6 new ways to think about optimizing for voice search

Voice search, which, by some esti­mates, will account for half of all search­es by 2020, is still some­what new – Alexa, after all, didn’t come out until 2015 – and so opti­miza­tion tips remain some­what lim­it­ed. In fact, at a recent event, SEOs’ best advice was to cre­ate...

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 13 comments

Voice search, which, by some esti­mates, will account for half of all search­es by 2020, is still some­what new – Alexa, after all, didn’t come out until 2015 – and so opti­miza­tion tips remain some­what lim­it­ed.

In fact, at a recent event, SEOs’ best advice was to cre­ate con­tent that earns a fea­tured snip­pet.

That’s not to say this isn’t valu­able feed­back as Alexa, Siri and Google pull quick answers from posi­tion zero, said Casey Mar­kee, founder dig­i­tal agency Media Wyse. And, in turn, that means brands look­ing to reach con­sumers hear­ing ver­bal answers from their assis­tants must learn to answer ques­tions sim­ply (and to per­haps con­sult Markee’s guide on How to Opti­mize for Posi­tion Zero.

Damon Gochneaur, founder of dig­i­tal agency Aspiro Agency, said he thinks fea­tured snip­pets will con­tin­ue to dri­ve most answers for Google-relat­ed devices, but search­es on Ama­zon hold oppor­tu­ni­ty for savvy mar­keters “as their infor­ma­tion sourc­ing is still imma­ture com­pared to the com­peti­tor device net­works.”

And, as voice usage grows, what else can brands/marketers do to be found?

Anna Lebe­de­va, head of media rela­tions at com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence suite SEM­rush, said voice search is actu­al­ly pret­ty straight­for­ward and requires less tech-savvi­ness than opti­miza­tion of yore.

It can be con­sid­ered as an exten­sion of the trend towards the human­iza­tion of the web expe­ri­ence,” she said. “By and large, the days when your job was to appeal to the algo­rith­mic bot are com­ing to an end. From now on, you are pleas­ing the bot once your users are pleased with the kind of expe­ri­ence you pro­vide.”

In oth­er words, she said voice search is “mere­ly a man­i­fes­ta­tion of all the oth­er trends that have been going on for a while now — local­iza­tion, per­son­al­iza­tion, human­iza­tion [and] intent ori­en­ta­tion.”

She argues voice search makes opti­miza­tion – and the entire web expe­ri­ence – more intu­itive and nat­ur­al and sim­ply requires a slight shift in the way we think about opti­miza­tion.

Here’s what that includes:

1. Optimize for questions.

Con­sumers have ques­tions. That’s poten­tial­ly why they are using voice search. And that means mar­keters should opti­mize their con­tent for ques­tion-spe­cif­ic search­es, Mar­kee said.

That means who, what, when, where, why and how phras­es. Doing so means min­ing your cus­tomers for data as well as putting up detailed FAQ con­tent based around your prod­uct and ser­vices,” he added.

To help find ques­tion-spe­cif­ic search­es, Mar­kee rec­om­mend­ed using tools like Answer the Pub­lic, Keyword.io, Buz­zsumo Ques­tion Ana­lyz­er, Quo­ra, Google search­es and your own Google Search Con­sole Search Queries report data.

In addi­tion, Lebe­de­va said to make sure Q&A con­tent is at the top of the page and ide­al­ly includes answers in the first sen­tence.

You know your product/service inside out, but peo­ple often don’t, and it is your job to help them real­ize all the oppor­tu­ni­ties your product/service opens up to your cus­tomers,” Lebe­de­va added.

2. Experiment with voice assistants.

It’s also hard to opti­mize for devices and/or assis­tants you’ve nev­er used, so Jason Bau­man, senior SEO asso­ciate at opti­miza­tion agency Trin­i­ty Insight, rec­om­mend­ed invest­ing in Google Home and Echo devices and using them in addi­tion to Cor­tana and Siri.

