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Voice search is essential for ecommerce businesses and local businesses as over 51% of online shoppers use voice search to research products, and 58% of consumers use voice search to find local businesses.
The key to reaching these consumers is a technique known as voice search SEO. Here’s what it is, and how you can use it to your advantage.
What is voice search?
Voice search is when a user makes a query on their device using speech (instead of typing in a query). For example, instead of typing in “healthcare tech AI,” a user might say, “how are AIs and artificial intelligence used in healthcare?”
As you can see, one of the difficulties for SEOs and marketers is that they have to think differently about keyword optimization because users are often entering longer and more conversational queries than they might otherwise.
Research estimates that 128 million Americans used voice search in 2020, so it’s not so much a trend as a massive use of search in a profoundly different manner than most SEOs are used to.
Voice search is used on various devices — usually smart devices — including everything from the average smartphone to laptops, desktop computers, wearables (think Apple Watch), and probably the most well-known devices: smart speakers.
Voice search is often facilitated by what’s known as a voice assistant, which is just a computer program that simulates a human assistant in that it can perform certain tasks, like looking up answers to queries on Google search or Bing (or other search engines), creating an appointment in a calendar, or just reading a user the news of the day.
Popular voice assistants and voice-activated accessories include:
- Siri (Apple)
- Cortana (Microsoft)
- Google Home
- Alexa (Amazon)
- Blackberry Assistant
- Google Assistant
Voice search is growing and shows no signs of stopping.
- 71% of consumers prefer to conduct queries by voice instead of typing.
- 75% of US families will own a smart speaker by 2025.
- By 2023, the number of voice assistants will reach 8 billion devices.
- By contrast, only 3.25 billion devices had digital voice in 2019.
- Global smart speaker sales will grow to $30 billion by 2024.
- Voice shopping will grow to $40 billion by 2022.
More statistics show that these trends will only continue, giving SEOs a huge incentive to spend time investing in voice search.
What is voice search SEO?
Voice search SEO refers to optimizing content for voice queries that are used on a variety of devices and search engines. It’s a digital marketing strategy aimed at driving organic search traffic to website content.
What’s different about voice searches is that they’re usually complete sentences instead of short keyword phrases — the language is much more natural and conversational, which means that SEOs need to be thinking about more than just keyword phrases when optimizing content, but rather about questions.
Voice search is used by many people, but the statistics show that some groups use it more than others:
- 25% of people 16–24 use smartphones to search.
- 61% of people 25–64 plan to use their voice assistants in the future.
- Men are 3X more likely to do a mobile voice search than women.
- People 26–35 use smart speakers the most.
It’s also interesting to note when people are using voice search:
- 65% of 25–49-year-olds speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once per day.
- 76% of smart speaker searchers perform local voice searches at least weekly.
- 11.5% of smart speaker owners make purchases by voice monthly.
There are several differences between traditional SEO and voice search SEO.
Differences between voice search SEO and traditional SEO
Many traditional SEO best practices still apply to voice search, but some differences are important for marketers to note.
Traditional SEO often uses short-tail keywords, and long-tail keywords might only be 5–6 words long.
With voice search SEO, the term “long-tail keywords” takes on a new meaning — many searches have well beyond 6 words.
For example, when a customer might have once typed in, “best glass replacement near me,” they might now say, “what’s the best glass replacement company in Dallas near me?”
A featured snippet is an excerpt from a web page that shows up before the first result in a search. This often takes the form of a definition or a list, but it might also be a table of information:
You should always try to create information that has the potential to become a featured snippet, but ultimately, Google determines if your business is going to get a featured snippet or not.
A lot of this depends on the search assistant that’s giving the user the answers.
For example, voice search queries to Siri that Siri cannot give a direct answer to will instead result in a SERP with several results, so while you do need to optimize your content for featured snippets (which will be explained below), even if you have a featured snippet for several keywords, you may still not show up on the voice SERP.
Commonalities between traditional SEO and voice SEO
Though there are differences between traditional SEO and voice SEO, many features of both are the same.
For example, in both voice SEO and traditional SEO, you’re going to be optimizing your content with keywords. Content matters to both forms of SEO because Google uses the quality of your content to determine what to show to searchers.
Great content will always be an important ranking factor for traditional SEO, and the same is true for voice SEO.
The importance of content
As an example, take a restaurant menu.
If someone is searching on Google for a certain type of food, and your restaurant only has an image of your menu on your website, Google is unlikely to serve that content to searchers because, even with alt text, it can’t tell what all the items on the menu are — this content isn’t considered high-quality by Google.
A restaurant with a text-based menu will be served to a voice searcher because Google cannot read a picture of a menu out loud to a searcher. In this case, the type of content on your website matters.
The same goes for non-local searches. If a searcher asks Google, “what are the major phyla in the animal kingdom?” then it’s going to serve that searcher what it believes is the best content, which will likely be a list.
If you’ve optimized your content for featured snippets by creating such a list, then that list is as likely to show up on voice search as it is on traditional search as long as you have the featured snippet spot for that query.
