The evolution of SEO isn’t just about how much Google’s algorithm has changed over the years, but how technology has transformed the way in which consumers search for information online.
Search engines have come a long way since the dawn of primitive platforms, like AltaVista, Lycos, and Ask Jeeves (now Ask). Search has become increasingly intuitive. Instead of matching results based purely on keywords, Google, Bing, and other major search engines, now use a variety of implicit signals to align with user intent.
Since machines are sophisticated enough to understand complex, conversational queries, users are beginning to speak to search engines in the same way they would speak to another human being – using words like “who,” “what,” “where,” and “how.” Voice search is taking this semantic technology to the next level. Instead of typing a query into Google and choosing from a list of search results, voice search technology allows consumers to use voice commands on their smartphones or personal assistant devices.
Voice search takes traditional search one step further, by choosing the single, most relevant result and reading it back to the user. This makes the SEO landscape even more competitive, since the total number of organic results is reduced from 10 listings to one.
The Current State of Voice Search
Voice search is becoming increasingly popular among consumers, because it’s convenient, easy to use, and it’s surprisingly reliable. The accuracy of voice search technology has improved drastically over the past few years. In 2013, the average error rate was about 25 percent, and as of 2016 the error rate is down to 8 percent.
Although it’s still very much in it’s infancy, the future of voice search looks promising, to say the least. Back in 2015, Google announced that “near me” searches doubled since the previous year. According to Dan Leibson from Local SEO Guide, “near me” search volume is still “climbing rapidly,” and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Optimizing Your Website to Rank for Voice Search Queries
When you’re optimizing your site for voice search, many of the same SEO rules apply: publish quality content, optimize for mobile, connect with user intent, and so on. The main difference between traditional search and voice search is the types of queries people use. I included some tips below to help you identify the voice search queries your customers might be using, and how to optimize for them.
#1 Convert Short Tail to Long Tail – Most of us talk much faster than we type. On average, humans speak about 150 words per minute, compared to about 40 words per minute when typing. Since we speak approximately three times faster than we type, voice queries are likely to be longer and more complex.
For example, if you’re looking for a nearby pizza restaurant, the typed query might look something like this: pizza near me. Whereas the voice query might be more conversational: where is the closest pizza restaurant to me that is opened right now?
Currently, there’s no way to extract voice search data from visitors to analyze the specific queries they’re using. However, you can still gather plenty of insights from the data you do have (Google Analytics, Search Console, AdWords, etc.) and keyword suggestion tools, like Google Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, and SEMrush.
From there, you can extrapolate your keywords to align with the longer tail voice queries customers are most likely to be using. When you speak to customers, either on in person or over the phone, pay attention to the type of language they use. Chances are other potential customers are using similar terms and phrasing.
#2 Create Conversational Content – ComScore estimates that by 2020, voice search will account for half of all searches. If brands want in on the action, they need to make a concerted effort to develop more conversational content that provides direct, concise answers to potential voice queries.
This doesn’t mean that long-form content is dead. It just means that content needs to be written and organized in such a way that addresses a topic from two very different perspectives:
- The user looking for quick answers
- The user that wants as much information as possible
Conversational content starts with optimizing for each of the peripheral queries that stem from a central topic. For example, if you’re optimizing a page for trips to Nepal, you may consider peripheral queries such as:
- Looking for places to stay in Nepal
- What is there to do in Nepal for fun?
- How much does it cost to book a flight to Nepal?
- Where can I find information on Nepal vacation packages?
These additional, long tail keywords cover a wider range of related voice queries, and help to establish your site as an authority on a particular topic. In most cases, the more information you can provide the better.
Just be sure to structure your content in way that makes it easy for search engines to extract the information users are looking for. This means utilizing organizational elements, such as bullets, tabs, and expandable/collapsible content, and breaking down complex topics into multiple pages.
#3 Optimize for Local Search – If you’re a local business, local SEO should already be a top priority – especially in 2017. But if you’ve been lagging behind in this department, you should consider the impact that voice search will have on local businesses. A study conducted by Chitika found that voice searches were three times as likely to have local intent, when compared to traditional search.
At a minimum, businesses should make sure that their address and contact details are easily accessible – to both users and search engines. Navigational queries and call commands make up the largest percentage of voice search queries. In most cases, customers should be able to find you based on your business address, but it couldn’t hurt to include driving directions on your site.
Siri, Google Now, Alexa, and Cortana all pull their data from a variety of authoritative sources on the web. This includes sites like Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, and many others. Voice search will most likely use review count, average star rating, and the overall sentiment of reviews when vetting local businesses for inclusion. So if you haven’t already taken steps to bolster your brand’s local presence and online reputation, now is the time to do so.
Voice Search Won’t Replace Traditional Search
Despite the clickbait headlines you may see online, voice search will not make screens and keyboards obsolete – at least not anytime soon. Granted there are plenty of scenarios where voice search is far more convenient than trying a query into Google, consumers generally prefer to have options when making purchase decisions. In many cases, that’s whole reason consumers use search engines in the first place. Users will continue to use traditional search platforms to find products, services, and information online. Voice search will simply serve as an extension of the search platforms we’re currently using.
If you have any questions about voice search or anything mentioned in this article, feel free to leave a comment below, or reach out to our team directly.