Not long ago, the idea of speaking to a machine that could actually understand your commands and could answer back was the stuff of science fiction. In 2023, although we might not have interstellar travel, we do have the ability to “converse” with our technology. For many, voice has become the go-to method for searching the web, and that has big implications for SEO.
The growth of voice
In the 2000s, we saw the rapid evolution of natural language processing thanks to the advent of machine learning and deep learning. This resulted in the proliferation of voice assistants like Siri and Alexa and interactive voice interfaces for customer service and the like.
For a time, it was common to see someone repeating themselves over and over into their phone’s microphone, over-enunciating each syllable as if they were correcting an unruly toddler. It has made for some awkward (and frankly annoying) social situations. But these tools are getting better at understanding different voice tones, accents and improper grammar, and you no longer need a perfectly polished American accent to be understood.
As the technology improves, people have been finding it increasingly useful and convenient. Voice assistants can now be found in cars, wearables, televisions and other household appliances. Stats from Insider Intelligence show that in the US, voice assistants and smart speakers have become very much mainstream with an estimated 135 million monthly users in 2022, 40% of the population.
Optimising for voice search
When people search with a voice command, it’s a little bit different from the way they would search with a keyboard in front of them. For example, rather than searching for “restaurants near me”, a person would ask their voice assistant “What restaurants are in the area?”.
For your content to be more likely to appear in voice search results, for starters, it needs to cater for natural language, i.e. conversational phrasing and long-tail keywords. Search engines are getting better at comprehending the intent behind a search (particularly with Google’s Hummingbird and BERT algorithm updates), but there are still a set of best practices you need to follow to optimise your content for voice.
HubSpot breaks these down into seven steps, namely:
1. Use question and long-tail keywords
We use full sentences when we speak and we tend to be more specific, so using specific long-tail keywords and question keywords (like who, what, when, where and how) will be more likely to attract traffic from longer and more specific queries.
2. Use conversational language
It may not always suit your brand, but using a less formal tone whenever possible will be seen as more relevant to the casual phrasing of a typical voice search query.
3. Focus on local SEO
Brick-and-mortar businesses benefit greatly from focusing on local SEO, so your Google Business Profile should contain all the relevant information to capture geographically specific searches.
4. Use schema markup
Schema markup is a type of structured data that provides search engines with additional information about a site’s content. Webmasters can use it to label specific elements of a webpage with metadata that search engines can understand, making it more likely that your site will be deemed relevant.
5. Aim for featured snippets
Getting a hallowed featured snippet is easier said than done, especially in a competitive space, but the rewards are enormous. Apart from being a traffic magnet with regular users, a voice assistant is likely to give the featured snippet that appears on a search result as the answer to a query.
6. Optimise for mobile
Responsive design and other mobile-friendly optimisations are always important, but this is especially true for voice search. That’s because voice searches tend to be done on the go.
7. Optimise page load time
Your site’s performance is another crucial ranking factor that can make the difference between a featured snippet that Alexa or Siri picks and getting buried in the search results.
Fortunately, optimising for voice doesn’t require redoing your SEO from scratch, but it does necessitate a tweak or two. And it certainly helps to have all your other SEO elements locked down. SEO optimisation is an ongoing exercise, but if you lack the capacity to give it the attention it deserves, it pays to let the experts handle it for you. And you need look no further than us.