Voice search refers to the marriage between voice recognition and internet search technology. Basically, people ask for search requests out loud instead of typing queries into a search box. The rising popularity of accessing the internet with mobile phones sparked the growth of voice search. Of course, it's usually much easier to speak into a phone than to type on it, particularly when you're on the move. If your business could benefit from attracting more voice queries, you may need to invest in optimizing your sites for these kinds of searches.
Why is Optimizing Your Website for Voice Search Important?
Developers created very primitive voice recognition applications as early as the 1950s. By the 1980s and 1990s, plenty of large companies had invested in improving this technology, but the vintage voice typing programs from that error did not work very well. Decades later, voice recognition has progressed to the point where voice recognition apps can recognize various accents and pronunciations and get them mostly right, with only the odd mistake here and there.
Some popular applications that use voice recognition include SIRI, Google Voice, and of course, Amazon's Alexis. According to Smart Insights, over 35 million Americans spoke into their devices every month in 2017. By January of 2018, people requested over one billion voice searches a month. Anybody who regularly uses a voice-to-text app to send messages knows that voice recognition still isn't perfect; however, it's become good enough to attract a growing number of users.
How to Optimize Your Website for Voice Search
Voice search performs the same basic function as internet searches that you type into a search box. At the same time, you should optimize your site by accounting for a few key differences.
Optimize for Questions
Search Engine Journal pointed out that people tend to phrase their queries as questions when they use voice search. Instead of typing in, "vegetarian takeout Denver," people will tend to ask out loud, "Where can I get vegetarian takeout in Denver?" In other words, they tend to speak with their voice assistants in a more natural way than they type queries with a keyboard.
These are a couple of tools that can help you optimize for the kinds of questions people might ask when they're searching for a business like yours:
- With AnswerThePublic, you can enter your keywords and get lists of questions people ask, organized by intent.
- When you type your query into Google, you should get some ideas for questions in the "People Also Ask" section of your results page.
Organize Queries by Intent
Just as you develop content and web pages based upon various stages in the customer journey, you will also want to make sure you organize various queries by customer intent. For instance, if you're working on building brand awareness, you will want queries related to comparisons of your kind of product or service. To court customers who are ready to buy, you might develop questions around pricing or special promotions.
Use Site Structure and Structured Data
When they type in queries, searchers will see a full page of search results. Sure, the top result draws the most clicks, but most pages on the first page will enjoy some traffic for a popular search. With voice queries, searchers may only get one answer, so it's much more important to shoot for a high ranking. You strive for top rankings by ensuring search engine bots can navigate your site to find relevant content and to understand the relevance of the content.
Besides making sure search engine bots can easily navigate your site, you can improve your odds by taking a couple of extra steps:
- Add XML sitemaps to Google, Bing, and any other search engines that accept them.
- Consider adding structured metadata to your pages to highlight information on your pages, such as open hours or addresses, that are likely to be important to local voice queries.
Go for Some Quick Wins
Judging by the information Google provides webmasters, the search engine tends to reward success. Try to optimize your site for some long-tail, conversational questions that are likely to give your site quick exposure and good CTRs. If you operate a local business, you might optimize it for your city, and maybe even better, your specific part of town or neighborhood. Long-tail keywords might also highlight a competitive advantage your business has, such as your affordable prices or weekend and evening hours.
Long tails and highly localized searches may not produce volume, but they give you a starting place to begin building credulity and enjoying faster returns for your efforts. This is important for a couple of reasons:
- Most SEOs notice that Google will eventually reward their initial success with broader and more general search rankings in time.
- Demonstrating some quicker successes can help you convince your clients or bosses to invest more in voice search optimization.
Optimize for Mobile First
Naturally, mobile devices generate the most voice searches at the present time. It's much easier to speak into a phone than to type on it, especially if you're on foot or in your car. When you're sitting at your desk, it's probably still easier to type in your searches.
Today, a mobile-friendly site lends itself to being a voice-friendly website too. Taking such steps as having a mobile-responsive site, improving load times, and optimizing for local queries all tend to improve rankings for mobile searches, which of course, include voice searches.
The Future of Voice Search
The recent proliferation of voice apps might make it seem like voice recognition technology has become an overnight success. At the same time, talented developers have been working on improving speech capabilities since before the first Star Trek characters spoke to their computer in the 1960's TV show. We're not there yet, but it's easy to imagine that developers will use machine learning and AI to make it possible for us to speak with our computers as naturally as we speak to each other within a few more years.
At that point, sitting at a keyboard to find out where to order takeout or even order business supplies might seem like a quaint notion. Businesses that stay on top of advances in voice search and other voice applications will be poised to take advantage of this next digital revolution. Companies that ignore the rise of voice will continue to lose online visitors to their competitors.