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Is your Business Ready for the Voice Search Revolution

Voice search has been on a steady but gradual rise for the last few years. That growth is predicted to accelerate over the next 12 months and become what has been dubbed the ‘voice search revolution’.  Optimizing for voice search is no longer optional, it’s a must for all businesses. 

What’s Covered in this Guide

 Ten Significant Statistics

  1. There are currently over 1 billion voice searches every month (Jan 2018, AI)
  2. by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches (ComScore)
  3. In 2017 alone, over 25 million voice search devices were bought (Voice Labs)
  4. 40% of adults in the US now use voice search at least once per day (Location World), with 19% using Siri daily worldwide (Hubspot)
  5. 1 in 4 shoppers used voice assistants in their holiday shopping during the 2017 season, per CTA.
  6. 72% of people who own voice-activated speakers say that their devices are used as part of their daily routines, per Google.
  7. 65% of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, per GeoMarketing.
  8. 41% of people who own a voice-activated speaker say it feels like talking to a friend or another person, per Google.
  9. The number of millennials who use voice-enabled digital assistants will climb to 39.3% in 2019, per eMarketer.

What’s driving the growth?

Fundamentally the change is happening as a result of convergence; the consumer’s ‘need for speed’ and associated change in search behavior, coupled with the technology that can now deliver it.

The Need for Speed

In January Google Webmasters released information about how page speed reflects on mobile search rankings, you can view it here. They stated that people want to be able to find answers to their questions as quickly as possible, so speed is factored into the ranking.

This update makes a site’s loading speed a more important ranking signal than ever before. And this philosophy likely applies to Voice Search results.

When you ask Google Home or Google Assistant a question, you don’t want to sit around waiting for a device to spit out an answer. You want your answer immediately.

This is supported by a report by Backlinko that found that Voice search results load faster, with the average voice search results taking 4.6 seconds and the average web page taking 8.8 seconds.

Changing Consumer Search Behavior

Findings from a 2018 Stone Temple study into trends around voice search are also enlightening. In all but two environments voice search is on the rise.

 

Over 60% of respondents said they liked voice search because it’s fast and requires no typing, and over 66% agree that voice commands make using a smartphone easier.

Perhaps that’s why so many people have no qualms about using voice search in public despite being annoyed when others do so.

The main reason appears to be time. It’s simply faster and more efficient to speak than to type. On average people speak 150 words per minute, as opposed to typing which is around 40 words per minute.

People are busier than ever before and voice search can be used while driving, running, or simply calling out to your speaker for information while responding to an email.

The Technology

Amazon’s commitment to digital assistants and voice search was shown on Black Friday 2018, when it put huge discounts on products like the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus, all of which feature Alexa.

Amazon’s strategy paid off in a big way, with customers purchasing millions of Alexa-enabled devices over the Black Friday weekend.

According to Jeff Bezos in an Amazon Q3 report, tens of millions of customers have now purchased Alexa devices, which begins to give us an idea of how many people are currently using voice search via digital assistants.

Amazon’s emphasis on digital assistants helped the company account for 55% of online transactions across the Top 50 retailers on Black Friday, which saw over $5 billion in spending from consumers.

With Amazon’s success, it makes sense that a tech focus on digital assistants and voice search will only increase. Some of the biggest tech companies in the world offer smart speakers as well as mobile devices with digital assistants, including Apple Siri and Google Assistant.

3. Stronger Link Authority, Higher Rank

We all know that backlinks still form the foundation of Google’s desktop and mobile algorithm. Similarly there is a strong correlation between domain authority and appearing in a voice search result.

Again according the Backlinko’s report, Google Home results have an average Ahrefs domain rating of 76.8, which is exceptionally high.

Any true SEO expert worth their salt will argue that correlation doe not imply causation, but what can’t be argued with is that higher domain authority sites are over represented within voice search results.

Rather surprisingly the study also found that the link authority of voice search result pages were significantly lower (around 21).

This seems at odds with the previous statistic, which if we enter the realm of speculation leads us to two possible conclusions. One, that authority is correlated but not causative (personally I think this is unlikely) or two, that Google weights the domain authority over the page authority.

