Voice Search Optimization: How to Use SEO Strategies for Voice Search
Marketers need to prepare for how to rank their site’s pages so they have a fighting chance to be the chosen voice result when voice technology devices are used, writes Sherry Bonelli.
Voice search is here! If you own an Amazon Echo/Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomePod or chat with Siri to on your iPhone to try and get information, you can probably relate to this popular YouTube video from Screen Junkies:
(Source: Screen Junkies https://youtu.be/3TWg80Jw8_s)
Now, I admit that voice search may not be perfect, but it has come a long way – and it’s going to be one of the fastest growing digital technologies in the coming years. According to Gary Vaynerchuk in his new book Crushing It, “There’s nothing that’s going to disrupt marketing to the level that voice will since social media came in 2009.” That’s a pretty bold statement. (And Gary Vee makes a lot of bold statements.) But I think he’s 100% right about this one.
Here are some other bold stats:
40% of adults now use voice search once per day (Source: comScore)
Cortana now has 133 million monthly users (Source: Microsoft/Tech Radar)
25% of 16-24s use voice search on mobile (Source: Global Web Index)
25% of searches on Windows 10 taskbar are voice. On desktop! (Source: Purna Virji)
So if you have anything to do with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you need to prepare for how you are going to try and rank your site’s pages so they have a fighting chance to be the chosen voice result when voice technology devices are used – whether it’s a voice assistant like Amazon’s popular Alexa or the Google Voice Assistant App on your Samsung Galaxy smartphone. No matter where you go, you’re not going to be able to escape voice search – because there are a variety of voice search technologies out there (and there are more to come!) So you better learn how to be found when the questions are asked by potential customers.
Voice Search: A Must-Learn SEO Strategy
According to ComScore, by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches. People are changing the way they search. We’re getting lazy and touching those tiny keypads on our smartphones is just too much work – so more and more of us are using our voice and normal every-day language to ask search queries to our computers, smartphones, tablets and smart voice assistants.
The search engines that power these voice search and voice personal assistants (like the Amazon Echo) use machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze ALL of the available signals about your site, but there are specific things Google looks for when trying to determine which page’s content should be the one displayed or spoken when a question is asked.
What Does Your Digital Footprint Look Like?
It’s true that search engines look at your entire digital footprint when they consider how a site ranks:
The search engines look at everything from site speed, SSL, reviews, social media, the quality of content on your site, schema markup, headings, bulleted lists and more. However, when you want a specific section of your website to rank, there are certain things you can do to help increase the chances of your page’s content to appear in voice search.
Recently Brian Dean from Backlinko did a large study on what impacts voice search results, and the findings are very interesting. In this research they analyzed 10,000 Google Home search results. According to their research, here are some factors that impact voice search results:
- Page Speed plays a major role in voice search SEO. The average voice search result page loads in 4.6 seconds (52% faster than the average page).
- Google has been pushing sites to become secure by purchasing and installing an SSL certification. Backlinko found that HTTPS websites dominated Google’s voice search results. 4% of Google Home result pages are secured with HTTPS.
- Google likes short voice search query answers. The typical voice search result is 29 words.
- Authoritative domains produce voice search results significantly more than non-authoritative domains.
- Simple, easy-to-read content can help with voice search SEO. The average Google voice search result is written at a 9th grade level.
If you look at all this information, you can see that Google looks at a variety of factors when determining what to show in voice search results. That means that your site’s overall SEO needs to be top-notch if you want to succeed in voice search!
Two Types of Voice Search Queries
There are two main types of voice search queries:
“What will the weather forecast today?”
“What is the most popular Garth Brooks song?”
“What is the best tattoo parlor in San Diego?”
Voice Engagement / Asking a Device to “Do” Something
“Add my appointment with Sam to my calendar on Wednesday at 2:00 pm”
“Remind me to do call Susie at 2:00 p.m.”
