April 10 2020

The Impact of Voice Search on SEO

voice search and seoTyping is not the only way to search the internet in 2020. Finding out movie times, checking the weather, getting directions, settling arguments, and even ordering toilet paper are now all possible through voice assistants. Using Siri on our phones has become second nature to most of us, and Alexa and Google Home have made their way into many households throughout the world. In fact, a recent study found that 1/4 of U.S. adults (60 million people) have a smart speaker in their home. As users, we love this technological development and how easy it makes getting the information we need. However, as search engine marketers, we are all wondering how this technology trend impacts tried-and-true SEO best practices.

How Voice Search Works

Voice search uses speech recognition technology to understand the search (query) that a user makes, and then, depending on the Voice Assistant, either presents the best webpage match or reads the answer aloud. Because users are much more likely to ask complex questions out loud, voice technology has had to become a lot more advanced over the past few years to meet users' expectations. However, asking more complex questions isn’t the only difference in how people use voice search. 

Traditional Search vs. Voice Search

There are some important distinctions in how users perform a search using their voice versus typing into a device.

  • Language: When people use voice commands, they are more likely to speak like they would to a human. This contrasts with text search, which is usually more sterile, concise, and targeted toward search engines. For instance, if you want to know where to get ice cream and use voice search, you’re more inclined to phrase it in a conversational way by saying, “Where can I get ice cream near me?” If you were to type out the question, on the other hand, your query would likely sound more robotic; for example, “Ice cream parlors in Glastonbury, Connecticut.”

  • Length of Search: Because people use a more conversational approach to voice search, naturally these queries are longer. In fact, Bruce Clay reports that voice searches are 76% longer than text-based searches.

  • Locality: Since a lot of voice searches are conducted on mobile phones while users are out and about, it’s not surprising that 74% of voice searches are questions about local businesses. Queries about a company’s addresses, business hours, directions and reviews are among the top searches.

  • Questions: For most people, it is faster to ask a question out loud than to type it out. Because of this, questions make up a large portion of voice searches. “How” and “what” are among the top used keywords in voice searches, according to seoClarity.

How to Optimize for Voice Search

Beginning to optimize your website for voice search shouldn’t cause a huge shift in your SEO strategy. If you are currently following SEO best practices when curating, writing, and optimizing your content, you already have a great foundation. However, there are some recommended tactics to implement to ensure your SEO approach incorporates this new method of searching the web.

  • Long-Tail Keywords: Because voice searches are longer and more conversational, search engine marketers will want to focus on targeting long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are long keyword phrases that are very specific to your product/service. These keywords will usually curate fewer search results but have a higher conversion rate because of their specificity. Including your target geographic location and specific information about your product or service within your content is a good approach. For example, instead of just optimizing for “ice cream,” you will want to include “Glastonbury CT Ice Cream Parlor” and “soft-serve ice-cream” within your content. That way, when a user searches for “Where can I find soft-serve ice cream in Glastonbury CT?”, your ice cream parlor will have a better chance of being included in search results.

  • Individual Pages: In addition to optimizing for long-tail keywords, it is also a good idea to have a separate page dedicated to each of your products and services. This makes it easier to optimize for long-tail keywords, since when you are writing content, you will naturally include terms that are more specific to that product/service.

  • Local Search Strategy: Since many searches are questions about local businesses, it is more important than ever to optimize for local search.

  • Google My Business and Bing Places for Business: Besides including location-specific keywords within your content, it is vital that your business is claimed on Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. These are free tools that let business owners create a listing for their company that populates on the respective search engine result pages (SERPs) and includes the business’s address, hours, photos, a description, reviews, and a link to maps. After creating a listing, when users in your area make voice searches related to your products/services that include keywords like “near me” or “in my area,” your local business listing should populate.

  • Structured Data: Including structured data like schema markup makes your website content more easily discoverable by search engines, without changing content on the front-end. There are many pieces of information you can use structured data for, including contact information, events, product details, ratings, and more. After incorporating structured data into the code of your site, search engines will better surface your content for searches that include “near me,” as well as display your content in rich answers like featured snippets.

  • Rich Answers: A rich answer is Google’s approach to answering a search query without making the user click on the search result. An example of this is a featured snippet, which is a block of text extracted from a webpage, located at the top of a Google search results page. SEMRush found that 70% of all voice search answers returned were rich answers, with 60% of those being featured snippets. In addition to including structured data on your site, featuring the query/question you want to target within the content of your page, keeping your paragraphs to less than 50 words, and writing your content in bulleted/numbered list form are all additional strategies to increase the chances of your page being featured and therefore populate when a voice search is conducted.

  • Keyword Research: Since users are more likely to ask questions when conducting voice searches, it is important to understand which questions your customers are asking before reaching your business’s website. There are many tools to help with this, a favorite being answerthepublic.com. This tool allows you to input a keyword and returns popular questions that users ask related to that keyword. The tool also organizes the results by type of question, for example, “how,” “why,” “what,” “which” and “where.” This method of organization is helpful when deciphering customer intent and therefore which product pages, blogs and FAQs to create accordingly so that your site ranks for these question searches. Another way to gain insight into how your customers are reaching your site is by accessing your Google Analytics property and looking at the searches that lead to clicks on your site. However, it is important to note that Google keeps over 90% of searches encrypted for the privacy of its users, so the Search Queries section in Google Analytics does not always present a full picture.

  • Content & Site Structure: Once you conduct keyword research with user intent in mind, you will want to begin to structure your website architecture and content accordingly. The way content is organized and presented is important in order to rank for specific types of search intent. For example, if customers’ questions include “what,” “who” or “which,” they are most likely in the research phase of the customer journey. Guides, blogs and product comparisons help target customers in this phase. Users asking “how” and “when” are most likely in the transactional phase of their journeys and are getting closer to converting. Users asking “where” have local intent and are most likely looking for a certain location to visit or shop. Dedicated pages for locations and contact information can target these navigational intent search queries. Also, including FAQs on important pages will help to target question-based searches overall.

  • Mobile Optimization: 20% of searches conducted on a mobile device are voice-based, so having a mobile-friendly website is as important as ever. This includes ensuring your site is built using responsive design best practices, verifying your page and site speed are fast, since voice search results load 52 percent faster than average pages, and placing schema markup on your most important content.

Voice Search is Here to Stay

Voice search is already influencing the way search engine marketers are approaching their SEO strategies. With the growing market of voice assistants and the advancements in voice recognition technology, conducting searches by voice will become even more widely used in the future. As search engine marketers, it is important to stay ahead of this trend while continuing to implement traditional best practices that remain effective.

  • Content
  • Copywriting
  • SEO

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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