Science fiction movies once showed us a seemingly far-fetched reality wherein we’d speak to our electronic devices. We might have scoffed at the idea at the time, but now, that scenario is very real -- and very commonplace. Whether you ask Alexa to look up a little-known fact or instruct Siri to send out a reminder at a specific time, many of us are readily using digital assistants to obtain knowledge and add convenience to our lives.
Of course, a big perk of using a digital assistant is the ability to find solutions in a hands-free way. That allure has given way to a rise in voice-powered internet searches. And, in turn, this is changing the way that digital marketers optimize sites for search engines.
As we enter 2021, there’s never been a better time to consider the benefits of voice search SEO. Let’s take a look at some background on voice search technology, why voice search optimizations are essential, and how you might want to start using voice search SEO on your own site or for your clients.
What is Voice Search, Anyway?
The concept of voice search is relatively self-explanatory: it’s a method of searching the internet (or a specific site, page, or app) through speech instead of by typing.
However, the mechanics of voice search are anything but simple. Typically, voice-enabled search uses what’s known as a dialogue system in order for computer systems and human users to communicate. Voice search functions can be used on virtually any device with a voice output; users will usually have to tap or click on an icon or say a specific voice command to start. One of the most important aspects of any voice search is the ability to understand natural language. In fact, this is one of the main differences between voice search and traditional typed search.
Voice search has actually been around for over a decade. In 2010, IBM debuted Watson, a question-answer computer system powered by voice recognition capabilities. Just a year later, Google released its own Voice Search (which required users to place a call from a mobile device and speak their search keywords before being served search results). Apple also released Siri for the iPhone 4S that same year, paving the way for all other digital assistants to come.
By 2014, Microsoft had debuted Cortana and Amazon had released its Echo device, powered by Alexa. Google Home was launched in 2016, marking the start of the “OK Google” revolution. Since then, other digital assistants have come onto the scene and voice recognition technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Now, voice search is quite prevalent -- which leads us to our next point: does voice search SEO really matter?
Why is Optimizing For Voice Search Important?
Some business owners might assume that their target audience isn’t utilizing technology in this way. But you shouldn’t underestimate the power of voice search. According to recent statistics compiled by Search Engine Journal, voice search is becoming more popular with each passing year -- and it’s become especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around 55% of users perform voice searches to ask questions on their smartphones, while 39.4% of U.S. internet users operate voice assistance at least once per month. Approximately 32% of consumers now say they’re interested in hands-free technology that would reduce touching and potential contamination. And roughly 49% of those who use digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo find this technology to be a necessity. You can find even more compelling voice search statistics over at Backlinko that illustrate the public’s growing interest in voice search capabilities.
There are a few different reasons why voice search is becoming more preferable. For one thing, it’s a lot faster to speak than to type. In fact, Bing found that searching with your voice is 3.7 times faster than typing. That equates to 110 to 150 words per minute using voice search, compared to 38 to 40 words per minute with typing. If you can speak more quickly, you can also obtain the answers you want more quickly -- and that’s a big motivator for web users. What’s more, voice search is more convenient for those who are already utilizing their mobile devices for internet use; since the number of mobile web users also continues to dominate, it makes sense that voice search use is increasing, too.
Basically, that means that web users are increasingly reliant on voice search technology. While typed searches still occur frequently, it’s essential that we keep up with changing consumer behavior and make adjustments to accommodate their preferences. If you ignore or dismiss voice search as a passing phase, you could end up doing yourself (or your clients) a huge disservice.
That’s because the way we optimize for voice search is quite different from how we’d optimize for traditional web searches. We mentioned earlier that natural language processing is one of the most distinctive aspects of voice search technology. The way we speak to a digital assistant is much more conversational and lengthy, while typed searches tend to be more concise and focused on the main parts of speech. When we utilize voice SEO, we have to take these differences into account. We’ll cover how you can start optimizing a site for voice search in the next section -- but it’s safe to say that if you don’t include voice search SEO into your strategy, you might be left in the dust.
How Can I Use Voice Search SEO to Improve My Search Rankings?
We know that Google wants to create a positive user experience for web visitors by providing them with the information they want to see most. That’s really the motivation behind any algorithm update, after all. So if you want to appeal to web users (and potentially improve search rankings as a result), it’s a good idea to start optimizing for voice search in 2021.
But how exactly can you do that? There are a number of different techniques that can take voice search SEO into account. Here are just a few of our favorites.
- Create FAQ Pages: We know that voice searches will often take the form of a question. That makes sense because we tend to use voice search in a more natural way -- and when we’re looking for information, we’ll organically ask for it. Although “when,” “who,” “which,” and “where” are commonly left out of written searches, they’ll frequently appear in voice search. One of the best ways to address this is by creating FAQ pages. Make sure to ask and answer questions in complete sentences that begin with those adverbs that you learned in Journalism 101 -- and don’t forget to use filler words like “on the,” “of the,” “for,” and “to.”
- Use Long-Tail Keywords: Another adjustment you might have to make involves the use of longer keyword phrases. Typed searches might be three to five words long, but data tells us that the average voice search is 29 words in length! Long-tail keywords may have a lower search volume, but they often have a higher rate of conversion. Rather than focus on exact match, opt for longer keywords that more accurately capture user intent and that take context into account. Robotic keyword usage is giving way to natural language keywords that reflect conversational tendencies, so make sure the content you create reads in a way that’s clear, understandable, and enjoyable to the masses.
- Provide Schema Markup: If you aren’t already familiar with schema, this refers to code (which is invisible to web users but helpful to bots) that can provide additional context for a webpage. Schema basically gives meaning to the data on a page and helps search engines deliver more valuable content to users starting from the SERPs page. This can facilitate more relevant search results and can even improve your rankings. It’s especially important for voice search SEO because schemas can help Google understand language and subsequently serve results that better match user intent.
- Focus on Local SEO: Voice search and local SEO actually go hand-in-hand because they’re both preferred by mobile users. Mobile traffic continues to skyrocket as web visitors browse on convenient digital devices. In most cases, they’re on-the-go. And since they’re often going hands-free in order to find results that are close by, it makes sense that you’d want to keep optimizing for local search. Users love using “near me” searches for fast results via voice search, so make sure your Google My Business listings are being properly utilized and that you include local keywords in your strategy.
- Improve Site Performance: When optimizing for voice search, you can’t forget about site performance. To appeal to mobile users (who are most likely to utilize voice search), you need to speed up your site and make certain that its design is responsive. The need for improved site performance is nothing new -- but between the increased prevalence of voice search and Google’s impending Page Experience algorithm update, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at how quickly your site loads and ensure it provides consistent interactivity for mobile users.
Ultimately, these improvements can help you better optimize for voice search -- but they can also help your site rank even for users who are conducting queries in a more traditional way.
As the popularity of voice search continues to grow throughout 2021 and beyond, it’s critical that you keep these users at the forefront when optimizing your site. Many of our partners have already started to take these steps for their clients and we encourage you to do the same. By sharing our insights with you, we hope that we can continue to grow together and create the freedom to be more, do more, and have more.
For additional information on what voice search SEO might mean for your digital marketing campaigns or to learn how we can help you scale your agency through our white label reseller program, please get in touch with us today.