See how they answer,” he said. “Ask your ques­tion a few dif­fer­ent ways to see how mod­i­fiers change the answers you get. Voice search is all about opti­miz­ing around how your cus­tomers look for infor­ma­tion. When you ask Alexa or Google a ques­tion, you know the type of answer you want.”

Because voice assis­tants build their answers based on actu­al search­es, brands that don’t receive answers they expect should con­sid­er whether con­sumers are using dif­fer­ent words or phras­es – and amend their con­tent accord­ing­ly.

If your web­site does not offer the answers voice assis­tants pro­vide, see how you can inte­grate them,” he added.

3. Address local intent.

Mar­kee not­ed voice search queries are 3x more like­ly to have local intent, so “as a mar­keter, that’s where I would be putting my focus.”

Indi­vid­ual loca­tions can tap into these so-called “near me” queries in part by ensur­ing the infor­ma­tion in their Google My Busi­ness list­ings is up to date, as well as writ­ing with local intent to cap­ture the atten­tion of local con­sumers, Lebe­de­va said.

Bau­man agreed this is the kind of infor­ma­tion con­sumers often want to know about com­pa­nies and “keep­ing this list­ing up to date will make it more like­ly that Google will have an answer to ques­tions relat­ed to it.

Brands can also opti­mize their ads for voice search in part by uti­liz­ing AdWords loca­tion exten­sions and using Google Maps Local Search Ads.

4. Use schema.

Using schema and struc­tured data, which help search engines fig­ure out what is on a giv­en page, allows machine learn­ing algo­rithms to eas­i­ly access to your data, Mar­kee said.
That means mark­ing up for Google’s Knowl­edge Graph and learn­ing to opti­mize using the pend­ing Speak­able markup from Schema.org, which indi­cates sec­tions of a page that are par­tic­u­lar­ly appro­pri­ate for text-to-speech con­ver­sion and is pro­ject­ed to poten­tial­ly be released by the end of 2017, he added.

Bau­man agreed hav­ing details like the col­or, price or quan­ti­ty of items you’re sell­ing marked up in schema can improve the chance crawlers will find it.

I think struc­tured data will con­tin­ue to play a huge role in allow­ing search engines and voice engines to con­tex­tu­al­ly and seman­ti­cal­ly under­stand our sites’ con­tent,” Gochneaur added.

5. Remember SEO best practices.

And, of course, don’t for­get the basics.

Make it easy for Google and users to find your con­tent on desk­top and mobile,” Mar­kee said. “Focus on page speed, HTTPS, opti­mized con­tent with a con­ver­sa­tion­al focus, links to that con­tent, struc­tured data and, most impor­tant­ly, mobile-friend­li­ness to take advan­tage of the pend­ing mobile-first index.”

6. Create audio answers.

Anoth­er way might be to also cre­ate your own audio respons­es to ques­tions your audi­ences have.

That’s accord­ing to David Erick­son, con­tent mar­ket­ing strate­gist at Kar­wos­ki & Courage Pub­lic Rela­tions, who point­ed to Google Home, which uses its algo­rithms to find the right answers to voice queries and then uses text-to-speech tech­nol­o­gy to read it.

Google’s modus operan­di in search has always been to deliv­er the best pos­si­ble result for any giv­en query. Would­n’t, then, a bet­ter result from a Google Home query be the appro­pri­ate response from an actu­al human’s voice rather than Google’s text-to-speech response?” he asked. “And what if that response came from a rec­og­nized expert on the top­ic of the query? Fol­low­ing that log­ic, then, one thing I would be doing is record­ing audio answers to your audi­ence’s like­ly ques­tions and incor­po­rat­ing them into your efforts at opti­miz­ing for fea­tured snip­pets.”

On the Ama­zon Echo, for exam­ple, brands could poten­tial­ly pub­lish audio books on Ama­zon that include answers to their audi­ences’ ques­tions, he added.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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