As voice search grows and more voice assistants come to market, it’s clear that voice search optimisation should be part of your SEO strategy in 2021 and beyond.
Globally, 20% of internet users are now using voice search, and it’s one of the fastest growing types of search. The means more and more opportunities are opening up to reach out to your audience, and the earlier you optimise, the more of an advantage you have.
Hand-in-hand with its growing popularity, voice search is becoming more sophisticated. Making use of context, natural language and machine learning, results thrown up in this kind of search have become more reliable, and continue to be refined.
This increased use means that it’s more important than ever to rank highly in search engines: 80% of answers to voice searches come from the top three results.
So, with that in mind, we take a look at what voice search is, how you can optimise for it, and how to adapt for the different algorithms of each major voice assistant.
The Major Voice Assistants
There are three major voice assistants on the market at the moment: Siri (Apple), Google Assistant, and Alexa (Amazon). There’s also Cortana (Microsoft), and a small number of other providers, but these three take up most of the market share and optimising for them will help you reach the vast majority of voice search users.
Each voice assistant uses a different algorithm and focuses on different search factors, so there’s no ‘one strategy fits all’ here. You’ll have to have a strong all-round plan to make sure you’re optimised across the board.
So how are the voice assistants different?
Siri uses Yelp to display location-based search results, with a focus on quantity and quality of reviews from that site. It’s also one of the top assistants when it comes to how many questions it’s able to answer, with only two out of every 100 questions going unanswered.
It’s no surprise that Google Assistant uses Google for its search results, mostly based on Local Pack SERP features and focusing on Google My Business for business listings and reviews. It also returns the longest answers on average, which is mainly to do with the presence of a screen on many of their devices.
Interestingly, the results you get from Google Assistant can differ quite dramatically depending on the device you use.
The Amazon Alexa is designed primarily to respond to commands and to answer general questions. That means that you’re less likely to get an answer if you’re using it like a search engine. Saying that, it does make use of Bing, using Yelp and Yext for business listings and reviews.
How to Optimise for Voice Search
Although you will need to optimise for voice search differently for each assistant, there are a number of things to keep in mind that are true across the board, too.
1. Use natural language
When people search by typing, they’ll often break up a question and use only the most necessary words. For example, if you want to find somewhere to eat out, you’ll probably type something along the lines of ‘chinese restaurant near me’.
However, those using voice search will speak much more naturally. That is, as they would to an actual person on the other end of the phone. So they’ll probably ask ‘Where’s the best Chinese restaurant near me that’s open now?’
To take full advantage of this, the text on your website should read very naturally and conversationally. It also shouldn’t be too technical or use overly complex language. In fact, to best make use of voice search, you should aim to write at the same level as a 15-year-old.
2. Improve site speed
You should have a fast loading site under any circumstances, and it becomes even more vital when applied to voice search. The majority of answers provided by voice assistants come from sites with a quick load speed.
3. Build backlinks
You create more authority and trust for your site the more quality sites link back to you. If other sites think you provide good information and want to share that , there’s a good chance they’ll link back to you. That’s a great indication to search engines that your information is valuable to their users.
4. Create FAQ pages and answer questions
Because of the use of natural language, many voice searches begin with a question word such as Why, How, Who or What. Do some research about which type of questions your audience is asking and then put those exact questions – along with the answers – into a FAQ page, or several FAQ pages if that makes more sense.
Many people using voice search want a quick and immediate answer, so by creating a summary answer, you can capture that traffic. You can always link to a more detailed article for those who need or want the extra information.
Keep your answers short – the average word count for voice search answers is just forty-one!
5. Make use of Google My Business
If you don’t already have a Google My Business (GMB) listing, then the first thing is to create one, as this is now an extremely important – and free – tool for anyone who’s serious about their website’s SEO, particularly locally.
Make sure your GMB listing is fully optimised, make use of all its available functions, and update it regularly with images, news and reviews.
By ensuring your GMB listing is up-to-date, you’ll stand a much better chance of showing up in Google Assistant’s local voice search.
Read my full guide to optimising your Google My Business listing.
6. Collect reviews on Yelp
Yelp is another place where it’s important to add a free listing. Though it doesn’t offer as much as Google My Business, it’s used as Siri’s primary source for recommending local businesses.
Apple Maps also plays a part in Siri’s answers. It finds relevant businesses close to the user, then cross-references information on Yelp to decide on which to present. Yelp reviews are the most important factor here: the higher your rating, the better, and the number of reviews only seems to come second in importance in Siri’s ranking factors.
To optimise for Siri voice search, make sure you have an up-to-date listing on Yelp, and collect as many (genuine) reviews for it as possible.
7. Utilise Schema Markup
Schema tells search engines what data on your website means. Is the content an article, an event, a review…? No matter how smart search engines are, they don’t always know the answers, and Schema helps them out.
By using schema markup to optimise for voice search, you help search engines know to direct users to you in order to find answers to their specific queries.
8. Keep up-to-date
Search engines are constantly adapting and changing and voice search, being a newer format, will change at a much more rapid pace. It’s important to keep on top of new developments so that you can update and adjust your SEO strategy and ensure you are optimising for voice search. You don’t want to get left behind by sticking to strategies that worked a year ago, but are no longer as relevant. Keep fresh, keep updated, and keep improving!
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Optimising for voice search is important now and will become even more so as the technologies develop and become more sophisticated. Make sure you are being seen by all the major voice search assistants by using the right kind of language, refreshing external business listings, and working on your overall SEO strategy.