This makes intuitive sense in that Google Home for example, only provides one single answer to a question. It’s now more important than ever that Google provides the correct answer and information from an established high authority domain is more likely to be accurate. As a side note -it’s easier to boost (read manipulate) authority of a single page through link acquisition than to boost the authority of the root domain.

Does HTTPS affect Voice Search rankings?

In 2017, Moz reported that 50% of page one search results to be HTTPS, with a predicted upwards trend. However, querying direct ranking signals as a result of going secure shouldn’t be your primary focus.

Secure, padlocked pages offer safety and a degree of trust to users. This in turn can lead to more conversions and better user engagement, which also impacts how Google’s RankBrain assesses your site.

We do know from Backlinko’s study that a higher proportion of voice search results use HTTPS (70.4% vs. 50%). But as with domain authority, it’s impossible to know whether Google weights it more highly on voice search as compared to mobile or desktop search. In my opinion this is unlikely and I’d put this one down to correlation.

The key out-take here is that you should be moving to HTTPS regardless.

Social Media Engagement

Do social signals have an impact on Voice Search? The debate over social signals has been a long (and often tedious) one. In 2016 Google explicitly stated that they do not use social media for ranking purposes.

 

However there is no doubt that content that is shared extensively on social media does perform better in any type of search results, including voice.  According to Searchmetrics’ 2016 Rebooting Ranking Factors White Paper:

“The correlation between social signals and ranking position is extremely high, and the number of social signals per landing page has remained constant when compared to with the values from last year’s whitepaper. … The top-ranked websites in Google’s rankings displays vastly more social signals than all other pages…. This is primarily due to the overlap between brand websites performing strongly in social networks and being allocated top positions by Google.”

You will begin to notice the theme –  the key factor here is correlation versus causation.

If you create exceptional engaging content, it will undoubtedly do better on social media, people are probably going to both like it, share it but also link it to — which does boost your rankings. We know that this type of content will perform well in search engines, and voice is no different.

Here’s a personal but very speculative prediction – As voice search and digital assistants evolve, my pick is that we will see social shares becoming increasingly important, but not in terms of total or volume of shares. The emphasis will come from social shares from either authorities on a particular topic or from your close associates or social connections. Google has been experimenting with this for a long time with personalized search and Google Authorship (which it later withdrew). Watch this space. 

Different Kinds of Keywords and searches 

In 2013, Google launched a major algorithm update; Google Hummingbird. This was the first step in understanding natural language and considering user intent and the contextual meaning of queries.

Marketers had to refine their strategy. They went from stuffing keywords in articles to addressing the pain points of their target audience. Welcome back to marketing 101!

Voice technology is another step in the direction of improving the user experience with semantics. It relies on Natural Language Processing (NLP) to recognize voice texture, interests, and behavior.

We can begin to prepare for voice search by analyzing the data on how people are using it right now.

1. Voice queries contain conversational words and are longer.

The way people search vocally is not the same as through text. More natural, simplified, conversational words are used rather than standard text query language.

However it’s clear from reading Google’s Voice Search rater guidelines that they want voice search results that are very brief and to-the-point. Backlinko’s report found that the average voice search answer is 29 words.

You need to think how your audience speaks about your business, products, and services. What phrases are they likely to use for voice search. You can use a tool like Answer The public for ideas.

Then if you’re optimizing your content to rank in Google Home or Google Assistant, make your answer snippet as short as possible (while still providing a thorough answer to that query).

Again we are faced with a contradiction; we know that long form content tends to rank better on Google desktop search (see this for more), but short statements and answers are required for Voice Search. The solution; mix it up and do both.

A good example of long content with short answers are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages. They contain a lot of information, but in easy to read, topic specific, bite sized chunks. FAQ pages are more likely to be used for voice search answers because they are purely questions and answers, and most people use voice search to answer a question.

You can also build a few questions and answers into more traditional long form content. See the section below on optimising for featured / answer snippets.

2. 22% of voice queries are for local content.

The Internet Trends Report 2016 found that 22% of people use voice search for finding local information. It makes sense because people use mobile phones on the go.

Google disclosed that “near me” searches have grown more than 130% YoY. People extensively use the search query for “things to do near me.”

