead of using text entry methods.
People are using it for a wide range of tasks as well. According to Search Engine Watch, online searches are the second most-popular reason to use voice commands, used by approximately 62% of users.
As for who is using voice search, hard research is harder to find. Presenters at LocationWorld 2016 cited a figure of 40% of adults.
"40% of adults now use voice search once per day" #locationworld @Steve074
— Stephen Kenwright (@stekenwright) November 3, 2016
Voice search is coming to be used almost everywhere. Going back to that SEW survey, common places for voice search include ‘home alone’, ‘at home with friends’, ‘at the office alone’, ‘at restaurants with friends’ and even at parties or at gyms.
In short, voice search is coming to be an accepted behavior in practically any non-formal setting. This also suggests that occasionally talking to one’s phone is not considered any more rude in casual get-togethers than typing on it.
We could quote more statistics, but we suspect you get the point: Absolutely every available indicator is that voice search is growing in usage and popularity across most or all demographics. Not just that, it’s becoming common in a growing number of locations too. The only real matter of debate is how fast it’s growing.
Which can mean a major rethink of some assumptions regarding your SEO strategies.
The following assertion is more anecdotal, but there’s very little reason to doubt its truth: People almost always speak to virtual assistants in full sentences.
Sure, in science fiction you sometimes see people talking to their computers in extremely clipped fragments, like Captain Picard.
But that doesn’t match usage we have seen in the real world, or that anyone else is reporting on. If someone’s iPhone were capable of ordering them a cup of tea, they would almost undoubtedly say “Hey Siri, get me a cup of hot Earl Grey tea.” They might even say please.
Likewise, if someone is making a search via text, they would be more likely to search with keywords.
Whereas, if someone is making a voice search query, it comes out as something like:
This is probably one of the biggest changes to user behavior which has currently been brought about by voice search: a switch from a keyword based approach, to more natural full-length sentences.
So what can we do about it?
There are two major recommendations here, although one of which has already been a good idea in some time: Answer questions directly.
Furthermore, answering questions means there’s a chance your content could become part of Google’s featured snippet at the top of the search page, answering the question without any clicking required.
This is doubly important because many virtual assistants will first look for a featured snippet answering the question. If they find one, they won’t even bother looking deeper for data. Having a featured snippet is the best way to have digital assistants repeating your information.
The other important change to your content for voice search SEO is to try to use more synonyms or rephrase your keyword a few times. This is in part because we don’t know exactly how smart Google’s heuristic system is. So, for example, if you want to capture searches relating to taking a vacation in Paris, you would want to try to work in phrases such as “Paris vacation,” “Paris travel,” and “Paris getaway.”
P.S. Thesaurus.com should be your frequently visited site.
Also, don’t forget about long-tailed keywords. Since users are speaking in full sentences, they’re more likely to use modifiers. After all, someone looking for a “romantic Paris vacation” would want much different search results than someone looking for “Paris business travel”.
This, in turn, means you probably need to spend more time researching your audience.
Doing a “spaghetti against the wall” game with long-tailed keywords and synonyms will only get you so far. Also, you need to be careful that it doesn’t start looking deliberate. Content that is obviously playing the keyword game tends to turn off readers.
Do plenty of research into the queries which are leading to your site. Construct buyer personas in as much detail as the data supports.
Constantly monitor top keywords relating to your industry, and use those to influence any AdWords bids or other PPC advertising you use. Look for your highest-value questions and constantly target those. Additionally, WhoRanksWhat is a great tool to find out your current ranking keywords and optimize your content based on the data.
Voice search SEO is not going to reward those trying to cast a net that’s too wide. Specialization and narrow targeting will be much more effective for the majority of businesses.
Speaking of narrow targeting, voice search is probably changing local SEO fastest of all. Voice searches are significantly more likely to be local, particularly when requests for maps and directions are figured in. There are a couple crucial points here.
First, do whatever you can to get near or at the top of rankings for your business type. If someone asks Siri for a local pizzeria, Google is going to factor in customer ratings in their own Google My Business system. The logic they use is somewhat fuzzy, but generally, unless the searcher specifies closest the search result will point them towards something which is nearby and highly-rated.
Also, be smart about the descriptors you use. Try to incorporate local slang and descriptions people use about their neighborhoods. Be as specific as possible. For example: A New York pizzeria is going to have a lot better luck with local SEO if they make sure to specify repeatedly that they’re in Hell’s Kitchen, rather than simply saying they’re in Manhattan.
So – getting very specific – a pizzeria on 8th Avenue would be smart to include “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Theater District,” “Garment District,” and “Clinton” along with “8th Ave” in their copy, to maximize their chances of coming up in local searches. It might not even be necessary to mention Manhattan at all! After all, someone in the area looking for a nearby pizza would not bother saying Manhattan in their search, but they might use any of the other above names.
Obviously, not every neighborhood has so many descriptors attached, but it illustrates the point: To succeed in local search, one must be local, and constantly keep their local pages updated to remain relevant.
One of the most exciting things about voice search and voice search SEO, from a technological perspective, is that there are so many directions it might go. However, this could be downright paranoia-inducing for a marketer! There’s no good way to predict exactly what changes will come between now and 2020 (and beyond), but we think these are some pretty good bets to look into:
In short, where voice search SEO is concerned, the smart marketer will always be looking to the future, reading the trends, and trying to position themselves based on what’s likely to come about a few months into the future.
So, what do you think? How are you adapting to voice searches in your own SEO work and how do you think it’s going to change online queries? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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