As voice search continues to grow and more homes include voice assistants, it’s clear that voice search engine optimisation (VSEO) needs to be part of your SEO strategy.
According to Google’s own data, 20% of US-based searches in the Google App are now done by voice and 27% of people globally are using voice search on mobiles. In the UK, around 40% of retail-related searches are done by voice. As voice search continues to grow, more and more opportunities are opening up to reach out to your audience.
If you haven’t already started optimising your site for voice search, now is the time to start doing so.
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 only continue to get better. Whether starting with a clear and specific question or a hummed snatch of half-remembered tune, voice search is giving users the answers they want.
So, with that in mind, we’ll 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: 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 Business Profiles 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 a suitable answer if you’re using it like a search engine. Saying that, it does utilise 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.
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
For the best SEO results, you should have a fast loading site anyway, 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 and one of the major advantages of voice search is the speed of its answers.
3. Build backlinks
You create more authority and trust for your site when many quality sites link back to you. If other sites think you provide useful 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 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 result, 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 29!
5. Make use of your Google Business Profile
If you don’t already have a Google Business Profile, then you should create one. This is an extremely important – and free – tool for anyone who’s serious about their website’s SEO, particularly if you’re a business operating in a local area.
Make sure your Business Profile is fully optimised, make use of all its available functions, and update it regularly with images, news and reviews.
By ensuring your 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 Business Profile.
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 Business Profile, it’s Siri’s primary source for obtaining local business information.
Apple Maps also has its role in Siri’s answers. This particular voice assistant 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, and the higher your rating, the better. The volume of reviews only seems to hold secondary importance in Siri’s ranking factors. So aim for quality over quantity.
To optimise for Siri voice search, make sure you have an up-to-date listing on Yelp, and collect as many (genuine) reviews on it as possible.
7. Utilise Schema Markup
Schema (or structured data) is a type of code tells search engines what the content on your page is: 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.
Schema can be used to target featured snippets and, at the time of writing, Speakable structured data is in BETA. This new markup indicates to search engines sections of text that are best suited for audio playback. Ideal for voice search that speaks results back to the user!
8. Featured Snippets
Featured snippets show at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) and contain more information than standard search results – they’re ‘rich’ in information.
Snippets can include highlighted text, images, star ratings, recipes and more. They’re valuable in SEO because they take up more space and are generally more engaging.
They also provide extra value in voice search because up to 70% of voice search results could come from featured snippets.
Optimising your website for featured snippets is a good way to target voice search. You can do this by building content around specific questions and answering those in a concise and helpful manner. An FAQ page is one great way of doing this.
9. Stay up-to-date
Search engines are constantly adapting and changing and voice search is no different. 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 more people worldwide utilise them. Make sure your site is visible to all the major voice search assistants by using the right kind of language, refreshing external business listings, and continually working on your overall SEO strategy.