The impact of voice search for SEO

2018 has seen unprecedented growth in a recent search engine optimization trend – that is, the increase in voice search queries, which now poses a new issue for the effective marketer to consider should they want to keep abreast of the current trends and gain a competitive edge for their projects.

Several reasons have been attributed to this recent growth, including the advent of voice-controlled household products such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, the increase in the use of voice search assistants such as the iOS’s Siri and Microsoft Cortana, and the ever-increasing accuracy of the technologies behind these services.

Growth of this trend is undeniable and it is now more important than ever for marketers to adapt their SEO strategy, or remain left behind. Here are some reasons why.

The impact of voice search for SEO

With the rise of voice based internet searches, what does this mean for SEO? Photo: Antonio Guillem, Bigstock

Natural speech patterns should be accounted for

What could easily fly under the radar for a marketer is that voice search queries are slightly different from a query typed into the search engine due to natural speaking patterns. According to Google, nearly 70% of requests sent to the Google Assistant adopt a natural conversational tone, and many of these requests are follow-ups to initial queries that flow like a normal conversation would.

A typed query will make use of shorthand (‘chinese restaurant new york’) whereas a spoken query will naturally adopt a conversational tone (‘Where can I find a Chinese restaurant in New York?’). Such queries not only tend to involve longer-tail keywords, but are also 30 times more likely than typed queries to involve an action (‘Where can I find a Chinese restaurant’ vs just ‘chinese restaurant’).

The subtle differences between the two types are significant when we consider that voice search is becoming more and more accurate at discerning natural conversational tones and presenting the appropriate search result. In fact, for the English language, Google’s voice recognition has reached a 95% accuracy rate, which is equal to the current threshold for human accuracy.

Hence, marketers need to respond appropriately and optimize their websites for these specific keywords. Ranking for longer-tail keywords should not be dismissed, but should be taken advantage of. In essence, it is now important that marketers ensure that content reads as if it were part of a conversation.

As the competencies of these technologies increase, so too should marketers’ approaches to these new forms of queries.

The featured snippet is more important than ever

The impact of voice search for SEO

With Google’s new updates, everyone is trying to get their site in ‘position zero’ AKA the ‘featured snippet’. Photo: Subbotina Anna, Bigstock

A recent important addition to Google’s search function has been the inclusion of the featured snippet, which has increasing significance for voice search SEO. The featured snippet is a single section extracted from a website and placed directly onto the top of a search engine results page (‘position zero’), featuring a reversed format of the traditional search engine result.

The snippet is designed to help users find their answer more quickly and easily, and as such has important implications for voice queries. This is because answers for voice search queries tend to read from the featured snippet – close to 90%, in fact, according to a Moz study analysing 1000 voice search results. As put by Google, a traditional search engine results page isn’t going to be effective or useful for someone who can’t see the results, as is the case for a Google Home user.

Such a finding should greatly affect a voice SEO marketer’s strategy – to refocus their content to increase the chances of appearing in the featured snippet.

There are a number of ways that this could be achieved. More and more content writers are employing the use of a Frequently Asked Questions (‘FAQ’) page, and smartly so, as these pages usually contain the long-tailed, naturally conversational keywords that characterize a voice search query.

In constructing these pages with voice search SEO in mind, a marketer should abandon conventional keyword phrases and instead focus on sounding natural with both the questions and answers they provide.

In doing so, marketers need to get into the shoes of search engine users and figure out how a question would be asked and how the answer should be laid out. The key is simple and concise questions and answers specifically tailored to the questions which go straight to the point.

However, underlying every content marketing strategy is the need to uphold content to a high standard of quality, and it is no different in the case of optimizing for the featured snippet. While content needs to be simple, it also needs to remain in-depth and leave no questions unanswered.

It is also important to consider visual aids and infographics as these may also appear in the snippet, which would be beneficial for a mobile user utilizing voice search.

