Can You Hear Me Now? Optimizing for Voice Search

Business.com / Business Intelligence / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

One-in-five mobile users rely on voice-activated searches. How does this affect content creation?

One-in-five mobile users rely on voice search to find information or control their device, according to a Global Web Index study.

It makes sense considering that mobile usage frequently occurs in environments that make typing and looking at a screen difficult and even, in the case of driving in particular, downright dangerous.

Younger users, who comprise the largest market segment for mobile use, are also more likely to find typing time-consuming, preferring instead to “talk to their phones” as an easier, faster, and more intuitive way to communicate.

Related Article: Get the Word Out: The SEO Advantages of a Local, Niche Content Strategy

Indeed, a Northstar Research study commissioned by Google found that more than half of adolescents aged 13 to 18 use voice search on a daily basis; additionally, many adults (41 percent of those surveyed) said they “spoke” to their phones every day.

Voice searches are different. People tend to talk more than they type, that means longer queries using more complex phrases as opposed to entering short keywords in a search engine.

How does growing reliance on voicing a request for online information affect online content creation and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your website and social media?

Wagging the Search Tail

Basically, SEO is the practice of employing relevant keywords in your content (both what people are going to read and the hidden tags that tell search engines what the content is about) in order to increase its chances of appearing as a top result of an Internet query.

Keywords are typically short phrases such as “car insurance” or “party supplies.”

Long-tail keywords contain, as you might already know, longer phrases, comprised of at least three or four words or more.

For example, “What is the least expensive car insurance with the lowest deductible” or “party supplies popular with older teens.”

Long-tail keywords have been around for a while, even before the adoption of Siri and Cortano and other voice-recognition systems, and there are good reasons to include more specific long-tail keywords even for conventional searches.

Stephen Mahoney, publisher of SearchEngineNews.com, points out that, “Whenever a customer uses a highly specific search phrase, they tend to be looking for exactly what they are actually going to buy. In virtually every case, such very specific searches are far more likely to convert to sales than general generic searches that tend to be geared more toward the type of research that consumers typically do prior to making a buying decision.”

Related Article: Expert Interview: How to Choose the Right SEO Vendor for Your Business

However, now there’s even greater reason to employ long-tail keywords. If you’re “talking to your phone,” what are you most likely to ask for?

“Car insurance”? Or, “Hey, Siri, can you look up the cheapest car insurance rates with the lowest deductible”?

The FAQ Strategy

What kind of long-tail keywords do you want in your content to optimize voice searching? Think about the kinds of questions your customers are most likely to ask about your business, your products/services, and how you support them.

In fact, you may already have done this in your FAQ section, it might be just a matter of putting some of this content onto your landing page so it fits higher up in what users will see first and what search engines will look for.

As Search Engine Watch points out, “Who, What, Where and Why, are common terms used at the beginning of voice search queries.” Keyword content should be geared to answer these kinds of questions.

An important consideration is that your FAQs need not focus primarily on what your business does, but any type of question that might be related to your business.

A hardware store, for example, might stock windows, but not install them. However, providing a “do-it-yourself” section on how to remove old windows and install new ones provides long-tail keywords that would make your site pop up for anyone asking, “How hard is it to install new windows?”

You’ve answered the question, and even though you don’t actually perform that service, your site is in the rankings.

Maybe the customers will buy the new windows from you and do it themselves, or maybe they will hire someone.

Or maybe they won't do either, but now they know your site is a good place to go for home maintenance issues and that you stock the needed supplies.

They may even share your site with friends. The next best thing to a sale is free marketing exposure.

Use a Natural Tone of Voice

This is good advice in any case. Unless you’re targeting a highly technical audience, the easier your content is to read, the more it is likely it will be read.

As pointed out by digital marketing agency Relevance, “Natural voice is important because people are just going to talk to the search engines. They aren’t necessarily going to think about exactly how the search engine will interpret what they’re saying, just like in conversation.

 How many times have you been in conversation and had to go back because your listener didn’t quite understand you? Voice search will be like that. You’ll want to make sure your site is written in a natural way. That doesn’t mean you have to be unprofessional or include slang, but you’ll just want to think about the natural way your customers might speak in order to find you.”

Related Article: Keeping Up With Content: How SEO is Changing in 2016

Evaluate Your Pages

Here’s a quick checklist (based on suggestions by Miguel Salcido of the SEMrush blog) on how to evaluate your content pages:

  • Is the content answering likely questions?
  • Does it provide complete information to encourage visitors to keep reading and stay on the page, and not return to the search results list?
  • Is it “scannable”? Can visitors quickly get the gist and immediately understand what the page is about?
  • Do you have all the news that fits? Keep in mind that mobile searches are displayed on smaller screens. Relevant information must be displayed at the top of the page or you won’t hold the user’s attention. 

Voice search is growing and may soon be the predominant method to access information.

But the traditional way of using two-word search inquiries isn't going to disappear altogether.

As Michael Peggs, writing for Huffpost Business points out, “The websites that will win in 2016 are incorporating (voice) search strategies for typers and talkers, alike.”

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