Even though the accuracy of voice recognition software and devices skyrocketed with the help of AI, reaching more than acceptable levels, that was a relatively minor hurdle compared to those we still have to overcome before we can honestly say that we’ve got this voice search thing figured out.
That being said, there is no doubt that voice search is going to be a part of our future, and that you need to be able to meet its demands and factor them in when drafting any kind of marketing strategy.
Before we get into specific ways to improve your visibility in voice search results, we need to start by addressing one of its main problems.
Voice search – translating the intent from a coded language
The problem that voice search has is the same problem that traditional searches are struggling with, only squared.
One of the main intentions behind Hummingbird, RankBrain, Knowledge Graph, etc. is trying to help the search engine truly understand the intent behind the users’ queries, instead of only returning the pages holding similar arrangements of letters. Summarized in the battle cry “Things not strings” the idea is to move towards an actual understanding of the words, relating them to the notions they represent, identifying the notions as unique entities, land earning how these entities depend on or interact with each other.
While defining entities seemed to be a relative breeze to this semantic search AI-powered, all-stars team, understanding which entity the query is referring to, wasn’t always that simple. Even with much more formulaic way we compose traditional queries, the search engine had trouble accounting for idioms or other contextual clues, simply due to the peculiarities of language.
Voice search, which ushers in a much less disciplined approach to the way we formulate our queries, has to be able to deal with more nuances of particular dialects (not only regional – for instance, young people don’t speak the same way their seniors do) both on the lexical level, and on phonological.
While this might seem like an impossible bridge to cross, amazing advancements are being made in this field, but either way, this part of the big picture is not really your problem if you have a business to promote, it’s only mentioned so you have the context you need to understand why the best bet you have of doing well in this kind of search is to:
Optimize for Hummingbird
Or RankBrain, either way, make sure that you can be identified as an entity, that the engine has as easy as possible a job of understanding the content and purpose of your pages, and that you understand the way the users you’d like to reach through search formulate their queries.
For instance, even though a very interesting study on the subject did not find much correlation between schema markup and rankings in voice search; explaining the terms used on your pages, defining the personalities or brands, and generally, leaving much more clues to the search engine’s crawlers than you would without this kind of optimization, is still definitely recommended.
Likewise, even though its effectiveness has been gravely exaggerated in the past, you should read up on Latent Semantic Indexing, but only as a jumping off point towards the deeper understanding of how semantic search actually works.
Optimize for local
Learning about the current capabilities and limits of the ranking algorithm can help you talk to it more clearly, but to do that, you first have to get recognized as an entity. One of the quickest ways to do this, but by no means the only one, is local optimization.
By ensuring that your Google My Business listing is spick and span; that your Name, Address and Phone details are consistent across all of your online assets – from local directories and PR articles to mentions on partner companies websites; you are giving Google a convenient way to understand the boundaries of your entity and to start perceiving you as one.
Since a large percentage of mobile device voice searches involves looking for a local store, restaurant, etc. optimized for voice simply doesn’t make any sense without also paying due attention to local optimization as well.
While this might be a bit of stretch, some businesses in locations with a very specific dialect could even consider trying to rank for phrases which are rarely heard outside of that region, as people are much likelier to use them when making a voice search than in a text-based one.
Even though we are mostly focusing on Google in this article, which naturally, sources its local information from Google Maps, we can’t simply ignore other systems like Microsoft’s Cortana – using Bing, Apple’s Siri, which relies on Apple Maps, and Amazon’s Alexa which searches Yelp for the required information. Even if you only want to focus on one or a couple of these services, listing your businesses with any of the mentioned information providers which allow you to do so is definitely recommended, as are other major web directories like Foursquare, Yellow Pages and others.
Optimize for mobile
Naturally, even before the Mobile First update, it was plainly obvious that it makes perfect sense to make your site as responsive as possible, but this is even more important when it comes to voice search. After all, increased use of mobile devices is what hastened the developments in this kind of search, and mobile devices are still where most of these searches are being made.
The same study mentioned above found that the average Time to First Byte and time to complete page load of pages which ranked well in voice search was much lower than the worldwide averages times, 0.54 seconds compared to the 2.1 which is the global TTFB average, and 4.6 compared to 8.8 seconds to completely load.
Your site’s architecture and navigation may need to be adapted as well, so as to ensure the smooth experience for users, but also to make it easy for crawlers to accurately estimate what your pages are about.
Optimize for Featured Snippets
There is one important page segment that we didn’t mention when talking about mobile optimization, but which would definitely need to be mentioned there as well, and that is the content itself. Since the pages which tend to show up in voice search results are often the same ones that get Featured Snippets or get quoted in the answers section, you should take a note of their content, and ensure that yours follows the same general guidelines – not only in order to show up for these searches, but perhaps also to get into the much sought-after position 0 even for regular queries i.e. the section before the first result, which is not only great for desktop or mobile searches, but especially so for various zero UI devices.
Once again, according to the same study, pages that tend to rank well in voice search average just a bit over 2000 words, but their relevant part, i.e. the one served as an answer rarely has more than 29 words. By its very anatomy, voice search demands you to provide short and concise answers, nestled in the broader context of the discussed subject. This is, incidentally, one of the reasons why creating and optimizing detailed FAQ pages is so often recommended as one of the ways to get the search engine to notice your website.
Optimize for your audience
While we’ve already touched briefly upon this, recognizing the needs and particularities of specific demographics in your audience definitely deserves a section of its own. Unless you are just starting a website, chances are you have already segmented your audience according to their age, interests, search habits, budgets, shopping preferences, etc. but if you want to introduce voice search into the equation, there’s still quite a bit of work ahead of you.
First of all, you need to determine how much of your traffic is coming from voice searches, and despite some announcements several years ago, Google is still not giving you a direct way to do this. You can, however, with a little bit of experience, go through all of the queries which are bringing at least some traffic and try to identify the ones that seem like they have been made by voice. They will be longer, use a much more informal and natural language and often consist of full questions.
Once you identify them, it’s time to start looking at the traffic they are bringing in, and track which users gravitate towards what kind of language. For instance, while your younger and older customers may have been reaching your site through identical written queries, differences in their slang and culture are bound to become more pronounced with this type of search, meaning that your audience segmentation efforts are far from complete.
Observing how each of these new groups formulate their queries, which words they tend to use, and what kind of results are they expecting will go a long way towards informing your keyword mapping and copywriting strategies, ensuring that your customers are being talked to and listened to properly.
Optimize for the future
While making your pages load faster and perform better on mobile devices; changing their content to a more conversational tone with succinct answers and Featured Snippet potential; or resegmenting your audience should all bring you closer to the top of the results for voice searches, you need to remember that this discipline is still in its infancy, and is bound to go through major changes in the near future.
Aside from the machines becoming more accurate in understanding our requests and competent in returning the desired results, people are going to become much more comfortable with these searches and adept at using them. Your appreciation for this type of search needs to evolve along with it if you don’t want to be run over by your competitors or the time itself.
Natasha is a web designer, lady of a keyboard and one hell of a tech geek. Although she is primarily a content writer for DesignRush – a new digital destination to offer inspiration and overview of the current design and technology trends, Natasha is always happy to collaborate with awesome blogs and share her knowledge about IT, digital marketing and technology trends. To see what she is up to next, check out her Twitter Dashboard.