Today we’re going to talk about how you can optimize for Search Queries. (If you’re interested in learning how to program for device voice engagement, you’ll want to learn how to program Amazon Alexa Skills and Flash Briefings, Google Home Content Actions or the SiriKit for the Apple HomePod.) And if you ARE a programmer, you really should learn how to do these skills – they WILL be in demand.)
With Voice Search You Either Win Or Lose. There’s No Second Place
Google’s main goal is to give searchers the best results possible when a search is made (well…that AND to make oodles of money from Google AdWords.) To do that, their algorithm scours the web for the best answer when a voice search is made.
People typically go to the internet looking for an answer to a problem or question. The content on your site must answer that question using optimization strategies to increase your chances of being the one voice search result.
As an SEO professional, YOUR main goal is to appear in “Position 0” (a.k.a. Featured Snippet or Answer Box.) Position 0 is just that – the position ABOVE the first organic search results and it is typically in a box with an image. This is what the featured snippet looks like on a desktop search:
And this is what is spoken when you ask the question, “What are the SEO benefits of podcasting?” on Google’s Voice Assistant on an Android phone:
Sometimes ads will appear before the featured snippet (position 0) on the desktop, but for the most part position 0 is the coveted Holy Grail for all SEOs.
How can YOU get your content as a featured snippet so, in most cases, it will be the result in voice search results? Here are some tips.
Anatomy of a Featured Snippet
Now, before we begin analyzing the anatomy of a featured snippet, you must realize that all of the other ranking factors that Google takes into consideration when ranking your site is also taken into consideration for voice search results, too. That means these factors all matter:
- Site authority
- Number and quality of backlinks
- Social media engagement
- Secure Site
- Site speed/load time
- Google My Business/Online Directories
(So if you’ve just created a non-secure, slow website with no authority, you will probably not show up in voice search results — sorry.) BUT if you have authority and are using general SEO best practices that we’ve talked about, you have a solid opportunity to show up as a featured snippet and can become a voice search result. Let’s look at some ways you can do that.
In this example we’re going to look at the search for “How do you respond to negative reviews online.”
Here are the results using the mobile Google Voice Assistant:
That featured snippet is being pulled from an article called “How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews.”
Here’s what Google did to make this blog post a featured snippet. They looked at this blog post and took all the H2 (Heading 2s) and turned them into a bulleted list in the featured snippet.
They also looked at the title of the blog post which has the keywords of the question, the meta title and description which also has the keywords. Even the URL has the appropriate keywords.
So if you look at this voice search result example, you see the following:
- A highly authoritative site
- A secure site
- A site that has fairly good load time/speed
- The post has headings that answer the question being asked
- The title of the post has keywords
- The meta title and description have the keywords
- URL also has appropriate keywords
- The content itself answers the question
- The content is optimized for search engines and people
- And more…
Now, if I were to analyze the overall BrightLocal site (where this blog post is housed), you would find many more SEO factors that Google favors – and things that also helped this post rank for voice search. But hopefully you get the idea of how a featured snippet and voice search results are made based on this example.
So How Do You Start Ranking for Voice Search Results?
First, keyword research just got even more important – and long-tail keywords just got longer. Voice search queries are literally spoken as people really talk, so shoot for optimizing for keyword phrases that are around 5-7 words.
seoClarity did research and came up with a list of voice search “trigger” words that people use when they are searching with voice. When you’re writing content, be sure to use these trigger words in your content – for maximum SEO purposes these trigger words should especially be used in titles, headings, meta descriptions, towards the top of the page, bolded, etc.
