Monday, March 27, 2017

Surviving SEO in a Voice Search World

Surviving SEO in a Voice Search World was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

You wouldn’t want your annual profits cut by 20 percent, would you? Just like you wouldn’t overlook one out of five of your customers.

By the latest stats, 20 percent of people searching on mobile are doing it with voice search. And we expect that number to grow significantly as more and more people adapt to voice search and voice assistants.

As a marketing officer, you might be wondering how voice search will impact your future search engine optimization strategy.

And that’s what I’m going to talk about today:

  • Why and how your audience is using voice search.
  • The impact of Google’s machine-learning system, RankBrain, on voice search, where voice assistants come into play, and what voice search means in a mobile-first world.
  • Strategic recommendations on how voice search impacts your SEO strategy.

Why Your Audience Is Using Voice Search

Voice search, in many cases, is about convenience.

It’s no surprise that it’s popular among mobile users on the go. Would it surprise you, though, to find out more and more people are using it at home?

According to the 2016 KPCB Internet Trends report, 43 percent of people use voice search in their home:

reasons people use voice search

The KPCB annual report on global internet trends shows the primary reasons and settings for using voice search. Click to enlarge.

And as the technology improves, so does the adoption of voice search on mobile devices and voice assistants like Google Home:

primary reason for voice assistant use is improved technology

The KPCB annual report on global internet trends show how many smartphone users use voice assistants and why behavior is changing. Click to enlarge.

Google is leading the charge to improve voice recognition technology.

In November 2015, Google announced that the Google app had improved its capability to understand the meaning behind voice searches.

Just before that, RankBrain — Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence system — hit the scene. RankBrain makes interpreting queries (including voice searches) and matching them to the best search results easier for the Google search engine.

Voice Search Beyond the Mobile Device

The fact that over 40 percent of voice searches happen at home, versus around 20 percent happening on the go, presents a new level of complexity when we’re thinking about how our brands can become a part of a person’s daily search habits.

What we don’t know yet is the future of how voice assistants like Google Home will identify and serve up results.

In many cases, devices like Google Home have to make complex decisions for you about which answer or result to serve up. This is unlike the traditional way of personally choosing among a set of blue links on a page, and voice search optimizations must be accounted for.

Voice search adds further complexity to local search results, in particular. For example, someone who has a broken water pipe might simply tell their Google Home device: “My plumbing is broken,” versus a more traditional voice search like “show me plumbers in my local area” or “who are the best plumbers in my area?”

Let’s not forget that search must also evolve to fit the tastes of new generations as well.

What we do know is that third-party integrations are happening that allow brands to integrate with Google virtual assistants more seamlessly. And that’s worth looking into.

As search behavior changes, Google has more work to do to find the best answers, and we as digital marketers have more work to do to understand how to become a part of those results.

sound wave on phone screen

How to Prepare Your SEO Strategy for Voice Search

We do, however, understand some things about voice search to date, and how it can impact your SEO strategy.

Let’s look closer at what you need to know to survive SEO as voice search becomes more and more the norm.

Know Your Audience

As part of your voice search keyword research strategy, your company needs to be aware of how someone would look for your product or service if they were using a voice search.

Remember, voice searches are more conversational and tend to center around questions instead of the two- or three-word queries that many people type.

But they can also be declarative statements, like the one I used in the plumbing example earlier.

As part of your research, create a list of voice searches you believe users would use. Brainstorm with your team. Peruse social media. Look at forums. Do whatever you need to do to come up with a good starting list for research.

Know Your Results

We recommend in our SEO training class that people start querying their brand, products and services using voice search to find out if they show up and how.

Most companies haven’t taken the time to figure out how to do a search for their products or services on a device using voice search. But, with your newfound keyword research, you can start.

Once you perform that real-time voice query research, if you find your website isn’t showing up, your web pages and their content need some work.

It’s likely that your website pages aren’t doing a good job of answering a where, when, why, what or how-type question.

Know Your Competition

As part of your SEO strategy, you want to find out who is, in fact, showing up for those voice search queries if not you — or who is ranking above you.

Performing page-by-page analyses of the top 10 rankings, for example, for a voice search important to your business can help you better understand the logistics of the content on those top-ranking pages.

Apply Voice Search Keyword Strategy and Website Optimization

The approach to optimizing web pages is the same — meaning you want to ensure you’re following SEO best practices.

But you may choose to tweak your content.

You might decide to include the same target keywords in your meta information and heading tags, but tweak the content to be in the form of a question posed by someone using voice search.

For example, “planets in our solar system” might become, “how many planets are in our solar system?”

This keyword modification tactic could be applied page-wide where it makes sense and feels natural. You might also use the data you gleaned from your voice search keyword research plus the competitive research I mentioned to identify content on your site that’s missing.

Where could you better answer many of the questions your target audience has?

While it’s ultimately Google’s job to best match a search query to a web page, it’s also our jobs as website publishers to do as much as we can to help make that match.

So, many of the SEO practices we’re used to still apply to help make your pages relevant.

I mentioned integrations with Google Home, and those are the types of things you’ll want to watch out for, particularly for certain types of businesses.

And it’s worth mentioning again that voice search today is a highly mobile experience. But we can easily imagine a time when voice search is a desktop function.

Still, with Google planning to take a mobile-first index approach, you can’t afford not to be there.

Right now, it’s safe to say we’re in an experimental phase, where we’re learning how voice search works across devices, how search results surface and how to be a part of it all. And there’s still much work to do.

As brands, we need to figure out how to become a seamless part of our audience’s search habits across technology and devices. Imagine the competitive advantage you would have in being a leader in the “new” search.

But we also need to continue to implement the SEO best practices that help search engines understand our website and its content. Only now, we have more contexts than ever to consider.

What do you think? Do you think a brand can be the last to implement a voice search strategy? Can you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


Let us help you develop your voice search SEO strategy. Bruce Clay’s tailor-made services drive your competitive advantage.

Let’s talk more about growing revenue through smarter digital marketing.

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