It’s always interesting to see forms of technology evolve before our eyes. Just as the last decade has seen the exponential growth of mobile devices on a global scale, we are currently experiencing a similar phenomenon with the expanding capabilities of voice search. With voice search now available on nearly every smart device from phones to TV remotes to digital assistant speakers, it is becoming clear that this technology is no passing trend.
As it applies to search engine optimization (SEO), voice search is at least partially uncharted territory. We have seen a rise in its popularity as the technology is integrated into more elements of our lives, but what does it mean for businesses looking to advance their success using SEO? This is a question which will remain relatively unanswered until Google provides voice search analytics that can guide the way we approach optimizing voice queries. Until then, however, there are a number of measures we can take to be sure we stay ahead of the curve when it comes to voice search optimization.
As we move through 2018, the apparent growth of voice search technology seems to be doing anything but slowing down. With tech heavy hitters like Apple, Google, and Amazon pressing the gas pedal on their own respective voice assistants, it is clear that they intend on expanding the industry and hope to see the widespread use of voice-controlled devices in the near future. In fact, a study done in 2017 by ComScore reports that one-half of smartphone users engage with voice technology, and one-third of those users engage with the feature every day. As voice search continues to work its way further into our daily lives, we can expect to see even bigger changes on the horizon in the way that we approach search engine optimization.
What We Know
While the search industry waits for the unveiling of analytics from Google, those looking to get ahead of the curve on voice search can take strides to put themselves in the best position for success. Here’s some of what we know so far:
- Voice search results, on average, are approximately 25 words long.
- Average word counts on pages used to find results are around 2,300 in total.
- 70% of searches received by Google Assistant are in the form of natural language, per Google.
- Google uses “entity relationships” to produce the best possible answer to a query. Each entity is essentially a person, place, or thing which is connected to other entities by a common ground or explicitly defined relationship. Google analyzes these entity relationships to accurately provide the desired answer to a query, even if the query itself was not specific.
- According to their Ranking Search Results Based on Entity Metrics patent, Google uses four metrics for measuring entity strength, including:
- Relatedness: Do entities appear together repeatedly throughout the internet?
- Notability: How common is the entity within its field?
- Contribution: How famous, well-established, or well-reviewed is the entity?
- Prizes: Has the entity earned any notable awards or prizes?
By combining the knowledge about voice search results in general with the importance of entities and how Google chooses to weigh them, strategies for optimizing voice search can be more easily identified. As it stands, our understanding of entities can provide us with a road map for optimization which starts with creating original targeted content.
What Is Targeted Content?
So, by identifying entities related to our topic and isolating them using the four metrics offered by Google, we can begin to write targeted website content. What exactly do we mean by “targeted content?” Ultimately, it includes website content which is:
- Topic Specific
- Since voice search results pull just one top answer to a given query in the form of featured snippets, it is vital to keep content focused around the same topic. For your page to appear to Google as an authority on the subject, it must be clear, informed, and on-point.
- Designed to Answer a Question
- As we know, voice search is most often completed using natural language, question words, and conversational language. To maintain relevance in voice search results, your content should mirror these traits while continuing to be useful and informative to the user.
- Easily Digestible
- Walls of text don’t help your performance on SERPs, and they certainly don’t encourage readers to engage with your content. Keeping in mind that voice search answers are roughly two sentences long, you’ll want to break your content into smaller, more concise segments such as lists, single paragraphs, or tables.
Following these strategies for developing genuine website material should increase your chances of seeing your content appear as a featured snippet.
Optimizing Voice Search
In adapting to new methods for optimizing voice search, we must recognize that it involves changing the way we enter search parameters. For example, the way we engage with voice-controlled devices typically includes a longer statement in the form of a question, marking a significant shift from the short, succinct keywords that are typically entered in a search box.
This means that those looking to stay ahead on voice search optimization must turn their attention from traditional keyword research to focus on semantic, long-tail phrases which are much more likely to appear in featured snippets.
Featured snippets, simply defined, are answers to a specific query that are displayed at the top of Google search results. These featured snippets are pulled directly from the content on a given webpage that Google has deemed capable of answering the question. Whenever someone asks a question into their smartphone or voice-controlled speaker, the answer they receive comes in the form of a featured snippet.
Knowing that featured snippets are the most likely result of a voice search, the steps for optimizing for these types of queries requires the incorporation of long-tail keywords that can be embedded into thoughtfully-generated content. In other words, website content must be able to build context around answering potential questions related to the page’s overall topic in order to show up as a featured snippet.
Potentially the best way to optimize your site for voice search involves the inclusion of a schema markup. These markups are essentially lines of HTML code that are inserted into your website with the aim of helping Google or other search engines better understand what your page is about.
Not only will a schema markup provide context to Google about the information on your page, but having schema incorporated into your site makes it automatically searchable by voice-controlled devices, increasing the chance of your content being picked up as a featured snippet.
More often than any other search, voice searches are location based. Whether that is due to a large portion of Americans using voice search while they are driving or another reason altogether, this knowledge can be valuable for your keyword research. By including question words in your content and optimizing Adwords campaigns to include “near me” searches, you can more effectively corner the locations you are targeting and increase your voice search relevancy in those areas. Using location to inform your research on voice search optimization is just one of the ways to hone in on user intent — a determining factor for which results a user might see from a voice query.
As we watch the evolution of voice-controlled devices and their applications, one of the largest variables to keep an eye on is how Google handles user intent and how it will affect SEO. What we know now is that every time we use voice search (or any search for that matter), Google collects data on your intent, which is then used to predict your intent and refine your results in the future.
Until we’re granted a closer look into how voice search intent operates, the best opportunity to successfully optimize for voice search consists of three parts:
- Carefully considering the types of questions and searches that pertain to a given topic or website.
- Targeting your content to answer these questions while appearing as an authority in the eyes of Google.
- Using schema markups and location-driven research tools like Google My Business to increase your chances of being picked up as a featured snippet.
The use of voice-controlled devices is evidently here to stay. While there are a number of ways that we can prepare for these new changes to how we approach SEO, only time will tell what innovations will have in store.