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How to Optimize for Voice Search


With more and more people preferring the convenience of using their voice to search for information on their desktops, mobile devices and voice assistants (such as Amazon Echo or Google Home), it is becoming increasingly important for online and local businesses in particular to optimize their content for voice search and voice-enabled digital assistants.

According to an official Google blog post, 20 percent of Google searches on its mobile app and on Android devices are voices searches. Bing says 25% of all searches are voice searches. Given the fact that Google and Bing both handle over 100 billion queries per month, this translates to over 12 billion searches per month, a stat not to be sniffed at.

In fact, industry experts believe that voice search may surpass traditional keyword search in time. ComScore says that by 2020, 50 per cent of all searches will be voice searches. Data shows that voice search is typically mobile and typically locally focused.

Here’s Moz’s Rand Fishkin offering insights on developing a voice search SEO strategy:

The Increasing Popularity of Voice Search

Voice search has become an integral part of the Google search experience, and it is not really surprising that it has become a very popular way to search for stuff online. It’s a lot quicker than text search, and most people find it easier and more fun than typing on their tiny smartphone keyboards.

According to a study from Northstar Research, 55 percent of teenagers are using voice search every day>, and 56 percent of adults use it because it helps them feel more “tech-savvy.” 28 percent  of users regard voice search as a more accurate way of searching than using a keyboard.

Searchers on Google that use voice search are given the answer verbally or might be taken to a typical search results page. Sometimes, they might get a combination of the two. Users simply find it more convenient to speak their query rather than to type it in.

The most popular voice search applications and virtual assistants include:

  • Google Now (Voice search)
  • Apple’s Siri
  • Microsoft’s Cortana
  • Amazon’s Echo (Alexa)
  • Google Home

Optimizing For Voice Search

Voice search allows users to interact naturally with their devices by using a more natural and conversational voice to search for the information they are looking for. It is a fundamental component of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, and it uses Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) to better understand the underlying relationship between the search term (the question asked) and the content used on a webpage.

When optimizing for voice search, here are a few key considerations:

  • How to deliver the same text based information via voice search.
  • How to convey information as naturally as possible

According to a study from Search Engine Land, there has been a massive 61 percent year-over-year growth in question phrases. More specifically, “Who” phrases were up 134 percent and “How” phrases were up 81 percent.” This means sites need to focus on providing specific answers in order to optimize effectively for voice search.

Here are some tips you can use to make your content more voice search-friendly:

Start with keyword research.

Optimizing for voice search means your keyword research will be need to be more semantic, and more advanced from the way you might have done it in the past. Note that you still need to search for buyer keywords, which are keywords that represent buyer intent. However, this time, you need to use those keywords within more conversational language such as questions and how-to’s.

Searching for questions and how-tos in our niche give us a solid understanding of the topics and questions being asked in our niche by real users, and they give us topics to cover for our supporting articles. By covering these topics, they provide the opportunity to show more relevancy for a specific keyword theme and have the opportunity to benefit from longer and more complex queries such as questions which the hummingbird algorithm targets.

For example, when optimizing for text search, you would typically optimize specific webpages around 2-3 word keywords such as “gaming headset” or “best coffee shop.” Not so with voice search. A searcher tends to use the “who, where, what, why and how>” questions that are often used in natural language. So, a voice searcher looking for the same product is more likely to say “where can I get the best gaming headset for less than $100” or “where is the best coffee shop near me?”

This means you will need to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal target customer and understand how he or she tends to use questions to search for your products and services, and then create content around those questions. Start with question-type queries such as “who, where, what, why and how” questions that your customers and prospects are already asking. You need to make the answers to these questions quick and easy to find by incorporating your buyer keywords into answers to these questions.

This will also affect the way you write the content on your site. For example, you need to look for keywords that involve a question and write content that answers those questions. Use the following tools to discover questions that people are asking about a particular keyword:
HubSpot Blog Topic Generator
Answer The Public 

You need to find out exactly what type of conversational queries your users are putting through Google and make your content relevant for those queries. For example if you sell hosting services, then you could build up an FAQ section that lists common questions and pre-emptively anwer about hosting such as:

  • What should you be looking for in a new web host?
  • When should you start looking for a new web host?
  • How do you know which web hosting package is best for you?

It is critically important to find out what your users are typing in as long tail queries now, as opposed to optimising for 2-word and 3-word queries which often don’t produce the most relevant results.

