Up until now, one of the biggest roadblocks to the growth of voice search has been inaccuracy—both real and perceived. In its infancy, errors were rampant and query attempts were quickly abandoned for the reliability of a keyboard. Technology, however, has progressed leaps and bounds from those early stages of voice recognition with still more ground to cover. In 2017, Google’s word error rate dropped to 4.9 percent from 23 percent in 2013. That’s like going from missing one in every four words, to one in every twenty.
With increased confidence in the quality of voice recognition, ever increasing mobile usage and a younger generation eager to adopt, voice search today has nowhere to go but up. Though Google doesn’t currently differentiate voice search in their analytics, they have indicated voice accounted for over 20% of searches in 2016. According to a recent prediction by ComScore, that number will be 50% by 2020.
Without a doubt, the accuracy and ubiquity of voice search will continue to increase, but larger questions still remain: How does this change the way you do business and what effect will this have on the ever-changing world of SEO?
Natural Speech and Long-Tail SEO
The most substantial difference between voice and type search is the natural sentence structure we all use when talking to Siri or asking Google for something. No one opens Siri and says, “new downtown restaurants.” You ask, “Siri, which new restaurants just opened downtown?”
Including stop-words in your key phrases such as “in,” “with” and “for” has long been in opposition to industry standards and with good reason: people don’t usually include them in a text-based search. Considering that text searches are likely to be around 1–3 words whereas voice searches tend towards 3–5, optimizing for more natural phrases such as “hotels in Charlotte with a spa” or “Which hotels in Charlotte have a pool?” will be crucial as voice gains its share of queries.
Long-tail targeting isn’t a new component of the SEO game by any means, but reframing your content to match the more conversational and nuanced phrases of voice search will be the most critical shift in your strategy going forward. Start by asking yourself one question: Which questions does your brand have the answer to?
Mobile Means Local
In 2014, 80% of searches using the term “near me” were made from mobile devices and 50% of users performing a “near me” search visited a store within a day. This tells brands that mobile searchers are local, purchase-ready and are using voice search to find what they need.
It bears endless repeating that your website will not appear in Google’s mobile SERP if it isn’t up to their mobile-responsive standards. But beyond that, make certain that you have claimed your Google “My Business” listing and fleshed out all the quick-and-dirty details a customer might need—business hours and phone number—so they readily pop-up in a featured snippet. That’s why it’s best on your mobile site to make pertinent information easy to access and easy to skim.
In addition to the basics, voice search means optimizing your site for mobile-friendly, purchase-ready questions specific to your brand such as “Where’s the best coffee near the stadium” or “Where can I get a taco at midnight?” These hyper-local, long-tail queries still aren’t perfected in Google (a quick search revealed several nearby taco places that were not open at midnight) but that’s exactly why it’s critical to be at the head of the pack.
Optimizing for Featured Snippets
Optimizing voice search for a home assistant such as Alexa carries different implications than either mobile or desktop. Results can only be delivered if the assistant can easily find and read the answer to your question. This means structuring content specifically to land in the featured snippet. Featured snippets typically answer questions, provide short definitions or instructions and appear in “Position 0” before any of the results in the SERP. From a brand perspective, these snippets should read like an FAQ of your content. Understanding what questions your customers ask and what questions you have the answers to will help you build out content that can lead to huge increases in organic traffic on your site.
While traditional text search isn’t going anywhere, there is no question that voice search will continue to grow. If you feel like you were just beginning to wrap your head around keywords, don’t worry. There are plenty of voice-search optimization services to help you implement the right strategy for your brand. As adoption grows along with accuracy, it is imperative that you revisit each and every page on your site and ask yourself, “How would Siri find this?”