Voice search and SEO: What’s the big deal?

The next big thing

Voice search and SEO has been one of the most controversial topics in the SEO world since 2016. While some practitioners consider it overrated, the overwhelming majority of SEO professionals — including Rand Fishkin and Neil Patel — present an opposing view, arguing that voice search is the future of SEO.

So, who is right and who is wrong? And what’s the big deal about voice search and SEO to begin with?

In this article, I will answer these questions, explaining why voice search matters in the long run, and how to excel at it.

The state of voice search in 2017

Voice search is here to stay, and getting bigger by the day. According to a Northstar Research study, more than 50 percent of U.S. teens and 41 percent of U.S. adults use voice search. According to Google, more than 20 percent of all mobile searches are voice searches.

While stats show that voice search is growing quickly (specifically, with the adoption of smart home devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo), it is still in the early stages of innovation and adoption. All we know for certain is that people mainly use voice search to look for local content and information.

The voice search optimization landscape is by no means all rainbows and unicorns:

  • Voice search queries are not separated in Google Search Console.
  • Voice search queries are action-based and differ from web and mobile searches.
  • Smart home device voice searches vary from queries requested at smartphone assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, etc.
  • Voice search is not yet monetized.

Voice search may become the next mobile, and, as with mobile search queries, Google does not provide separate voice search data. Since marketers do not know how many people actually use voice search to find and navigate their websites, they have to work with assumptions and deal with limited marketing options.

That being said, optimizing your website for voice search will not be easy, and it might require some serious head-scratching, but it is absolutely worth it.

Why voice search matters

Voice Search and SEO Google Mobile

Aside from all the hype surrounding voice search, you should consider investing in voice search and SEO for the following reasons:

Voice search is easy and convenient. Asking your smartphone to find the nearest pizza place feels natural. Rather than typing your question on a tiny screen, you just say what you want and, provided the device understands your query, get relevant results in a flash.

There’s a “cool factor.” Voice search appeals to younger users because it is cool. Unlike adults, they do not mind talking to their devices in private and in public. According to a “Future of Retail” report, 43 percent of millennials made a voice-device purchase in 2016.

You get better, higher-quality optimization. Successful voice search optimization implies a certain level of SEO mastery, simply because you have to rank “position zero” in order to get your site’s pages returned for voice search queries

The possibility of SEO without SERPs. Voice search is still in its infancy, but it is clear that more people will actively use it in the future — to the extent that SERP-based results may disappear altogether. According to a Google forecast, global sales of digital voice assistant devices will reach 15.1 million by 2020.

This means SEO practitioners should act quickly to adapt to the new realities of search, adding voice search optimization as an integral part of their search engine marketing campaigns. Otherwise, they risk losing a considerable chunk of their audience.

How to excel at voice search and SEO

Voice search optimization is an SEO’s undiscovered playground. Though Google released its voice search guidelines in December 2017, most questions are still left unanswered. Only a few understand the nuances of how specific practices impact a site’s chances of triggering featured snippets from voice search. However, it is legit to use the following optimization tips:

1. Claim your “Google My Business” listing

By listing and claiming your company at Google My Business, you feed lots of useful information (e.g. business category, physical address, phone number, business hours, etc.) to Google, which naturally increases your site’s chances of appearing for voice search queries.

Of course, just setting up a Google My Business listing does not guarantee anything. You need to optimize it to help Google know the correct information. If your listing is up to date and properly optimized, Google is more likely to show it for relevant local voice search queries.

2. Use natural speech patterns

By this I mean that you should revamp your keyword strategy. Shift focus from exact match and phrase match to broad match keywords. Long-tail keywords and verbalized LSIs are your best friends.

Voice Search and SEO Keywords

Now, your keywords should not only appear in content but should also mimic how people talk and, specifically, how they ask questions

People do not type the way they speak when searching for something online.

 

Since Google does not show voice search queries in Google Search Console, you will have to either brainstorm questions or ask the sales department for help. Here is what you need to do:

  • Collect all the questions people ask about your company.
  • Break them down by categories (e.g. by products, services, etc.).
  • Figure out what types of questions people ask the most.
  • Analyze the questions, documenting keywords and relevant phrases you can use in your content, or build separate pages in your FAQ.

When you’re experimenting with keywords, bear in mind that your ultimate goal is to secure a “position zero” spot on Google. Only featured snippets are pulled for voice searches.

3. Optimize for structured data

Featured snippets are key to triggering voice search results. Take time to implement structured data markup, with its schemas, hierarchies, types and extensions.

Your goal here is to provide context to search engines. The better they parse your website, the greater your chances that parts of its pages will be snippeted.

Do not forget to test your markup for errors with the Structured Data Testing Tool. A buggy markup equates to zero markup.

4. Create a marked-up FAQ page

FAQ pages allow you to bring out the best in question-based long-tail keywords and structured data markup. They are more likely to trigger featured snippets from voice search.

Your goal here is to:

  • Put the most popular, semantic questions on one page.
  • Notify search engines that this page is an FAQ page by implementing QAPage schema.
  • Create individual content snippets for every question and answer by implementing Question and Answer schemas.

If you have difficulty marking up your site’s pages, use Structured Data Markup Helper

5. Emphasize mobile SEO

The dominance of mobile over desktop is pretty old news. Nowadays, with nearly 60 percent of searches coming from mobile devices, digital marketers do put mobile first. However, with the advance of voice search, mobile SEO becomes even more important.

As long as most voice searches are done via smartphones, securing a top spot on Google becomes a necessity. This means that your site’s pages and content have to be optimized to work seamlessly across any device and platform. The better the optimization, the higher your site’s chance of getting ranked in “position zero.”

Run Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to find out if your website walks the walk. Of course, make sure you fix all errors as soon as possible to get a “Page is mobile-friendly” response.

Closing thoughts on voice search and SEO

Google, Amazon, Apple, and other companies invest heavily in personal assistants, and are adamant about continuing to hone the technology of voice search.

Business owners and digital marketers should face the inevitable truth: Easier and more convenient than typed-out searches, voice search is bound to prevail, just as mobile search gradually surpassed desktop search.

Voice search is here to stay. It is important that we pay attention and research voice search and SEO. The sooner we start doing so, the better — because voice search is the new big deal.

Sergey Grybniak
Sergey Grybniak, founder of Clever-Solution.com and Opporty.com, is an expert digital marketer and business owner who has over 300 successful projects under his belt. Experienced in SEO, PPC, and SMM, he enjoys sharing his vast knowledge at Search Engine Journal and blogs of SEMrush, Majestic, and GoDaddy. A regular contributor, he not only manages to run several companies but also does some of the work for his clients. Why? Because helping small businesses achieve digital marketing excellence is his true passion. Connect with Sergey on LinkedIn.