It was only a few years ago that using a voice assistant was little more than an exercise in frustration. Even on the rare occasion that they actually understood our voice, they rarely were able to return anything of value. A lot has changed since then.
Just last year, research from Adobe found that 48 percent of consumers use voice assistants for general web searches. A 2018 study from research firm PWC, meanwhile, found an increasing interest amongst consumers in voice search. Finally, as of December 2019, smart speaker ownership in the United States reached 24 percent of the total population – and it’s still growing.
Basically, digital assistants are here to stay. Moving forward, their presence will only be more keenly felt, particularly in the marketing space.
Natural Language and Length are More Important than Ever
Common knowledge holds that people type very differently from how they speak. Someone looking for a hairstylist on their desktop PC might type “hairstylists in [city]” or “hairstylists near me.”
On the other hand, if someone is using a voice assistant to find a hair salon, they’ll typically phrase their query as a question – “Ok Google, can you show me the nearest hairstylist?”
Natural language search queries and questions are at the core of voice search, and understanding what kinds of questions your audience is likely to ask is fundamental to voice SEO. This also plays into keyword length to an extent, with voice search queries being significantly longer than most longtail keywords. As noted by marketing publication Search Engine Watch, most typed queries tend to average three to four words, whilst voice searches are typically 29 words or more.
Voice searches, notes the publication, also tend to include words and phrases that are usually omitted from written keywords, such as who, what, where, when, why, and how. Voice queries are also focused more on intent rather than direct keyword matches. The idea here is that it doesn’t matter if you include the exact phrasing of someone’s question in your content, so long as that content gives them what they’re looking for.
With that said, let’s touch on the different types of voice search intent:
- Looking for a particular product or service. This may involve trying to find a nearby grocery store to visit, looking for a restaurant to order from, or attempting to hire a contractor.
- Trying to find a location. The nearest gym, for instance, or a nearby park.
- Seeking information. This includes facts, figures, statistics, or how-tos. Many such informational searches use Google’s Knowledge Graph.
As noted by marketing expert Neil Patel, intent can be further divided based on where a query falls in the sales funnel. He recommends using a tool like FAQFox to see what questions customers might ask about your business. The questions can then be divided as follows:
- What/who questions are at the top of the sales funnel, and are typically purely informational.
- How questions are a bit further down but are usually informational in nature.
- When questions tend to be relatively rare, but where the sales funnel is concerned, they may be related to a product’s availability.
- Where questions are furthest down the funnel – ie. where can I buy product X?
At this point, there’s something else that’s worth mentioning. Although there are still semantic differences between voice searches and traditional searches, the lines are beginning to blur.
Google’s overall focus is shifting more and more towards meaning and intent,
That, coupled with the increasing dominance of voice search, means you’re potentially missing out on a huge chunk of traffic if you’re exclusively engaging with traditional SEO.
Featured Snippets are a Powerful SEO Tool
Featured snippets go hand-in-hand with voice search. These small, text-filled boxes appear at the top of the search engine results page, above even the number one spot. Many voice search queries read out the featured snippet, treating it as the ‘best’ answer to a particular query.
Even if you have little interest in voice search, it’s worthwhile to try to get yourself into the featured snippet. It rests at what’s called position zero on the SERP, giving you a massive boost over competing websites. If you answer a question that requires more than a few sentences to address, it can also drive significant volumes of traffic to your site.
Placing in a featured snippet involves much the same process as optimizing for voice search. Choose a question or set of questions to answer, and address them as thoroughly yet concisely as possible. Beyond that, work to create content that’s as exceptional as possible.
Local and Voice are Inextricably Linked
Search users now conduct the vast majority of their searches on mobile devices. The use of digital assistants is incredibly common on mobile. And the vast majority of searches on mobile devices are local.
It follows, then, that there’s an extremely close link between voice search and local SEO. A user who’s driving isn’t going to be looking down at their phone in an effort to find a nearby restaurant. They’re going to use their voice assistant, and they’re going to expect quick, concise answers.
The good news is that if you’re adhering to the other best practices of voice SEO, all you really need to do here is follow the basic guidelines of local SEO. These include:
- Ensuring your business’s name, address, and contact information are on each page of your website
- Filling out your Google My Business listing.
- Peppering your site copy with light references to your business’s local area.
- Publishing content that’s locally-focused.
Digital assistants and voice search are changing the face of search engine optimization. Moving forward, they will only continue to do so. Now that you understand the fundamentals of this, you’re well-positioned to take advantage of it.
Daniel Page is the Director of Business Development for ASEOHosting, a leading provider in SEO hosting and multiple IP hosting.