The technology was a novelty when Siri first came on the market, but now we have Google Voice Search, Alexa, and many other voice recognition technologies to choose from. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that more than half of queries will be voice search by 2020.
If you want to stay ahead of the game and make the most of voice search for your search engine optimization, it’s time to start today.
Optimize Your Local Listings
Most people use voice search to get information about physical places they want to go.
They might say something specific, like “find pizza takeout in Austin.” In this case, it would be worthwhile to optimize your pages for the keyword “pizza takeout Austin.”
But more importantly, they might say something general, like “find pizza takeout near me.”
Voice Search can recognize “near me” and refer to the mobile user’s physical location to get results. And they’re not correlating that search with your on-page keywords.
For most of this information, the search engine is going to turn to Google My Business listings.
Make sure yours is set up and accurate.
Add all your business information and select relevant categories. Try to be as specific as possible with your categories to increase the chances of appearing for the right voice search.
For example, if you have a pizza place that doesn’t offer on-premise dining, skip the “pizza restaurant” category and select “pizza takeout” instead.
You should also cross-check how your name, address, and phone number appear in listings across the web. Google uses this information to rank your pages in local search.
If you have three different addresses listed, Google will have less confidence in your business.
Target Long-Tail Keywords
People don’t use voice search the same way they do regular search.
If I’m typing something into Google on my phone, I’m not going to type “How to improve my on-page SEO.” That takes too much time. Instead, type the exact keyword “on-page SEO” and choose from results.
With voice search, though, it’s basically a conversation with your phone. Long-tail keywords are a given.
So here’s what you do:
Think How People Speak
Start brainstorming what kind of natural language spoken questions might bring people to your site.
This is a different kind of long-tail — it’s less about keyword variations and more about real speech. Move beyond regular long-tail keyword research tools that pull up every variation under the sun.
Answer the Public is a great tool for this. They append search terms with words like “for” or “with” to dig deeper into searcher intent:
Another great way to do this is by using voice search yourself. Ask the questions you brainstormed and see what kind of content comes up.
Look for Opportunities in Your Analytics
Google’s Search Console reports will tell you what actual queries bring people to your site.
At the moment, there’s no way to tell if a query came from voice search or regular, although Google is hinting that might change.
Even as-is, this is a great opportunity to brainstorm long-tail keywords, so hopefully you’re already using it.
Create Q&A-style Content
Once you have some natural language keywords in your arsenal, put them into action on pages around your site.
A lot of people limit Q&A-style content to their FAQ pages, but it’s time to branch out. See how you can revamp your blog posts and product pages to optimize for these queries.
Beef up Your Microdata
Make it as easy as possible for Googlebot to crawl your site and understand what it’s about. This increases the chances the search engine will pull up your content to answer voice search questions.
To do this, make sure you submit a sitemap to Google. Also include any important information people may ask about using voice search, such as:
- Your address
- Phone number
- Store hours
- Directions from major highways
Next, you should use microdata to help Google understand what these elements are.
You can create markups for all kinds of use cases. For example, here’s a rich snippet Google returned when I searched for: “What’s the population of Croatia?” by voice command:
Google knew what to display here because of a microdata markup on the World Bank site.
Go to Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper and see the different kinds of content you can markup. It will also walk you through the process and help you create the right HTML.
Concentrate on Mobile
People use voice search almost exclusively on mobile. If they click on your site in search results and find it poorly optimized for mobile, they’ll probably head back to results and try again.
This can increase your bounce rate, and hurt your PageRank in the process.
According to Google’s own research, mobile bounce rates are 9.56% higher than desktop. So if you’re focusing on voice search optimization, mobile user experience should be a priority.
Google has already rolled out two Mobile Friendly algorithm updates. You can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to see if your website makes the cut.
But mobile friendliness is a lot more than just a responsive design. You should also work on:
Improving Your Site Speed
Voice searchers are usually on the go, so the faster your site speed, the better. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to find new ways to improve your mobile site speed.
Make It Scannable
People using a mobile device are less inclined to read giant articles on such a tiny screen. Make sure it’s easy for them to get the gist of your content.
Use informative headers to break things up. Make your sentences simple and your paragraphs short.
If there’s a way to illustrate your point visually, do it.
The space “above the fold” on mobile is very small. So make the most of it.
Thinking in Thumbs
Most mobile users will navigate your site using a thumb. If you’re lucky, they’ll add an index finger.
Put elements (like buttons or links) on your page too close together and people can accidentally click the wrong thing. This frustrates site visitors and can increase your exit rate.
Use a tool like MobileTest.me to see how your site appears on different mobile devices.
Or better yet, try navigating the site on your own phone, and take note of any user experience issues.
Watch analytics closely to see if there are differences in performance for mobile versus desktop traffic. This could mean there’s a user experience problem you need to fix.
Google Analytics has some detailed mobile vs. desktop reports built right in to help you monitor your efforts.
Those are my current recommendations on how you should optimize for voice search. If analytics tools become more granular in the future, it will be interesting to see some real numbers on how well a site is optimized for voice search.
Know any other tips? Tell me in the comments:
Featured Image: Deposit Photos
All screenshots taken by Aaron Agius, November 2016.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!