How to Optimize Your Site for Voice Search in 2019

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • Voice search is rapidly gaining in popularity. Comscore predicts that 50% of searches will be made through voice search by 2020.
  • Optimizing for voice search, though, is not the same as optimizing for traditional search.
  • Smart devices rely on simple, clear, natural language.
  • Voice search is about the one best answer, so target long-tail keywords you can truly dominate.

Have you noticed an uptick in long-tail keywords lately? The reason for these clumsily-worded phrases popping up during keyword research may have something to do with voice search.

Voice search optimization has gotten a lot of media attention lately. Some marketers call it a rising trend while others say it’s old hat. So which is it? Should you wait on the sidelines or shift your e-commerce SEO strategy? If you take action, how do you optimize your site for voice search?

First of all, don’t panic. Voice search optimization isn’t as difficult as building a responsive website. And optimizing for spoken search queries also improves text-based SEO.

Stick with us and we’ll reveal some powerful tips to up your SEO game! Prefer to talk to our experts about your SEO strategy? Send us a note and we’ll set up a call!

Origins of voice search

Apple turned science fiction into reality when the company introduced Siri, a digital assistant who would respond to voice commands. Suddenly, Hal, the conversational computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, was no longer a fantasy.

Seeing that this was a total game changer, Google and Amazon rushed to develop their own voice-activated systems, eventually resulting in Google Home and Alexa.

Need to order washing detergent? “Alexa, order more Tide.”

Want to research the best standing desks? “Okay Google, what standing desks are rated highest?”

Voice assistants have ushered in a new age in the way we do things. They can turn on lights, adjust the thermostat and help you browse television channels. Tasks that once required physical effort now only need the sound of our voice. But that’s not all:

They’ve also changed the way we interact with Google search results. Welcome to the new world of Google voice search.

The value of voice search optimization

Voice-based technology is much more than just random task management. Voice search is becoming the go-to method to discover information on the internet. Those searches are big business, too.

According to OC&C Strategy Consultants, voice-based shopping currently accounts for close to $2 billion in retail sales in the US. Not too shabby. But by 2022 that number is expected to balloon to $40 billion.

Do we have your attention yet?

Much of that shopping is driven by digital assistants via smart speakers. And though millions of people already own a smart speaker, we’re really just getting started.

woman using smart speaker for voice search

Almost 19 million households have a smart speaker in their home. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) anticipates that a whopping 70 million households will own at least one smart speaker by 2022. And to prove that this is not merely some passing fad, Comscore predicts that 50% of searches will be made through voice search by 2020.

All this has huge implications for enterprise SEO. If your site isn’t optimized for voice search, you may end up losing an enormous amount of organic search traffic. Google’s Behshad Behzadi has already confirmed that voice search is the fastest growing type of search.

So how will SEO change and what can you do to stay ahead of the curve?

Voice search optimization vs. traditional SEO

Is it really that much different to optimize content for voice search results compared to traditional search queries?

Short answer: Yes.

While the underlying principals of search engine optimization remain the same, there are several things you’ll need to know if you want to dominate the SERPs in a voice-driven world. Let’s dive in!

speed matters for voice search optimization

#1 speed matters…a lot

Google absolutely loves speed. It has explicitly stated that page speed is a ranking factor for mobile devices and that importance seems to be amplified with voice search.

Why?

Because voice search is like a conversation. When people have a discussion they expect quick responses to keep the dialogue flowing. A delayed response makes the conversation feel stilted and awkward.

Further, according to Stanford research, human beings respond to their interactions with technology in the same way they do with other people. That means individuals expect an immediate response from voice search queries and they will react negatively to any…

voice search optimization requires a fast website

…delay.

If Google determines that slow pages offer a poor user experience then they’ll prioritize blazing fast pages instead.

Take action

Make sure your pages are mobile-friendly and optimize them to minimize load time. If you don’t, Google will likely favor credible alternatives for voice search that deliver answers faster.

#2 talk naturally, be concise, be clear

Google Home, Alexa, Cortana and Siri all rely upon natural language processing to respond to your commands. For the most part, the responses sound relatively human (in terms of phrasing more than voice tone).

