As a fast-growing channel for brand discovery, I believe voice is going to play an indispensable role in driving future marketing success.
Disruptive in more ways than one, voice is redefining the meaning of “mobile,” which is no longer the exclusive domain of smartphones and tablets. Just think of all the devices you now use to perform a voice search while on the go — some of them don’t even have screens.
It reminds me of the profound lyrics of poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, “The revolution will not be televised.” Although Scott-Heron may not have been thinking about Alexa at the time, the idea of unshackling humanity from the clutches of a glass screen is a powerful one.
To help you prepare for this shifting tide, here are six voice search optimization tips to set you up for marketing success in the years to come.
1. Understand the language.
There’s a difference in how people formulate voice searches versus how they construct text-based search queries. When you’re typing something into a search engine, you’re likely stringing keywords together and most sites are optimized for that type of search. Think “Italian food San Diego.”
But when you’re talking to a human-sounding machine, like Alexa or Siri, you’re likely to address it the way you would a human being — in complete sentences. For example, you might ask your device, “Where can I find the best spaghetti alla puttanesca near me?”
This means Italian restaurants (and every other sort of business out there) need to optimize their content for this new type of search by including more long-tail keywords and complete sentences that answer specific questions.
2. Be conversational.
Piggybacking on the use of complete sentences is the growing importance of conversational language. The user asking their voice device a question is likely using a fairly conversational tone, and your site needs to respond in a similar fashion.
In fact, Google tells its raters to evaluate voice search results by how well the spoken response answers a user’s query, as well as how it sounds. And believe me, you don’t want your content to sound like a machine wrote it! There are other factors involved in the rating, including grammatical correctness and length, but these are the two biggest ones you need to keep in mind when optimizing your website for voice search.
3. Optimize content for answering questions.
What’s your No. 1 reason for using the internet — aside from looking up memes and cute cat videos? Most of the time, you’re probably searching for information. As stated above, those using voice search are more likely to use some form of long-tail keyword phrase or question.
To capitalize on this growing trend, you’ll need to collect as many questions about your industry as possible, then do your best to answer those questions across all your marketing channels. The more voice-optimized content you have on those channels, the more likely they are to get picked up by search engines and fed through voice search devices.
4. Optimize your content layout.
When it comes to Google’s search results, what’s the best place to turn up if you’re optimizing for voice? The Google Answer Box, of course. And how do you get there? By structuring your content so that Google can easily identify it and pull it into said Answer Box.
Think paragraphs, bulleted or numbered lists, FAQ content or charts. Since a lot of voice search results — just over 40%, according to a recent Backlinko study — draw answers to user queries from the Answer Box (also known as the featured snippet), you definitely want your site’s content in the running.
5. Technical SEO still matters.
All your great content isn’t worth anything if your site is unnavigable by users and search engines alike. If you’re practicing good, technical search engine optimization (SEO), then you’re already a step ahead of the game. Many voice assistants draw their answers from the top search engine results, and technical SEO is essential to optimize your content for those top-ranking positions.
There are numerous technical SEO strategies you can focus on, including a speedy mobile experience, a good organizational hierarchy with appropriate HTML headings and structured schema markup to help search engines understand all your content.
6. Skills pay the bills.
Alexa skills and Google Actions are custom applications that companies can develop to serve branded experiences to smart speaker users. Both Google and Amazon have offered developers alternative paths for their devices to draw answers and information from these applications without requiring the user to explicitly invoke the specific skill or action.
If your business has already developed a smart speaker application or is planning to create one, start feeding it helpful content and answers to the most frequently asked questions within your industry. That way, over time, you can accelerate user discovery and engagement with your branded voice applications on these devices.
This is still in development, and as a result, it hasn’t been discussed all that much. But I believe that it will soon become a new method for voice search optimization in the not-too-distant future.
If all this information has made you pause, don’t worry. Voice technology is a relatively new field, but it’s full of promise. More and more users are making use of voice search every day, and that number will likely continue to grow as we head into the holiday season, which historically drives the sales of consumer electronics. Case in point: Between November 1 and December 9 of 2017, the number of U.S. households with smart speakers grew from 10.5 to nearly 12.5 million. That’s two million devices sold in just over a month, and potentially two million new voice search users that your business needs to reach.
In the era of voice, content, search, creative and technology teams will all have important roles to play. Get ahead of this rising tide by teaming up with the right people in your organization to begin developing the optimized content and storytelling experiences that will power your voice search strategy in the years to come.