Mobile-friendliness is key

The impact of voice search for SEO

With the majority of voice search occuring on mobile, it’s more important that your website is mobile friendly! Photo: Mungkhood Studio, Bigstock

At the 2016 Google I/O, Google announced that, of all mobile search queries, 20% are voice searches, indicating an increase in the use of the assistant services on mobile devices. Since then the number has surely increased, so ensuring websites are well-optimized on mobile devices is crucial to remain on top of voice search SEO.

A website may adequately account for natural speech patterns and long-tail keywords, but if it is poorly optimized for mobile devices then mobile users are more likely to exit the site without converting, negatively affecting your rankings.

There are a number of key considerations that should be taken into account.

An important consideration is site speed.  Mobile users are impatient – as much as 53% of mobile users will exit a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Google reports on a user-centric performance model known as ‘RAIL’ as a set of guidelines, which states that websites should respond to user input within 100ms or the user will consider the site as unresponsive or laggy. Google cites that ‘Load Time’, the ‘L’ in ‘RAIL’, should be no more than a second.

Realistically this is difficult to achieve, yet important to realise when we consider that bounce rates increase as much as 32% once load times increase from 1 second to 3 seconds, and as much as 90% once it reaches 5 seconds. However there are several methods which developers can use to reduce loading times, from simply reducing image sizes to redeveloping elements specifically for mobile use.

Responsiveness for different devices should also be taken into account. A website should look the same for an iPad user as it would for an Android mobile phone. Ideally, the same or similar user experience should be provided regardless of the device used.

Mobile usability should be a key concern, even outside of optimizing for voice SEO. With this increasing trend of voice search queries, mobile friendliness as an issue becomes more apparent than ever. Google itself provides a Mobile-Friendly Test in the Google Search Console that enables developers to judge the usability of their websites which should be a part of every voice SEO marketer’s toolbox.

Local SEO becomes more significant

The impact of voice search for SEO

The prevalence of voice search has meant that focusing on local SEO is more important than ever! Photo: Onephoto, Bigstock

A factor that has become more apparent as a result of increasing mobile phone usage has been the importance of local SEO, so it is not surprising that accounting for voice search within this is crucial for a website’s rankings.

Local SEO describes optimizing content to provide better results based on a user’s location. The importance of local SEO becomes apparent when we consider that 88% of queries containing ‘near me’ are on mobile, meaning that these searches have local intent, and that close to 80% of mobile searches with local intent converted into a purchase.

In the context of voice search, the implications are clear. Marketers now need to provide answers to queries    that consider the nature and setting of a voice search query with local intent. While it depends obviously on the context of each request, there are a number of key factors which remain consistently important.

One of the most important factors to account for is the sense of urgency. The need for the right answer, right now is naturally important with a voice search query: much like how a person asking a question of someone would expect a response right away, websites now need to account for urgency by providing a quick and to-the-point answer.

Similarly, flowing from mobile location-based SEO, voice search SEO also needs to account for keywords with local intent, but also take it a step further and consider the conversational tone. While optimizing for words such as ‘opening hours’ has always been important and remains important with voice search SEO, further optimizing for a phrase such as ‘when does the local grocery store close?’ now becomes equally important.

Voice search has a strong impact on SEO

Despite the growing popularity and usage of voice search to conduct your everyday Googling, marketers have been slow to catch up with 62% of marketers stating that they are unlikely to put in place a voice search specific strategy over 2018. However, this has been cited to be a result of an uncertainty in the strategy moving forward rather than an ignorance of the increasing trend.

Google themselves have clearly recognized this trend with plans to implement voice search reports in the Google Search Console.

It is clear that it is still early days for this particular SEO advancement. Nevertheless, marketers need to ensure they are in tune with the effects of voice search on a search engine results page by engaging in research as well as trial and error. An awareness and cognizance of newer voice technologies and their capabilities is equally important as well. The key is getting on top and staying on top to control this trend.

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