Voice search became a thing following the introduction of Siri on the iPhone 4S in 2011, with Google Voice Search, Google Now, Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby, and a host of other digital virtual assistants following. Confirmation that voice search wasn’t just another fad came in the form of the Google Hummingbird algorithm change in 2013, which introduced greater emphasis on natural language use in search queries, along with the context of the query in order to find content that is most relevant: someone asking How tall do you need to be to ride the Cyclone? is expecting different results to someone asking What is a cyclone?. By 2014, just two years after the launch of Google Voice Search, a survey commissioned by Google found that 55 percent of teens – and more than 40 percent of adults – claimed to use voice search more than once a day.
It’s also interesting to note how more teens saw voice search as being more efficient and better for multitasking than adults did at the time.
But the rise in popularity of smartphones – and smart devices at home – has only served to make voice search even more commonplace, meaning that website owners need to do things a little differently on their websites in order to show up in voice search results. Fortunately, optimising for voice search complements your regular SEO, and if done right can benefit your site’s organic traffic, regardless of whether a search query was made using voice or typed into the search bar.
A 2018 voice search study by BrightLocal found that 46 percent of voice search users look for a local business on a daily basis, with 27 percent going on to visit the website of a local business after making a voice search. If your business isn’t optimised for local searches, it means you are invisible to anyone searching for a business like yours close to their current location – whether they are using voice, or typing the query in. The first step to take in making sure you appear in local searches is to create a business profile using Google My Business. It is a free service offered by Google, and in addition to adding all relevant information about your business, you can also upload photos of your business or the products you sell, and also allow customers to rate and review your business.
Focus on your business information, making sure all relevant fields are completed, and that the information is accurate: address, contact numbers, business hours, and a link to your website. In addition to creating a Google My Business profile, you need to ensure that your website also lists your physical location, contact numbers, and possibly business hours; you should also optimise your website copy to naturally include your business type – or industry – and the suburb and/or city in which it is located, e.g. Proud Mary Cafe, Collingwood.
Doing regular keyword research should be part of your ongoing SEO strategy, but it is all too easy to focus on single keywords only, forgetting about keyword phrases or long-tail keywords. When typing in a search query we tend to keep it brief, and only use a small number of keywords, such as best coffee melbourne. But with voice search, queries a usually more conversational: Where can I get cold brew in Collingwood?, or Which café serves the best coffee in Melbourne?. Instead of only focusing on single keywords and keyword phrases of up to three words, start paying attention to phrases of five or more keywords that also sound conversational. Many of these will have – for the moment – lower search volumes, but that shouldn’t be a reason to ignore them. Finding long-tail keywords is easy, and you don’t need any premium SEO tools for this exercise, Google’s own Keyword Planner is quite sufficient. What is somewhat harder is finding ways to work these longer keyword phrases into your content naturally; if there is no way to use the whole phrase, break it up as Google will identify words in the search phrase used anywhere on a page, not only as a full phrase – the key is for the keywords and/or phrase and your content to all use natural language. And although many voice searches include nearby or near me, these do not need to be included in your content, they only assist Google in finding businesses that are close to the person doing the search.
Questions & Answers
Once you start paying attention to longer keyword phrases you will notice that many of them resemble questions, typically starting with how, why, which, who, where, and when. As noted in the previous section, when using voice search people are often looking for answers, so it’s no longer just cafe melbourne. People are asking for cafes near to where they are now, or cafes that serve the best brunch, or are open late. You will find some of these questions in Keyword Planner, but you can also use Answer the Public, or the Keyword Magic Tool in SEMRush.
Identify questions that are most relevant to your business, and that you can easily answer. You can either ask and answer the question in your website content, or in some instances use them to build out a Frequently Asked Questions page. If you were to type any of these questions into Google’s search bar, the top result will often be a featured snippet, so always see whether you can give a better answer than the top results, paying close attention to page structure too: use of H2 and H3 tags, the use of lists in longer content, and FAQ answers that are less than thirty words long.
Structured data – or Schema markup – has been around for some time, and using it as part of your SEO strategy has always been a good idea. If you’ve never used it before, optimising your site for voice search is as good a time as any to start, focusing on markup for products (including ratings, reviews, and offers) especially if you have an online store, along with use of Local Business and NAP (name, address, and phone number) markup. This allows search engines to better identify specific content, and return more relevant – and richer – results to anyone performing a search. It doesn’t guarantee that Google – or any other search engine – will always display rich results for your business where you’ve used structured data, but it increases the chances. And when it does, users are presented with information that immediately answers their query, without having to wade through lots of other irrelevant content.
By way of example, one of the properties for LocalBusiness is openingHours, which allows you to specify that a certain block of text represents your trading hours; if someone were to ask the smart device what your trading hours are, it is easier for the search engine to identify and present only that as a result. And your introduction to structured data doesn’t need to be intimidating, with Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper making it easy for you to implement on your site.
How quickly any page on your site loads has always been quite important, but with mobile searches now outnumbering desktop searches, page speed has become a critical component of search optimisation, including voice search optimisation. And page speed became a ranking factor for Google in 2018. The slower your site loads – especially on mobile – the more likely visitors are to skip it and visit the site of a competitor instead, not forgetting that it could also result in your site ranking lower on SERPs.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to not only analyse your site’s speed on mobile and desktop, but also to identify opportunities for improving the speed. Anyone performing a voice search not only expects to get results quickly, they also expect any site suggested by the results to load quickly.
Finally, get into the habit of testing your site’s visibility using voice search to query things like:
- Your top keywords and phrases or questions,
- Your business address, contact details, and even trading hours,
- Specific products you sell, or any current offers you have.
This will help you see what the top results are, and to identify opportunities for improvement against your competitors. There is no way currently to tell the difference between a visitor reaching your site via a typed or voice search, so the only way to ensure your business isn’t invisible to voice search is to test it out yourself, and to make voice search optimisation a key component of your SEO strategy. Voice search is already quite common, and the use of voice search will only continue to increase as we become more accustomed to using smart devices to source information.