This is because a large number of voice searches are common questions. Take these for example:

  • What are the best wireless headphones?
  • What’s the capital of North Dakota?
  • Why is Nicolas Cage such a bad actor? (No offense intended Nicolas)

In their “Evaluation Of Speech Guidelines” document, it’s clear that Google wants to provide voice searchers with concise, clear answers to their queries.

So how does this impact search engine optimization? If you want to be relevant for voice searches you must provide a direct, concise answer to the main topic of the page.

example of voice search SEO - queries and responses

If you write a page about the “benefits of taking turmeric supplements” then you must succinctly answer that question. Here’s an example:

Your goal is simple: fully meet a user’s query. Simply. And clearly.

Take action

I know what you’re thinking: “I already do that when I target featured snippets in the SERPs.” True, but you’ll need to be much more concise when implementing voice search optimization. Unlike owning the answer box, voice search is more about being succinct than comprehensive.

#3 Use plenty of long-tail keywords

Voice searches most often take the form of sentences, with the average search being between six and 10 words, according to Bing.

Makes sense, right?

Verbal searches follow natural speech patterns. So think: “how do I optimize my site for voice search” rather than “voice search optimization.”

Hence the need for plenty of long-tail search keywords. Long-tail keywords allow Google to understand the full context of your page. They give Google a sense of the overall topic of the page and help the search algorithm determine whether it matches up with the query.

For example, think about trying to find an affordable apartment to rent in Dallas. The traditional keyword approach would focus primarily on the phrase “Dallas apartments.” But this doesn’t provide any context for Google, and for all they know, you could be talking about how many apartments there are within the city confines.

Take action

Sprinkle in lots of long-tail keywords like, “Affordable downtown Dallas apartments,” and, “Dallas apartments under $1,000 per month.” The added details will help Google determine your page’s intent while also boosting visibility for those natural language keywords.

keep text simple for voice search

#4 keep it simple

When you optimize your site for voice search you’ll need to set aside your literary ambitions.

Why?

Because digital assistants are in the habit of mangling words. We’ve all seen this happen when we try to send a message and Siri completely botches the transcription. Fortunately, when you force yourself to keep it simple, you also provide more value. That means less fluff and thin content, and more substance.

Take action

Be thorough yet concise. Most experts suggest you aim for a 9th grade reading level. Yes, your high school literature teacher may be disappointed, but Google will be very happy.

#5 The one best answer

With web-based search, search engines deliver a wide variety of answers for you to choose from. Voice search, however, is all about the device delivering the one best answer. What this means from an SEO perspective is that you’ll need to pick your battles and then go all out to win and dominate in those niches.

Take action

Target keywords that you can easily answer with one or two sentences. Then, write actionable content that clearly supports your short answer.

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#6 make use of schema markup

Structured data is important for SEO, but even more so if you want to rank in voice search. Therefore it’s critical that you implement Schema markup on your site. Need help? Check out Google’s guidelines and take advantage of Google’s structured data markup helper tool.

Take action

When your structured data is in place, use the Google structured data testing tool to ensure that search engines can properly read your content.

#7 use technology

Use of tools such as BuzzSumo Question Analyzer to identify the most commonly asked questions online across hundreds of thousands of forums, including Amazon, Reddit, Quora, and Q&A websites.

#8 set up Google my business

Most of us have used voice assistants to find a local business. Think about it: You’re in your car looking for a place to eat and you ask: “Hey Siri, are there any Italian restaurants nearby?”

Fortunately, if you’re already familiar with local SEO, then ranking for location-based voice queries should be a snap. If you aren’t yet paying attention to local search then this could be a big opportunity to up your search engine optimization game.

Revisit your keyword research to see if local results make sense for your company. If so, set up your Google my business listing, phone number and address so customers — and voice assistants — can find you.

person using phone for voice search

Bottom line on voice search optimization

Voice search is expanding at a rapid pace and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Therefore, companies that learn how to optimize content for voice search will be better positioned to capture a slice of that $40 billion market.

Although voice search optimization shares similarities with traditional and local SEO, it’s not the same. So think of ways to target those valuable conversational queries if you want to maximize the impact of your marketing strategy.

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