“Hey Siri: How do I optimize my website for voice search?”
With the rise of voice assistants in homes and on mobile devices, it should come as little surprise that your SEO strategy needs to adapt to a whole new world of search queries. If you’re still puzzling over your organic short- and long-tail keywords and can’t even with another type of optimization, don’t stress! That’s why we’re here.
Let’s look at the how and why of voice search optimization, so you can start assessing your own content strategy for simple ways to incorporate voice SEO.
What is Voice Search Optimization?
In a nutshell, voice search optimization is the practice of integrating voice assistant search query phrasing and user behaviour into content that delivers a helpful, relevant answer.
Why should your business care? Let me be your real-life example.
I recently drove my best friend nuts with my voice assistant. We were watching Netflix, and the usual questions about actors and shows came up. Every time my friend whipped out their phone to Google it, I calmly said, “OK, Google,” and my phone narrated the answer while they were still trying to type out the words.
Within two hours, I’d configured Google Voice Search on a tech-resistant person’s phone. They saw the efficiency of being able to simply speak a query and get instant, relevant results.
From asking “where can I get tacos right now?” in a foreign city to “what kind of oil does my Subaru Forester take?” while standing in the automotive fluids aisle (yes, these are in my history), voice search is changing the way consumers interact with search engines and business websites — and the way search engines interact with your content.
- Over 40% of adults conduct at least one voice search per day (Location World voice search report)
- 71% of consumers prefer voice search to typing (Oberlo)
- Even desktop has a share in voice search traffic: 25% of Windows 10 taskbar searches are voice (DigitalGYD)
- Popular reasons for using voice search include searching while driving (ex. “what time does the store close”), speed of speaking compared to typing, integration with a device (ex. Amazon Echo with Prime), and just disliking having to type things out on a mobile device
I once asked my assistant, “how do I do voice search optimization?”, just to be extra meta. That might even be how you came across this article.
How does voice search optimization work?
The difference between your regular SEO strategy and voice search SEO lies in phrasing.
Users have learned to type search queries a certain way, often entering just two or three words and even choosing drop-down suggestions to complete their search. Short-tail keyword strategies were born from this behaviour, using combinations of words peppered throughout copy to try to tell the search engine deities to serve up that content.
Then industry experts reported that users entering longer search queries were closer to making a purchase. Out came long-tail keyword strategies, trying to match three to four words and exact phrases for more specific searches.
But even though Google’s current algorithm uses latent semantic indexing (finding the meaning behind the search rather than relying on the exact words), learned user behaviour doesn’t update with algorithm changes. The average user is still pre-programmed to type in a clipped, robotic way.
We definitely don’t speak the way we enter questions into search bars.
Voice search optimization requires you to truly get into the shoes of your target audience. Think how they think, and speak how they speak. Their questions will be spoken in sentences, similarly to how they would ask a friend.
A combination of user research, voice search strategy, and local optimization will put you on the right track.
How do I optimize for voice search?
Here are five easy steps to get started:
- Do your user research. Identify your 2-3 audience personas, and conduct online or even in-person research into the questions they’re asking to find your products or services.
- Test it out. Ask those same questions to your own voice assistant(s), and see how the featured results are answering them.
- Build out a content strategy. Choose the top “how”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions that users most commonly ask to reach you, then plan page optimization and new or updated article copy around those questions.
- Integrate conversational copy. Keyword stuffing, be gone! Write copy for voice search-optimized content as if speaking to a customer or friend.
- Use free tools for help. With latent semantic indexing, you’ll want to find different ways to phrase the same thing. Hop onto thesaurus.com for synonyms, and use a free keyword tool to find related keywords and phrases.
User research should be a constant in your digital marketing strategies. If your business doesn’t already have target audience personas, spend time building them out. Identify their age, gender, occupation, income, interests, favourite social platforms — anything relevant to how and why they need your product or service to solve their problem.
Once you know who is looking for you, find out how they’re doing it. You can get some search query data from Google Analytics or the Google Search Console, but the majority of this juicy data is protected. My personal favourite tool for identifying popular searches by specific keywords: answerthepublic.com.
Consider the mobile reading environment when optimizing articles for voice search, and be sure that your content is created and formatted for maximum readability on mobile devices.
Need help finding related keywords beyond the thesaurus? Free versions of tools like SEMRush, AdWords Keyword Planner, or Moz Keyword Explorer will do the trick. Free accounts do put a cap on how many results you can see, or how many searches you can do. An SEO expert might be a good partner to work with for such a crucial piece of your strategy.
Bonus voice search SEO tips!
Who doesn’t want to be a star? Google often shows the user a top result in a featured snippet or ‘answer box’. How do you get your content into a featured snippet?
No one knows for certain. The content that is deemed ‘result 0’ is what appears in that nifty little box, and experts are still trying to crack exactly how it’s decided. However, there are a few agreed-upon ways that you can compete for that spot:
- Use the question as a headline
- Answer the question in one concise paragraph (two or three sentences max)
- Answer the question in a bullet list, which can be easily featured, then go into more detail about each point below
- Create a table that features the data the user requested
- Create a video optimized around the query
Local Voice Search
Mobile voice-related searches are three times more likely to be local-based than text. (Search Engine Watch voice search study)
If your audience is the type to ask “where” or “when” questions, you need to be on top of your local SEO game.
Google takes into account the user’s location when delivering search results, which is why if you ask about the nearest tacos while on vacation, it won’t suggest taco trucks close to your home. And if you ask when Value Village closes, you’ll get the hours for the nearest location.
Make sure your business has a fully populated Google Business page, and that your website is sending proper location signals from an address in the footer as well as onsite local keyword SEO.
Having a responsive mobile website is crucial to even rate with Google’s algorithm. Websites that aren’t mobile-friendly will definitely not be shown in results for voice searchers.
If your business website is older and has a slow, broken, frustrating mobile experience, you can forget about voice search traffic. Google picks up these signals from your page load times, as well as your bounce rate and other key data. Sounds like it’s time for a redesign?
Prepare for a fresh company website the smart way, with our content strategy checklist for your website redesign project!
Should I optimize all of my content for voice search?
Nope! No need to panic and start looking for a voice SEO copywriter to overhaul your entire website.
Consider the voice search statistics mentioned earlier: 50% of people will be doing searches by voice by the year 2020. That’s a huge number — but 50% of people will still be doing regular desktop or mobile searches.
How much of your content you optimize for voice depends on your business, industry, target audience, and other factors.
Millennials and particularly Gen Z are more likely to use voice search. B2B companies are more likely to be searching from a desktop during the work day. CPG products are more likely to be searched by voice, as are local food, drink, and entertainment businesses.
Here’s where it gets extra niche-y. Should a Vancouver web design agency like Forge and Smith assume it would be smart to optimize more content for voice, because of local searches, or less because of small business owners likely conducting potential partner research on desktops?
It’s really a case-by-case decision. Helpful content that answers “how” questions with a concise bullet list — like this blog (see what I did here) — should definitely take advantage of voice SEO in combination with a regular keyword strategy. But user research content, such as case studies or services, doesn’t necessarily need to be voice optimized right now.
I hope you now feel empowered to go forth and create an awesome voice search optimization strategy for your business website. If you’re still unsure and would rather lean on experienced strategists for help, reach out!