Optimizing for Voice Search: How Emerging Technology Impacts SEO

Voice search technology has made tremendous strides in just a few years. Brands need to be aware of how this technology can impact consumer behavior and how they can prepare their websites for success.

We have all watched the rise of mobile over the past few years, and now a new search trend has similarly begun to take shape: voice search. Between 20 and 25 percent of Android devices searches are now completed by voice in the US, and this number continues to rise rapidly. A recent survey found that 60 percent of those who use voice assistant devices and voice search say that they only began using the technology in the past 12 months.

In addition to the popular usage of voice search on mobile phones, there have also been a number of different voice-controlled personal assistant devices introduced onto the market, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. These devices have helped normalized the technology across a wide segment of the consumer base.

voice search with personal assistant devices impacts SEO

As the prevalence of voice search technology increases, people have become increasingly more conversational with their devices. When people use voice search, they tend to not use the standard typing-style queries that we as marketers have become accustomed to, such as “SEO marketing.” Instead they ask questions using more complete sentences, such as, “what is SEO marketing?

Voice searches have also begun to impact the world of ecommerce, as personal assistant devices now allow users to make more transactions. For example, Amazon Alexa can order a pizza or an Uber ride for users. Google Home also boasts a number of different 3rd party transactional services, including OpenTable and Pandora.

Voice search and assistant devices are poised to have a sizable impact on SEO and how brands effectively communicate with prospective customers. This is what we believe our community should note.

When and why people use voice search

As voice search rises in popularity, the relationship between this hands-free searching and mobile devices becomes increasingly intertwined. A report that looked at why people use voice search found that the most important reason listed was that the user’s vision or hands were unavailable. The next most popular motivations reported were desire for faster results and difficulty typing on particular devices. All three of these motivations point towards mobile usage.

Voice search correlates strongly with mobile

More than half of voice search users also report that they use voice search either on-the-go or in the car. The other half mostly list home as their main location of using voice search — signifying the importance of personal assistant devices in the conversation about voice search. These assistants allow users to make searches, such as how long they need to cook their dinner for, without having to stop what they are doing.

How voice-activated personal assistants will impact how users search

Voice-controlled personal assistants do not operate like the standard SERP. Often they only produce one answer for users in response to their verbal questions, similar to the how the Google Quick Answer provides responses for users without them needing to click on any links.

For these devices to pull the information they need, they have teamed up with a variety of different sources of information, expanding the number of search verticals that brands need to consider when optimizing; the devices do not just pull all relevant information from Google or other major search engines.

The Amazon Echo, for example, has integrated with Kayak to provide users with flight and hotel information. Therefore, for brands interested in optimizing for hotel searches, their presence on Kayak will have a greater impact on their visibility for voice search users on the Echo than the standard Google SERP. The Echo also accesses Yelp for information on local businesses, meaning that the relevance of the popular review site has become even more significant for small businesses.

We recommend that brands consider the rising alternate search verticals in a number of different areas. Facebook and Twitter have risen in the number of searches they host — with Facebook processing more than 2 billion searches a day. These two platforms are major sources of conversation on current events and entertainment. When it comes to ecommerce, more searches for products now begin on Amazon than Google, and anyone selling online should be paying attention to this change in consumer behavior. We also recommend that brands consider platforms such as SlideShare and travel review sites when considering alternate verticals that their consumers might turn to and could end up rising in importance through voice-activated personal assistant devices.

How marketers can begin to optimize for voice search

Step One. Pay attention to mobile search

With the incredible overlap between mobile and voice search, making sure that all content has been prepared for mobile devices remains the first step towards optimizing for voice. This includes using mobile-friendly layouts, but also taking the I-want-to-go and the I-want-to-do micro-moments into consideration when designing pages and preparing content.

Step Two. Note the question words commonly associated with voice search queries

The question words: who, what, where, why, when, and how, have been strongly associated with voice search queries. Brands should take the time to find long-tail keyword phrases that use these question words to start developing content tailored for those using voice search.

Step Three. Consider common interpretation errors in voice search

Although voice search technology has improved dramatically in just a short period of time, the devices do sometimes make errors. When developing your PPC strategy, consider the common misinterpretations that voice search devices might make of queries related to your business. Try to find opportunities where you can capitalize on the machine’s mistakes.

Step Four. Develop content for the more precise, conversational way of forming queries

With voice queries, people are likely to make more precise queries using complete sentences. The likelihood that they will use more conversational language also remains higher. Tailor certain areas of your website for these types of questions that people want answered quickly. Consider, for example, developing an FAQ page to try and capture the traffic for some common questions for your industry.

Step Five. Optimize for alternate search verticals

Although the relationships between voice-activated personal assistants and various alternate search verticals, such as Kayak and Yelp, have already been made public, as the technology and adoption of these devices increases, so too will the capabilities available and the number of sites they employ to serve the needs of their users. Consider the alternate verticals most relevant to your business and represent your business well.

Voice search has begun to attract considerable attention as its prevalence grows across the digital ecosystem. It will potentially impact a wide variety of industries and businesses, which is why we recommend those in our community begin preparing for the changes now. Consider our tips above and think about how they might serve you to ensure that your site remains at the forefront of your industry.

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