To determine what the best content is, Google will also look at the links that point to your content. For both Google search and traditional search, link building will continue to be an important strategy.
How to optimize for voice search
While great content and link building should always be the basis of your SEO strategies, there are some key differences in voice search that you should be optimizing for.
Target long-tail keyword phrases
As mentioned above, long-tail keywords are critical to optimizing voice search, so just like with traditional SEO, you’re going to want to start with keyword research to determine what questions searchers are inputting into Google.
You can use tools like Google Search Console to track your keyword rankings and other important metrics (like links to and from your website) to see what you’re ranking for, and you can use tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, or Ubersuggest for your keyword research.
Always think in terms of questions because that’s how searchers use voice search. You can use keyword tools to get suggestions as some of them, like KWFinder, will show you questions related to your keywords.
This is helpful because you can then optimize for a long-tail keyword that’s likely to show up on traditional search, but you can also put answers to questions into your content that are more likely to come from voice search.
Because Google uses semantic search, it’s pretty good at understanding how we use language naturally.
If you want to get serious about using natural language, you can use Google’s Natural Language AI.
However, most people know what conversational language sounds like. Mostly, you’re going to avoid unnatural keyword stuffing and spammy content.
A good way to test your content to see if it’s conversational is to read it out loud. If it comes across as awkward or unnatural, you’ll know.
In many cases, this means avoiding technical jargon and using simpler words, but this depends on your audience. If you’re targeting people who are knowledgeable in a certain area and expect jargon in the content, then you might want to include it.
Focus on your audience and ask yourself what content is going to sound conversational to them.
Create an FAQ page
Since getting the featured snippet spot is so critical for voice search, one way you can potentially get a lot of featured snippet spots for many different keywords on a single page is by creating an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page.
Think about how voice search works — a searcher usually asks a complete question, and then Google looks for the best answer it can come up with.
If you have a page that’s filled with answers to questions, it has the potential to rank for a large number of voice queries (and traditional queries as well).
You’ll want to use structured data (schema) on your FAQ page to tell Google what type of page it is. This makes it more likely that Google will understand that this is an FAQ page so that it can more accurately serve the content to the right searchers.
Focus on mobile SEO
1 out of every 4 people aged 16–24 conduct voice searches on mobile devices, and 27% of users worldwide use voice search on mobile. In fact, 20% of all Google mobile searches are voice.
Mobile ranking factors still apply, at the top of which is great content and a high quantity of high-quality links, but other factors like page speed and using a mobile-responsive website are just as important.
Your goal with mobile SEO — just like with other forms of SEO — is to improve the user experience. Responsive websites make text and images easy to see, and pages that load quickly are less likely to annoy users.
Optimize for featured snippets
Voice search results are often similar to traditional search results in that the featured snippet is given precedence over the top result on the page.
There are many ways that you can optimize for featured snippets because there are a few types of featured snippets.
Definitions or answers:
There are other types of featured snippets that include videos and images, but those don’t apply to voice search.
All you’re doing when you’re optimizing for a featured snippet is creating this type of content where appropriate on your website.
For example, if you’re a local business that sells golf clubs and accessories, you might want to create a top-10 list of the best golf clubs for lefties.
If your content can get a featured snippet, it will be more likely to show up for a voice searcher who says, “what are the best golf clubs for left-handed players?”
Practice local SEO
Over 50% of Americans use voice search to learn more about local businesses. They ask for information like your hours, items on a restaurant’s menu, what products are available, and more.
Local SEO has several ranking factors that are a bit different from traditional SEO.
Google My Business
Your Google My Business listing is the top-ranking factor for local search. It provides critical information for local searchers, like your NAP (name, address, phone number), your hours and locations, and even the products you offer.
Another important local ranking factor is the number and quality of reviews on Google.
For example, if someone voice searches for “the best pizza place in Manhattan,” Google will use customer reviews to figure out what business to show the searcher.
That’s why it’s important to optimize your page for rich snippets, which you can do by applying schema markup to your website. This can usually be done with a plugin, but you can also use a Schema Markup Generator to apply it manually.
Rich snippets display information like star ratings on a search engine results page, giving you both more room on the SERP and more data for the searcher to use when deciding whether to click on your result or not.
Link building is an important SEO strategy in general, but it’s just as important for voice search. When Google is trying to determine what content is the highest quality and is best to serve to a searcher, it looks at the number and quality of backlinks that content has.
Remember, voice search results are often limited to a single result, so you’ll want to do everything you can to get that content to rank, including building links.
Great content continues to be a top-ranking factor alongside links, so even if you’re a small business, you’re going to want to employ a content marketing strategy to get great content on your website that has the potential to rank.
This is especially important for creating featured snippets, as they are only pulled from great, top-ranking content. If your content is poor quality or doesn’t answer a question fully and completely, it’s unlikely that your content will show up on voice search.
Get a complimentary SEO audit
Voice search optimization is similar to traditional SEO, but those key differences will dictate whether your content has a better chance of being served to searchers.
Those little differences in Google’s algorithms are important to understand, but once you’ve got them down, you can create content that both traditional searchers and voice searchers can benefit from.
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