Needless to say, it is a mobile-driven phenomenon. Voice search makes these “near me” searches faster and easier for the user.

Local SEO and optimizing for location based search terms is going to become more important than ever.

 

Find Your Way into Featured Snippets

This one of the most effective ways to secure a voice search result. Snippets are already concise, specific answers, from authoritative sites.

A snippet takes the relevant information from a page and shows it to you at the top of the search results, so you don’t even need to click through to the page to read the answer and can quickly access the information you were looking for.

To be featured in a snippet at the top of the search results page you need to already be on the first page of results for that keyword, question or topic. According to Ahrefs data 99.58% of snippets are from the top 10 results. Realistically you need to be high ranking in desktop and mobile search in order to rank highly in voice search. But as you will already be working on ranking highly in desktop and mobile search, your work will pay off for voice search as well, there’s a lot of interconnectedness in digital marketing.

While appearing in a snippet is likely to significantly boost your chances of being chosen for a voice result, it’s not the only way. Not all results are from snippets, less than half (around 41%) would be directly copied form a snippet. They are still the best way to get into voice search because they are concise specific answers, and snippets should be a focus. But it is wise to focus on multiple factors when working to increase your voice search rankings.

Here are a couple of articles that will help you boost your chances of getting into a featured snippet:

Featured Snippets: How to Get Your Content to Appear (Content Marketing Institute)

How to Become a Featured Snippet (Search Engine People)

In January Google shared an explanatory blog post about Feature Snippets, that is worth a look to deepen your understanding of them too.

Write for 14 Year Olds

An important point noted in Google’s official voice search rater guidelines is elocution. They are hoping for voice results that are very short, easy to understand, and to the point. Siri, Alexa and the like need to be able to say the words in your answer, and they do better with simpler words. The answers need to be easily understood by searchers, just by listening quickly with no image or even words to look at to assist with gaining meaning.

Try writing answers that are at about a 14-15yr old reading level. You will then cover the widest group of people. Below that level may sounds too simplified and not as credible, and above that some people may not be able to understand the answer well. This method also takes into consideration the large amount of people who use Google in English but are in fact ESL speakers. It’s a safe target range to be aiming for.

That’s not to say all of your content should  be that simple, but when writing answers to specific questions, it will be helpful to keep them fairly short and simple.

Some Things Don’t Really Count

There are things that will definitely improve your voice search ranking. Likewise, there are a few things that don’t actually make a worthwhile difference, and therefore would not be the best use of your time or money. For voice search, two of those things are Schema.org and exact queries.

Schema.org

While this is beneficial for SEO in general, and using it helps Google to understand the content of your page more thoroughly, it is not as effective in regard to voice search. When comparing: around 36% of voice results are pages that use Schema, which is only slightly higher than the worldwide average of 31%. So, 5% may not be worth the effort just for voice. But if you use it anyway for your site, it won’t do any harm to your voice search rank.

Exact Queries

A very minimal amount of voice search results contain exact wording in their title tag. Because of this, creating individual pages for each query isn’t a good use of time or resources. Google already searches using associated, and similar terms as it is.

Putting the Pieces Together

  • The use of voice search will continue to rise rapidly
  • Making your page/site load faster will boost your rank for voice search
  • Authoritative domains rank higher in all search types, including voice
  • HTTPS Secured websites are a ‘no brainer’.
  • Social Media engagement is a good indicator of the quality and usefulness of your content, and shareable content gets higher rankings
  • Answer questions at a 14yr old reading level for broader comprehension, and higher chances of being chosen for a voice answer or snippet
  • Concise answers within long content will raise your rank and authenticity
  • FAQ pages may rank well in voice search results
  • Consider conversational keywords that people are more likely to use vocally
  • Featured snippets are the most effective way to be chosen for voice search results

By working on each of the factors mentioned here you will build a solid foundation, to make your current and future voice search SEO revolutionary.

About the author

Following a career in above-the-line TV and print advertising, Brendan has been in the world of digital and search marketing for more than 12 years. He was involved with two UK start-up agencies where he built a reputation as a world-class SEO and marketer. He is now Head of Marketing at Umbrellar Group as well as founding Synapse to help NZ business grow online.

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