voice search, marketing, content marketing, smart device, speaker, audio, business
Voice-enabled search has been a hot topic within SEO for a while now, but marketers who may have initially dismissed it as a fad may need to start reconsidering.
Voice search refers to using a smart device (typically a mobile phone or computer) that allows you to input commands by speaking aloud. Usually, these commands are received by a digital personal assistant, like Apple’s ‘Siri’ or Microsoft’s ‘Cortana.’
Once the stuff of sci-fi, voice search has now become a formidable digital force, and it looks like it’s here to stay:
40% of adults now use voice search once per day.
60% of people using voice search have started in the last year.
72% of people who own a voice-activated speaker say their devices are often used as part of their daily routine.
Nearly 50% of people are now using voice search when researching products.
Comscore predicts that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020
Its popularity has continued to grow amongst the introduction of home virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home into the commercial marketplace, encouraging the average user to take advantage of voice-enabled features on all their devices including speakers, Android phones, tablets, iPhones, TVs, watches, gaming consoles, and more.
And why wouldn’t they? According to MindMeld’s 2016 Intelligent Voice Research Report, the primary reasons consumers chose to use voice were:
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
I’m one of those people who only just started getting the knack of voice search myself, and I tend to use it for that first reason - often when I’m in the kitchen cutting something and I don’t want to use my sticky hands to quickly Google a recipe or set a timer. Interestingly, research from a Northstar Mobile Voice study reveals that the purposes for which people are using voice search are pretty varied - although remain largely the same between teens and adults:
The majority of these seem to be for either novelty or time-saving purposes, but the high number of users asking for directions is a great reminder that voice search is also a useful development for safety reasons. Presumably, many of these people are either walking or driving somewhere when they ask, and voice search allows them to get where they need to go without taking the risk of checking their phone manually whilst they should be focusing on where they’re going.
It’s important to note that voiced search queries also retain unique characteristics that differentiate them from their textual counterparts, and creating content with this in mind will help to optimise it for ‘the verbal revolution.’
When someone voices a query to their search assistant, they tend to speak more naturally. We use more specific language and fuller phrases, as opposed to the direct couple of keywords we’d usually type into a text box. Voice searches don’t tend to be so long that they become full sentences - but you’ll probably get more “Best Portugal flight prices” than you will “Portugal flights.”
Voice searches are also overwhelmingly question-based, with the vast majority incorporating a ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘when,’ ‘how,’ or ‘why’ at the start. These facts together mean that voice queries tend to come from people looking for specific answers to specific questions.
It’s also worth noting that, at the moment, the bulk of voice searches tend to come from younger audiences in the 18-29 range and they also tend to be via mobile devices. If this is your target demographic, then you should certainly be looking to make voice optimisation a priority (as well as making your website mobile-friendly if you haven’t already). This being said, I was personally surprised to see how many people in older age ranges were also using voice search. Moz’s Purna Virji notes that this could be to do with usability - “Tiny screens and even tinier buttons can be difficult to navigate — voice search is easier.” So don’t discount its importance for 44+ demographics either.
The ability of voice technology to recognise things like voice texture, interests and behaviour is also a fascinating step forwards in the creation of more intelligent user experiences. Eventually, digital assistants can begin to “‘learn” your accent, language and patterns of talking to give you personalised responses. It can also work in combination with existing algorithms on Google to give you answers in context of what you’ve searched before. I.e. if I were to ask “Who is Michael J. Fox” and then asked “How old is he,” the assistant will ideally understand that I’m still talking about Michael Fox, and bring up his age.
Conversational searching in this manner isn’t necessarily new (Google’s “Hummingbird” update was released in 2013), but as these longer and more specific voice searches begin to grow, content creators may want to re-focus their content on addressing specific customer pain points.
There are more ways to optimise your content for voice search, too. Consider:
Adapting content for Snippets: A ‘Snippet’ refers to a short summary of an answer pulled from a third-party website that Google will often feature at the top of its search results page. They show up in a grey-outlined box and aim to give you a concise answer to the question you’re searching for. They’re also the first thing that tends to get read out by voice assistants, and the attached website will therefore often be where a user goes to learn more. Try to optimise your content for these snippets - work to provide the best answer possible to the specific questions your audience is asking. Make your answers high-quality and in-depth, include clear headings, and add a simple, intelligible summary towards the top of your article.
Researching specific customer questions: To help you achieve the above, it’s important to know what those specific questions are. Google Analytics will allow you to take a look at the keywords your audience tend to search to find you - so use this as a starting point to figure out what their queries are. Serpstat is another useful tool that allows you to input a topic and see the most popular keywords associated with that word in Google searches. You can then refine these results down using the ‘Search Questions’ tab on the left to see only the questions that people have searched. Once you know what your audience is asking, you can create content tailored specifically for them. And remember, specificity is key - don’t just make an FAQ page, make an individual blog post for each question.
Reducing your page load speed: People using voice search are often doing so via mobile, which means they might not have access to a particularly fast broadband. No one wants to wait around for a page to load and users may bounce off your site if they sense it taking too long. Check your load speed and try to reduce it where possible using Google’s suggestions. The linked site above will also give you recommendations on how to make your site more mobile-friendly, which is equally important.
Updating your business listing: That statistic about people using voice search to look for directions is an important one to pay attention to. Customers who are trying to find out more about your specific business carry a stronger purchasing intent than those at the start of the buying funnel - so make it as easy as possible for them to continue. Update your Google business listing to ensure your opening hours, location, business category and contact information are all readily available for voice search to find. Make sure to incorporate this information clearly on your website too, so that people searching for ‘X company near me’ or ‘X company in Birmingham’ will be able to find it more easily.
Improving your meta-data SEO: For the particularly tech-savvy of you, this can go a long way. Meta-data means information about information - the descriptors that tell a search engine what your content is all about. It’s effectively like having little labels within your website code that signal where useful information is. Meta-data can be used to highlight information about your business (like location and contact lines as mentioned above) or even to mark specific figures and answers to certain queries. Neil Patel offers some great advice on how to get started with this here, but if coding is a foreign language to you then it might be worth considering whether your budget could allow for an SEO expert to come in and work on it for you.
Creating an audio version of your text: Chances are, if someone is using voice search or a virtual assistant to find information, their hands are probably busy or they’re simply not in the mood for reading through reams of text themselves to find what they’re looking for. One way to tailor your content for this is to incorporate audio files. Why not attach a short audio (or video) clip at the top of your blog post that reads out your answer summary paragraph? Why not create a short podcast series with short episodes targeting particular questions?
Optimising for voice search presents a great opportunity for content creators to distinguish themselves from the crowd. The key to winning in search results is to offer the most useful content possible, and by paying attention to a voice user’s needs, you’re effectively making your content far more useful to half the searchers out there. It can take a bit of work to modify your website and get your content structured in the right way to achieve this, but it will be well worth the effort when you hear Alexa reading out your blog post from across the room.