Browse Google for more questions

Google’s own “People also ask” sections also provides great insights whenever you see one in the search results. It gives you an idea about which questions Google deems relevant to a particular topic. Once you begin to expand the questions to see the answers, more and more questions will be added to the bottom of the box.

Monitor questions people ask on Twitter

Another way to find more opportunities is to monitor questions on Twitter. Its search supports the ? search operator that will filter results to those containing a question. You’ll need to ensure that you put a space between your search term and ?

Emphasize Local Questions

For example, when using voice search, users are likely to specify words like “nearby” or “near me”. This means you need to place emphasis on local keywords to attract local searchers. You also need to anticipate real questions that contain much more keywords to accommodate how searchers tend to use conversational and natural language that is more specific in nature when interacting with Voice search and virtual assistant applications.

Long Tail Search Queries

Long tail keywords are typically more descriptive and specific keywords and generally consist of at least 3 words. Searchers who use long tail keywords in their search query already know exactly what they want and are in a more advanced phase of the buying cycle. Long-tail queries with informational intent are the type of keywords you should be optimizing for. This will allow you to optimize your content around conversational and natural-sounding phrases and search terms so that you can match the way users perform voice search.

For example, rather than simply targeting two or three word long tail phrases such as London holiday or London vacation, consider how would someone ask this question if they were speaking instead of typing.

You need more conversational, voice-friendly search terms such as:

  • What are the best London holiday packages?
  • Where can I get the best London vacation deals for families?

By targeting conversational, long-tail keyword phrases and pre-emptively answering specific questions that your prospective customers are likely to have, you stand a better chance of ranking high in organic search for these queries.

Note however, that question-type queries are not the only types that trigger those featured results. The vast majority of keywords that trigger featured snippets were long-tail queries with no question words in them.

It is also important to keep in mind the intent of the user when they use certain questions in their search. Users at the latter stage of the buying funnel will more often than not use the words when or where rather than <em>what, who, why and how. When optimizing for voice search, you need to ensure that the pages you’re serving to the searcher matches their intent.

If someone types in keywords that signals that they are in the advanced stage of the buying funnel, it would be a mistake on your part to show them an informational page which is more suitable to someone in the awareness stage.

Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing.

Voice search when used by people on-the-go are more often than not local in nature. Having a complete and well-optimized Google My Business listing will increase your chances of being found when a local user is searching for the products and services you provide. If you have multiple locations, make sure that each location has a Google My Business page. Furthermore, geotagging pictures with the location of your business will increase the likelihood of being discovered via voice search.

Add more FAQ pages to your site.

Start creating more FAQ pages that are focused on providing concise and succinct answers to commonly asked and hyper-specific questions. Answers to questions should be at the top of your page – ideally the first sentence. Write more pages on specific topics, and group related and common questions on the same page. Use natural-sounding questions and phrases rather than SEO-keyword phrases. Note that you may need to create several additional pages that are focused on answering specific questions in order to increase your chances of showing up in voice search results.

You need to anticipate questions such as: “Alexa, where can I find…?”

What questions do prospective customers need to know to make an informed decision about your products or services? What questions do they ask when they contact your business? You need to come up with all of the questions might customers ask if they’re interested in your product or service, and incorporate your keywords into your answers. Once you have a list of questions, you can then begin to create content pages that are focused on these longer, more conversational queries.

Other questions to consider providing answers to: what are your business opening hours? to anticipate people that might be looking for stores like yours that are still open for business at the time the user is searching. How do you differ from your competitors? Why should a prospect buy from you rather than a competitor? These are just a few of the questions you should preemptively answer.

Organize your questions into subtopics.

It is important to organize your site by grouping closely related questions into sub-topics on the same page. This will help you structure your content so that you can provide more specific answers to questions. For example, you can use broader keywords like vacations or men’s shoes for sections or categories, while a more specific search query becomes the article’s title. Hyper-specific queries can be used as sub-headings to add even more context to the search term.

Add an XML Sitemap

It is important for search spiders to be able to find all of the content on your site. An XML sitemap which is specifically created for spiders can ensure that your entire website is well crawled and fully indexed by the search engines. Essentially, the easier you make it for spiders to crawl your site, the more likely you are to show up in search results.

Implement structured data markup

Structured data markup allows webmasters to provide detailed and specific information about their site’s content to search spiders. This makes it easier for search engines to accurately and comprehensively parse your content and understand its meaning and context. This will increase chances of your content being shown in response to a voice question.

This emphasizes the fact that you should feature content that answers these questions with your target keywords in them.

How to Optimize for Voice Search