Are you equipped for voice search?

Written by Andy Keyte

The concept is simple: a device recognises speech, converts it to text, then puts it into a search engine and provides an audible response. When the feature first appeared on mobile phones in 2011, it was more of an exciting and occasionally comical novelty than a valued tool.

Google has begun to develop SEO algorithms just for voice searches – meaning voice commands are poised to have a big impact on search marketing. We’ll run through some of the key ways businesses should be preparing as well as taking a look at what the future may hold for voice search advertising.

Why are voice searches getting more popular?

The main reason people prefer to voice search is speed. Most people can speak faster than they can type, and they like getting a single answer back to simple questions. It is especially suited to mobiles, allowing people to make hands-free voice searches and multitask. For example, finding out the next step in a recipe while your hands are covered in flour, or getting directions to a restaurant while driving.

Finding out local information is one of the most popular things to use voice search for. Questions such as ‘what’s the weather like today?’ or ‘where’s the nearest Chinese takeaway?’. These kinds of queries lend themselves to voice searching well, as they have one distinct answer and don’t need a results page of options to browse.

As voice searches grow more popular, it’s important for businesses to incorporate voice search into their SEO strategies. If businesses optimise their sites for voice searching, they can increase web traffic, raise brand awareness, and better engage with customers.

Our top five tips for voice search optimisation

1. Use conversational language: People speak and type differently. Voice searches tend to be longer and more conversational. Using conversational and simple language in meta descriptions and the opening paragraphs of website copy helps to match with voice searches.

2. Target long-tailed keywords: Long-tailed keywords are keywords or key phrases that are more specific – and usually longer. For example, the typed search ‘vegetarian lasagne recipe’ may be spoken as ‘Alexa, find me the best recipe for vegetarian lasagne’. Google Analytics can be used to find out which voice searches are leading to your site.

3. Optimise locally: People like to use voice searches to find out about nearby things. Invest in local SEO to strengthen your brand presence locally. Local data includes things like location, office hours, pictures – the kind of practical things people might want to know before visiting a business.

4. Mobile friendly: Mobile friendly equals voice friendly. Google has special tools to test how mobile friendly your site is, so it’s worth checking against these criteria. For example, page loading speed is a crucial mobile search ranking signal.

5. Structured data optimisation: You can structure your site’s data to make it more voice search friendly. Structured data optimisation/schema mark-up helps to create metadata for your content that tells Google what it is. Including FAQs also makes it easier for Google to pull content and display it as rich snippets.

The future of voice search

Paid advertising is an interesting consideration for voice searches. Voice search answers at present aren’t sponsored – mostly because results are single answers to simple questions. It’s interesting to think about what will happen if people start to trust voice search to do more complex things, like booking a flight.

It remains to be seen whether will want people want to use voice search for more complicated decisions. Would somebody want ten results read aloud to them after a search? There is a definite value in repeat purchases or when a customer knows exactly what they want, but what about items such as clothes that have a very visual element to choosing?

Voice ads also have the potential to be more intrusive than visual or text-based ads – especially if they are non-personalised. There is no option to skim or scroll past them like in a web search. Pre-answer ads could put people off using the search function, and post-answer ads may simply be skipped. One interesting workaround could be ‘cost-per-consent’ where advertisers are charged for every searcher who consents to hearing a sponsored result. People could hear requests like ‘I have a relevant sponsored ad for you. Would you like to hear it?’

Another option could be conversational advertising, which is where the answer to a query is provided along with a relevant paid alternative. For example, ‘The nearest coffee shop is five minutes away on XYZ street, however you may be interested to know that the shop on ABC street, a further 10 minutes away, has a two-for-one offer on today.’ This would use the advantage of spoken interaction and could be even more effective at capturing attention than web search adverts.

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