How Voice Search Changes SEO

LSA Insider periodically invites experts in a field relevant to our community to share practical advice on how to do the business of local better. This ExpertTake post features Boostability‘s Kristine Pratt sharing tips for optimizing for voice search.  

In the past, the only way to conduct an online search was to type in your query. Over the past decade or so, companies have introduced voice search. This innovation allowed devices to respond to verbal rather than written queries.

At first, voice could only accommodate queries with definite parameters, such as setting an alarm or getting directions. Now, devices can handle some of the most complex questions and commands. Over the past few years, the popularity of tech that relies on voice also increased. Prime competitors here include Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant.

One trend driving the growth in voice is the introduction of technology into the home. Smart home tech can now dim lights, set thermostats and lock doors. PCMag estimates that in 2018 Americans spent $5.48 billion on adding a few IQ points to their homes. Smart features also helped to normalize voice commands in the car and at work.

Voice-assisted faucets are one example of the smart home technologies that are driving the growing popularity of voice search.

Forbes estimates that 30% of website sessions will become screenless by 2020. Search Engine Land sets an even higher estimate at 50% by 2020. Because of this, consumers may never again need to scroll through webpages for the best answer. Virtual assistants can do this in a matter of seconds. What effects will this have on SEO in the near future?

The Impact of Voice Search

To better understand what adjustments you may need to make, it’s important to identify the voice search changes that might occur. Many business owners find themselves bracing for bad news, but there are several perks to enjoy from this market shift.

Increases Exposure

Voice queries do contribute to your website traffic. This happens when the voice assistant accesses your webpage to get the information it needs. Some voice assistants also give a shout-out to the source, thereby increasing awareness. Google begins most voice results with, “According to …” When consumers conduct their own searches, they don’t always pay attention to the source.

Addresses Context

Search engines have come a long way in their ability to understand what people really mean. Search engine accuracy has improved even for queries that don’t involve the use of full sentences. The new algorithms achieved this by relying on more than just keywords. They create a better context by including relevant factors, such as a person’s current location and prior search history.

Prioritizes Directories

When people use voice search, it is often to get information about a specific business. They may need to find the fastest route to work or info on the best sushi restaurant nearby. The voice assistant may pull this information from Google My Business, Yelp and other directories, so remember to keep these updated. Positive reviews on these platforms may also affect where your business ranks when someone does a search that includes the word “best.”

Relies On Questions

Most people state their voice searches as questions rather than statements. These queries typically begin with words such as, what, how, when, why or where. This wording may change the way Google reads and prioritizes headers and subheaders to answer queries. Companies need to keep this in mind when creating content. Try to incorporate the questions into website copy while also answering them directly.

Google has changed its ranking criteria to favor mobile-friendly websites.
Focuses on Mobile

More than 60% of Google searches come from mobile devices, and it is trending upward. The search engine giant noted this and changed its ranking criteria accordingly. It then urged companies to consider creating mobile-friendly versions of their websites. Voice queries most often take place on smartphones and other portable devices. So, websites that are not mobile-friendly may get pushed down in the results. This may occur even when they provide excellent information.

How To Adjust SEO Strategies

If business owners don’t account for voice search and SEO when creating and executing marketing strategies, they will ultimately fail. Good marketers keep up with changes, while great marketers innovate and stay ahead of them.

Improve Top-Ranking

Most businesses just want to make it to the first page for keywords they target. Indeed, for some keywords with strong competition, this is as much as a small business can hope for. When virtual assistants seek an answer, landing on the first page is not enough. The assistant accesses the top result for answers. Companies will need to improve their chances of holding the number-one spot for keywords wherever possible to take advantage of this.

Speed Up Websites

When a voice assistant returns an answer to a query, it happens as quickly as a reply in an ordinary conversation. Websites that take too long to load would slow this down. Subsequently, they may get overlooked when virtual assistants complete a quick search for an easy answer. Speeding up your website can improve your chances of owning the content Google or Siri decides best answers a question.

Shoot for Long Form

Voice assistants usually give very short responses to a query. This may cause people to think short posts are best for voice search. Google, for instance, usually recites the first few sentences from the content. It may then ask the person if they want more information or a little more context. In other instances, it may tell the person to check the Google Assistant app for a link to the full article or webpage. Forbes states that long-form content from 1,850 to 2,500 actually ranks better for voice queries.

Optimize the Wording

People phrase things differently when typing in a query versus asking Google or Siri via voice command. Consider, for instance, what you might type in when looking for the closest movie theater to you in Atlanta. “Movie theaters near me” or “movie theaters Atlanta” may suffice. When asking Alexa, you might say, “What are the movie theaters near me in Atlanta?” Marketers may need to consider longtail keywords that are more conversational.

Consider Grade Level

Not even a highly educated person is likely to say, “What movie theaters are in the closest proximity to myself?” It doesn’t matter if the topics covered are technical; keep the grade reading level low. This ensures that the wording matches conversational English. Not everyone asking a question that requires a technical answer is familiar with the subject matter. Forbes recommends aiming for a grade level of ninth or below.

Voice search results often recite featured snippets.
Use Position Zero

When publishing an article, good content management systems include an area for a featured snippet. This is sometimes called the summary or an excerpt. The information placed here generally appears with any preview of the webpage or article, including on Facebook or in Google’s search results. This is sometimes the snippet that voice assistants recite, so remember to optimize this as well.

Plan for the Sound

Does your brand past the radio test? If someone had never heard you pronounce it before, how likely would they be to get it right? If your brand name doesn’t sound the way the words look, or if it includes complex symbols, people may not recognize it. When the voice assistant recites it in its own way, it may sound like something else.

Is your SEO strategy compatible with voice search? If your keywords are still based on how consumers type in shorthand queries versus spelling it out in speech, the answer is yes. Note that voice searches have not yet taken over the market, so companies must strike a good balance.

Kristine Pratt is the Content Marketing Manager with Boostability. She brings a decade’s worth of communications strategy work to the company. In addition to being a part of the marketing team, Kristine enjoys traveling, sports, and all things nerdy.


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