Every time you ask Siri to tell you where the nearest hardware store is or Alexa to help you remember the title of the movie you watched recently, you engage in a voice search.
In SEO terms, voice search is a type of Internet behavior made by users who verbally state their queries and questions, in natural language, to a “smart device.” Voice search is growing, and the amount of high-intent traffic it drives to web sites is hard to ignore.
Younger audiences drive the voice search stats, with 55% of teens using it daily (compared to 41% of adults), based on a study by Google. Most of these searches are made on a smartphone, with searches through dedicated devices (“smart speakers” such as Amazon Echo and Google Home) on the rise. House penetration for smart speakers was 13% in 2018 and more than half of these devices were used to make a purchase. The study by OC&C Strategy consultants projects voice shopping will generate more than $40 billion in 2022, and RBC Capital Markets predicts that Amazon will generate more than $10 billion in sales from Alexa devices (the sales of devices themselves plus the purchases made through voice shopping) by 2020.
Voice search is here to stay, and optimizing for it as early as possible, especially if you are a retailer, is a smart thing to do. Voice search optimization shares a lot with its text sibling, and thinking about voice optimization will help you improve the rest of your SEO work. That said, there are quite a few things you can do that are specific to natural language searching, which are included below.
It Is A Long-Tail Winner-Takes-All Game
“Featured snippets” (a short and direct answer to user’s question on the search page, above the search results) have a lot in common with voice search — they are both mostly a result of long search queries, and — in contrast to text search where tens of results are shown on pages — only the topmost result, called “position zero” is shown (or spoken) to the user. Efforts to optimize for snippets and voice largely overlap, so it’s a win-win strategy!
There is a lot of information on optimizing for featured snippets and much of it can be applied to voice search optimization. Research by Seoclarity shows that the list of “trigger words” (words that people commonly use when searching with voice) is very similar to the ones that trigger featured snippets. More than 20% of voice searches use one of the following words: how, what, best, the, is, where, can, top, easy, when, why, who, new, recipe, good, homes, make, does, define, free, I, list, home, types, and do, with “how” taking up a whopping 8.62% of all voice searches. This tells us that most of the voice searches are done in longer, complex sentences, formed as questions, such as “How can I get to the ______ restaurant?” or “Easy ways to make _____ at home.”
With this in mind, the following list of tips might help you find voice search keywords:
- Find a question that you can answer in great depth. Include the question (with the targeted keywords “what,” “where” or “when”) early in the text.
- Search for the question on Google and do a voice search for it. Do you get a satisfying answer? Who do you get it from? Try to assess how hard it would be to capture that place from the web site currently holding it. If it looks too hard or not worth the effort, try making the query longer, by adding a local or more precise component to it. If Google won’t list you as “the best pizza” in your town, maybe it will list you as “the best pizza” in your neighborhood.
- Create pages/content on specific, individual topics, targeting one specific keyword, or a group of keywords that are very closely tied together.
- Ask “the keyword question” and answer it — in the first paragraph. Try doing it in the first 29 words.
Text And Voice Search Show Different Customer Intents
There are trends showing that (compared to text) voice is used less as a business discovery mechanism, and more as a tool to find more information on a business they already know about. This doesn’t mean you should ignore voice search as a way for people to find about you, but you should make sure that your web site is structured in a way that makes voice searches for your address, work hours and other specific business-related information clear and correct.
According to Google, there are four main intents in search:
- “I want to know” — two-thirds of smartphone users are using their phone to look up something they saw in a commercial.
- “I want to go” — there was a 500% increase in “near me” searches on Google between 2015 and 2017, and 80% of smartphone users use a search engine when looking for a local business.
- “I want to do” — 91% of smartphone users use their phone for ideas when given a task, and there are 100 million+ hours of “how-to” videos served on YouTube every year.
- “I want to buy” — 82% of smartphone owners use their device for help on what to buy while in the store.
Before deciding on a strategy, think about potential customers’ main intent using the keyword you are trying to optimize for. Make sure that your content serves that intent and that you are not trying to serve “I want to buy” content to “I want to know” customers, or vice versa.
Not All Markets Are The Same
A lot of the data shared here is common for the U.S. or UK market. If you are optimizing for a specific geographic location, especially if it is a place with distinctly different Internet habits such as China, Russia or Czech Republic, you should look into the search and voice habits there. For example:
- Speakers by Alibaba, Xiaomi and Baidu — not Amazon, Google or Apple — dominate the Chinese market. Chinese adoption of these smart speakers drove 52% of global smart speaker device growth in 2018.
- Russian search giant Yandex provides the “Alice” conversation engine for their (particularly-hard-to-implement-voice-search-for) language. In addition to proprietary devices, tech companies such as Sony and LG have started adding this engine to their lineup for the Russian market.
Optimizing For Voice Search Will Make Your Entire SEO Better
Voice search queries, due to being longer and showing more intent, will help you better understand your customers, their intent and motivation when interacting with your business. However, the only way to analyze this traffic at the moment is manually.
Don’t forget that text search volume is also on the rise. When talking about SEO, we often mention 200+ ranking factors for which to optimize our content. Those are very technical and specific to the way ranking AI currently works. However, Google doesn’t want you to focus just on that. Every consecutive algorithm update takes a step further away from rewarding these things and toward rewarding what should really matter: creating unique, valuable and engaging content for your users.
If you are already investing in SEO, optimizing for voice searches will likely mean getting closer to these principles, and that is something that will help the rest of your search in the long run.
An economist by education, Natasa Djukanovic is the Sales and Marketing Director of Domain.ME. She’s spent her entire career at the intersection of banking, social media, leadership and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.