How Will Voice Search Affect SEO?

Michele McDonough / seo

Have you seen the movie Her? It’s about a lonely writer, Theodore, who falls in love with his AI digital assistant called Samantha.

Okay, so the premise is a little far-fetched, but, nevertheless, the movie got people thinking about the relationships we have with technology – especially the way we communicate with our smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Now, you might think that digital assistants and voice search capabilities are nothing more than quirky additions to your mobile device or computer, in that they offer little more than a bit of fun and convenience. And yet the reality is that digital assistants and voice search mechanisms, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now, are fast becoming the go-to apps for people wanting to conduct Internet searches.

Back in October 2014, Google outlined in a blog post just how popular mobile voice searches were already becoming. A survey it commissioned, conducted by Northstar Research, found that more than half of teens aged 13-18 were using voice search on a daily basis. Adults were also getting involved, with 41% admitting they talked to their phones every day – something that 56% said made them feel tech savvy.

Fast forward to today and the predictions for voice search suggest it is only going to get more relevant and prevalent going forward.

For example, the recently released Internet Trends 2017[1] report from Kleiner Perkins investor and Internet guru Mary Meeker shows that 25% of mobile queries were made via voice in 2016.

Comscore says that this is only going to increase in the future, estimating that by 2020 (less than three years away), 50% of all online searches will be by voice[2].

comScore predicts that 50% of all online searches will be voice searches by 2020.Click To Tweet
So Why The Uptick In Voice Searches?

The main reason is that voice recognition technology has improved so much in recent times and is now more accurate than ever.

Did you ever try any of the first voice search offerings that came out? Even if you spoke as slowly and as clearly as you could, the margin for error was still huge.

It’s not surprising then that Google’s own platform had a recognition accuracy rate of less than 80% back in 2013, according to Meeker’s slides. Today, that figure is 95%, thanks mainly to improved machine learning algorithms. Chinese search engine Baidu now actually exceeds a 95% accuracy rate!

The allure of voice search and its unwavering popularity are undeniable. It’s faster, quirkier, more fun and, perhaps most important, it’s here to stay.

So What Does All This Mean From An SEO Standpoint?

First and foremost, the increasing popularity of voice search means that your website and its content need to be fully optimized. This may require you to rethink your current SEO practices, content strategy, and overall approach to online marketing.

Here are the main areas we think you should be focusing on:

1. Mobile Responsive

We’ve highlighted before why a mobile-friendly website is a must for businesses today. But with voice searches set to become more popular than ever, your website’s mobile-friendliness will be absolutely crucial for determining its search engine ranking.

Before you do anything else, run your website through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to assess its mobile friendliness and chances of ranking on mobile searches, including voice searches.

The bottom line is that if your website is not mobile-friendly, it is going to miss out on a huge chunk of the search market – especially when you consider that the majority of voice searches are conducted on mobile devices.

2. Claim Your Google My Business Listing

If you haven’t already done so, claim your free Google My Business listing. Not only does it help Google understand more about your business, but it also enables your listing to appear right when people are conducting searches for your business – or businesses like yours – on Google Search and Google Maps.

Since many voice searches are local in nature, like ‘where’s the nearest pizza place’, having an up-to-date Google My Business listing can be the difference between appearing in the search engine results pages (SERPs) or not.

3. Think Like A Human And Use Conversational Keywords

When people conduct voice searches, they generally do so in a conversational style that is very different from the way they do with a keyboard. They typically use natural-sounding phrases and questions instead of shortened, broader terms.

For example, a typical Google search on a computer might be “SEO benefits.” However, someone conducting a voice search might say, “What are the benefits of SEO?”

That’s why you’ll need to rethink your keyword strategy and concentrate on phrases that people would naturally say when trying to rank for voice search queries.

In other words, shape your content so that it is humanized to natural conversational tone. With voice searches, you are no longer just trying to satisfy Google’s bots and algorithms as they align traditional keyword phrases with search results.

4. Create Q&A Pages With Phrases People Actually Say

It can be difficult to scatter conversational keywords and questions throughout your content, without them looking totally out of place and random.

However, there is a way to potentially rank for a whole host of questions that might be used by people when conducting voice searches, and that’s by creating a Q&A or FAQ page.

A study from Search Engine Watch in December 2014[3] found a massive spike in question phrases being used in search queries. In fact, words like “who,” “what,” “where,” “when” and “how” showed 61% growth year-over-year. Furthermore, “who” phrases in particular skyrocketed by 134%!

It’s good practice to group similar questions and topics together on your FAQ pages. This will enable people to find a wealth of information on your website relating to the topic of the voice search they’ve conducted.

Don’t be put off by the work involved. While it may seem like a daunting task, Q&A pages are designed to evolve and be edited at all times. So, if you discover that your customers and prospects are conducting specific voice searches using focused questions, you should absolutely look to add those questions to your website.

5. Location, Location, Location

If you run a local business, you will already know about the importance of local search. Location is a huge part of that and neglecting it could see you miss out on vital traffic.

Let’s say you run a hair salon. You’ve got a fantastic website that’s mobile-friendly and nicely populated with conversational keyword phrases. However, you don’t have a Google My Business listing.

If someone should find themselves in your town (that is, the town where your business is located) and they conduct a voice search saying, “what’s the best hair salon near me,” your business is not going to pop up as a result.

What a waste! Here’s someone who is in your local area, looking for services that you offer, yet they are not going to be connected with you.

This is why location is so important.

In addition to your Google My Business listing, make sure your online business directory entries are up to date and accurate. If your Yelp listing gives one address, but your Citysearch one lists another, the search engines are going to be confused.

6. Use Plenty Of Microdata And Schema Markup

Schema markup is microdata that helps the various search engines understand the content found on a website. It is picked up and processed by the search engine bots as they crawl web pages. The microdata provides them with the all-important context behind the information listed on a website, which can be used to make the results listed on the SERPs more useful.

In addition to ranking better in normal searchers, schema markup will also help your website appear when people conduct more specific voice queries.

[Related reading: Using Schema Markup to Improve Your SEO]
7. Make Your Content Easy To Digest On The Move

The majority of people performing voice searches will be doing so from their smartphones or tablets, and they are likely to be doing so while they are on the move.

As a result, they are going to be less inclined to consume pages and pages of content that doesn’t naturally lend itself to being displayed on a small screen.

Bear this in mind when you are producing content and even go as far as to check how it looks on a smartphone screen. It should be easily readable and nicely broken up with subheadings throughout to allow for easier scanning.

If you can say what you want to say in a nice visual format – such as an infographic or image – then do so.

8. Improve The Speed Of Your Website

Last, but certainly not least, is your website’s overall performance. Again, people conducting voice searchers are likely to be on mobile devices and in a rush to get information. If they find your website and click on it only to find that it takes an age to load, chances are they will look elsewhere – to one of your competitors, perhaps?

Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is great for checking your website’s performance and provides you with helpful suggestions (for both mobile and desktop) to improve your site’s speed.

While voice searches are highly unlikely to make traditional keyboard searches obsolete any time soon, their surge in popularity – especially among younger Internet users – makes them something that you should definitely cater for today and going forward.