In addition to the trigger words, here are other things to consider when it comes to content and keywords:
- Look for keywords that have questions you will be able to answer in great depth
- Include keywords like “how,” “why” and “where”
- Use “trigger words” – More than 20% of featured snippets are triggered by these top 25 words
- Write pages on individual/specific topics containing a keyword phrase
- Think of questions people ask about your products and services – and write content that answers those questions
- Answers to questions should be towards the top of your pages – ideally in the first paragraph (in approximately the first 29 words)
- Use long-form vs. short-form content (1,500-2,000+ words)
When you’re writing your content, make sure you double check to make sure your content is ‘down to earth,’ easy to read and easy to understand. Use a tool like the Hemingway app and make sure you’re writing for Grades 7-10.
Other Tools That Help You Find Questions/Topic Ideas That REAL People Are Asking (HINT: Many Use Trigger Words)
One of the most challenging things can be trying to figure out topic ideas – especially ones that contain keywords that people are asking. Luckily there are some GREAT tools out there that make it easy for you to find out what questions real people are asking about a particular keyword – and many use the trigger words shown above. Here are just a few tools you should check out:
- Answer the Public
- Question Samurai
- Google Trends
- Google Suggest
Local Business and Voice Search
Local businesses are treated a little differently when it comes to voice search. (For instance, Amazon Echo rely heavily on zip codes for local voice searches.) If you own a local business, make sure you claim and optimize your Google My Business listing and claim other high-quality online business directories.
Also, create local content that answer questions your customers – and potential customers – are asking:
- Create individual Q&A pages for each main question topic:
- Brainstorm with your team
- Talk to your sales people
- Ask your customer support reps
Find out what your customers are really asking and write pages about those topics.
Other Voice Search SEO Tips
Finally, here are some other SEO tips you can use to help optimize for voice search:
- Answer Questions People Are Asking – The answer to the question should appear first on the page (keep that opening paragraph/explanation to around 30 words.)
- Write like you talk – simply answer questions when you write content. Would a 15-year-old understand?
- Use Heading Tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.)
- Long-Tail Keywords are more important – long-tail keywords just got longer (5-7 words)
- Use keywords in the URL
- Title Tags — Tells both searchers and search engines what the topic of a particular page is about. (around 50-60 characters)
- Description Tags – Use “trigger” keywords in description (around 166-215 characters)
- Site’s loading speed is more important ranking signal than ever – Load in 4 seconds or less
- HTTPs – Have a secure site. Install an SSL Certificate
- High Authority Site – Build up your website’s authority
- Use Schema Markup/Structured Data to make it easy for the search engines to know what each page is about
- For Local Businesses, make sure your Google My Business and Online Directories NAP are consistent (especially your zip code)
Get Started Today With Voice Search
Now is the time to start optimizing your site for voice search. Don’t wait! Take a careful look at everything about your site and start tweaking it now so that you’re positioned to takeover your competitors in the voice search arena. Good luck!
**Sherry Bonelli is a nationally recognized SEO expert and digital marketing professional. She entered the digital marketing world in 1998 when she launched her first ecommerce business selling pregnancy and baby products. Her ecommerce site was selected as one of the top 10 websites by a leading pregnancy magazine, and she appeared on the TODAY Show, CNN, ABC News, MSNBC and other media outlets.
Her digital marketing agency, early bird digital marketing, is in Cedar Rapids, IA, but she serves clients all over the U.S. Sherry is passionate about helping her clients grow their businesses through integrated digital marketing strategies.
She is a recognized national presenter, speaking at industry events, webinars and podcasts, such as Traffic & Conversion Summit, SMX, SCORE, MozPod, The Local Business Leaders Podcast and others. Sherry also holds a Master of Internet Marketing.
As a guest columnist for some of the leading SEO and digital marketing websites, like Search Engine Land, Moz, SEMrush, GeoMarketing/Yext, BrightLocal, SCORE and others, she’s earned recognition by having some of the most shared local SEO blog posts on the internet — one of her blog posts was recently recognized as Search Engine Land’s second most popular local SEO post in 2017.
In her “spare” time she volunteers as a SCORE Mentor. As a SCORE mentor at the SCORE East Central Iowa Chapter, she enjoys helping businesses identify their digital marketing strategies.