Voice search is projected to be greater than 50% of all searches by 2020. Voice search will significantly impact search engine optimization. Because we can speak faster than we can type, voice searches will be longer and more natural. So, for example, while we might optimize around “Denver SEO” for text entered searches, voice search would be more like “how can I get more website traffic?”.
As voice recognition technology has improved and gained use throughout a myriad of devices, more and more people are benefiting from the ease of using voice search, rather than typing their query. Among the primary reasons we are seeing such a significant increase in voice search is the prevalence of cell phones and the move from desktop searches to mobile device search queries. Coupled with the overall move from desktop to mobile search is the greater use of voice recognition technology with smart phones. For these reasons, the trend for greater use of voice search is understandable.
In 2016, Google voice queries were up 35-fold since 2008. In 2017, approximately 40% of adults used voice search at least once per day. Provided that more than 50% of searches in just 2 years will be via voice, it becomes clear that the search engine optimization (SEO) game is changing significantly.
While SEO is always changing primarily in response to changes in Google’s algorithm, the changes related to voice search are significantly different. With SEO trend changes related to Google’s algorithm, SEO experts adapted the techniques used to improve rankings. While things like on-page SEO and off-page SEO tactics have changed over the years, voice search is an entirely new ball-game. The move toward spoken search queries changes the very nature of how people are searching and, therefore, how SEO professionals will need to approach search optimization.
Research from MindMeld’s 2016 Intelligent Voice Assistants Research Report breaks down the primary reasons consumers use voice:
61% – Useful when hands / vision occupied
30% – Faster results
24% – Difficulty typing on certain devices
22% – They’re fun / cool
12% – To avoid confusing menus
1% – Other
The survey also reveals the most frequent settings for use of voice-assisted search – home (43%), car (36%), on the go (19%). Work comprises the remaining usage.
Recognizing the change to spoken search, Google has recently issued guidelines specifically for voice searches. The official name for these updated guidelines from Google is “Evaluation of Search Speech – Guidelines”. If you are interested in reading these guidelines, please visit Google Voice Search. While this is not a part of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines at this time, voice search will inevitably be addressed. Suffice to say, there is an entirely new rating methodology for voice search.
Because different devices use different databases for answers, there is no one method for voice optimization. For example, Google Home devices retrieve answers from Google data. Voice queries to Siri, pulls their answers from BING data. Amazon’s Alexa devices pull data from both BING as well as Amazon data.
Since Google dominates the search engine market, we’ll focus our discussion on how to best optimize voice search for Google and Google Home products. The primary difference between text search and voice search is the query entered. Because speaking is easier and faster than typing, the nature of search queries will be significantly different. Text entered search queries are typically much shorter than spoken queries. Also, voice search queries tend to be more of a complete question such as “how do I get more traffic to my website?”, whereas, our text entered query is more vague like “SEO services.”
Based on the change in the nature of search, SEO experts need to adjust their optimization strategy to account for longer queries. Voice search definitely lends itself more to question and answers, therefore, website content should also lend itself more to this type of question and answer approach. Over the past few years, longer content has been ranking better than shorter content, which has caused those who are optimizing for rankings to ramble on rather than being concise. Voice search lends itself to answering a specific question. I believe short and to the point will be more beneficial for voice search.
Rather than creating 2,000-word articles, an argument can be made that FAQ pages with questions and answers will perform better with voice search. Why? Well, Google will more readily understand the semantic meaning of a short answer than a long answer. Also, content that has been written and optimized for traditional search, does not always include the question that is being answered. Since voice search is moving toward more complete questions, it stands to reason that optimization for voice search should include the question that is being answered.
Traditional search engine optimization typically begins with keyword research. Traditional keyword research lends itself to shorter phrases, not necessarily long-tail questions. The first step in voice search optimization is to understand the most common questions being asked, then including these questions within the content and answering these questions as succinctly as possible.
At this time, unfortunately, there is not a tool available for question research. We cannot research a most frequently asked questions by topic very well, therefore, one must start with a few seed questions that can be entered into Google. Frequently, Google will provide an area within its SERPs (search engine results pages) known as “People also ask” (PAA), which lists additional questions related to the seed question entered into Google. The PAA area will allow us to expand our Questions research.
Example of a PAA box:
For fun, I searched Google for “most asked questions on google” and found a list of the top 1000 most asked questions on Google from Mondovo.com. This list, unfortunately, does not lend itself to categorical searches for top questions by subject or topic.
Another approach for research of common questions is identifying featured snippets, which typically appear to answer common questions. You have likely seen these before (they appear in approximately 10% of search queries), but may not have known what they are called. The featured snippet provides an answer summary extracted from a web page. Per Google “When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results”.
Here are a few examples of featured snippets:
As you may have noticed, featured snippets appear in response to a question. When one verbally asks a question to one of Google’s Home Products, the answer is typically pulled from the featured snippet. So, for SEO experts, optimizing to be found in Google featured snippets area is very beneficial for spoken search queries.
Rather than providing the steps for ranking well within Google’s featured snippets, here are some very good resources:
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