Voice Search Optimization: Adapting Digital Media
We’ve been perfectly content to key our queries into subject fields for decades, but like so many other things, Covid helped change the landscape. It drove the demand for touchless devices—faucets, payments and now voice search. Voice-activated assistants are helping reduce or eliminate touch points. Analyst firm Juniper Research predicts that “nearly 8 billion digital voice assistants will be in use by the end of 2023.” That’s annual compound growth of more than 25 percent. While that’s an aggressive target, voice search is a technology that’s on the move. And our challenge is voice search optimization.
Voice search dates back to 2011
Google introduced us to voice search way back in 2011. It was a novelty at first, but it kept improving, and now speech recognition technology has positioned our voice searches to the front lines of search marketing and SEO. As voice-recognition technology improves, as devices add and enhance voice-enabled functions, we see changes in customer habits.
Voice search marketing: What’s changed?
We need to adapt digital content to make it voice-search friendly so it ranks in voice search results. That doesn’t mean you need to rewrite all of your content. Basic SEO principles still apply to voice query results. The best practices of SEO remain the same.
Length and style of search queries: They’re longer and more conversational
Remember that when people are speaking into a machine, it’s extemporaneous—it’s also conversational, so there’s a good chance that queries are going to be longer and less structured than a related text query might be. When we key in a text query, whether we think about it or not, we are editing it in our minds. A voice search query, on the other hand, asks typically longer, more conversational questions. Think of these as natural-language queries.
According to a Google report, 41% of adults and 55% of teens are now using voice searches at least once a day. In these natural language queries, note the generational differences: When asked, “Pick one thing you wish you could ask your phone to do for you,” the leading response from teens was “send me a pizza.” From adults? “Tell me where my keys are.”
Voice search queries are often local
Within the past year, nearly 60% of consumers have found local businesses using voice search. The number of users and the volume of searches is growing dramatically. Here’s an example of a typical local voice search: You’re in Toulouse, France, the home of cassoulet, and you’re looking for the restaurant that serves the best version of this specialty. Your search would be “what’s the best restaurant in Toulouse to eat cassoulet”.
Update your online profiles, including your Google Business Profile
Natural-language queries average 29 words, and these words are often situational and very specific. The increased use of voice for local search has made it even more important for retailers and marketers to optimize their online presences for local and hyperlocal search. This includes making sure Google Business Profiles, Google Maps and any other listings are updated with correct information—this includes the profile info on your social media accounts. The greater your domain authority and overall search rankings, the more likely it is that your site will show up in a local search.
Keep in mind that Google’s algorithm is constantly changing, which means that the most effective strategies today likely will change. As of now, however, consider these strategies for getting your content in the coveted featured snippet spot.
Featured snippets, also known as position zero, are short snippets of information that appear at the top of search-engine results. Snippets are often used to answer voice-search queries, so we need to optimize content to appear in featured snippets.
Optimizing for featured snippets
- Pay attention to onpage SEO. This is the easy one that you’re probably already doing, and it includes things like using alt tags for your images and H tags for your headings and subheads. Original content—Google hates duplication.
- Do keyword research to find those keyword phrases that you want to be ranking for throughout your online presence. Use these keywords in your headings and metadescription as well as in body copy.
- Use Google search console to identify which phrases you already rank for.
- Add a “how to” section to your website. Think about how smart this is—a lot of voice searches begin with “how to”.
- Use quality video and images. Label these with your company name and image description.
Best practices for voice-search optimization: Keep content simple
Organize your content in a way that makes it easy for voice-search users to find the information they’re looking for. There’s nothing new about this—it’s always been best practices to:
- Use short sentences with simple punctuation. Avoid complex, run-on sentences, even though they may be grammatically correct. There’s an overarching rule that we should be writing for readers at a fifth-grade level. Save the big words for another audience.
- Keep paragraphs short and easy to read—big blocks of text scare people.
- Use subheads throughout your content. Make them meaningful and scannable. My goal is to be able to scan my document and let the subheads tell the story.
- Create FAQ pages with questions and answers related to your business
- Use bullet points where possible. They make it easy to read.
- Once you’ve identified your longtail keywords, use these in your titles, headings and body content. Avoid keyword stuffing, which Google hates, working keywords in naturally. Identify headings and subheadings with H1 and H2 tags—these are what Google looks for when it indexes text. Do reiterate the longtail keyword in your metadescriptions
2022 voice-search optimization fast facts
- Google: 27% of the online global population is using voice search on mobile; 86% of holiday shoppers used voice search.
- eMarketer predicted that more than a third of the US population (111.8 million people) would use a voice assistant monthly in 2019, up 9.5% from 2018.
- ComScore 2020: More than half of all smartphone users are engaging with voice search technology.
- Gartner study: 30% of all browsing sessions will include voice search by 2020.
- Voicebot.ai reports that over half of all adults have used voice search, with 33% using voice search monthly in early 2019, up from 25% in 2018.
- Nielsen 2018: 1 of every 4 American homes equipped with Wi-Fi owned a smart speaker.
- BrightLocal 2018 found that 58% of consumers used voice search to find a local business in 2017, and 46% of people using voice search daily are searching for local business.
- Adobe Analytics survey: Most common voice searches on smart speakers are asking for music (70%) and the weather forecast (64%), online search (47%), news (46%), and asking directions (34%).