Yep, it’s 2022 and we are still talking about voice search.
We wrote our first article about voice search back in 2018. To be honest, it could have been as far back as 2011 when Google first launched voice search but, in our defence, it was more of a novelty when it first launched and not something for SEOs to focus on.
That’s certainly not the case today.
Back in 2018, we talked about how that year was going to be the tipping point. People were going to start using voice search “naturally” and it would no longer feel like a gimmick. We even had a load of data from Think with Google to support these claims.
Four years on, two of which have been spent in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and it feels like we still haven’t reached that tipping point.
According to research from eMarketer in 2020, they estimate “128 million people in the US will use a voice assistant at least monthly in 2020, up 11.1% from 115.2 million in 2019. This represents 44.2% of internet users and 38.5% of the total population.”
Research by Oberlo suggests that number is up to 135.6 million in 2022, up just 2.7 per cent from the previous year.
It’s certainly a slow burner this one.
Most voice commands carried out on smart speakers and phones are not searches. According to 2019 research by Adobe, the top task given to voice assistants by users is to play music, with around three in four (74 per cent) users doing so. As many as two-thirds (66 per cent) of consumers also use their voice assistants to get the weather forecast and 58 per cent use it to set alarms and reminders.
A shift towards voice search
Whilst the growth in voice search has not been as rapid as the early predictions. The data certainly suggests that people are becoming more familiar and comfortable with voice search and voice commands.
The growth in the number of home assistants is certainly helping to contribute to this familiarity and improvements to voice-activated applications on mobile devices are also contributing to the growth in voice search.
Whilst we might not have reached the tipping point just yet, there are still a significant number of voice searches being carried out worldwide that it needs to be a consideration as part of your current SEO strategy, but also as a way of future-proofing your content for when we do reach that tipping point.
When we talk about voice search, we are essentially talking about conversational search.
Conversational search refers to the use of complete sentences and natural-sounding phrases in search queries. Those queries are then interpreted by search engines using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.
Historically, searches carried out by typing queries were typically based on keyword phrases. Typed phrases would look like this:
- Car rental
- Womens clothing
- Car lubricant
- New Zealand sauvignon blanc
Conversational search is changing this behaviour. Instead, conventional grammatical conventions are followed when people search using their voice and their queries more closely match the way they would talk to someone.
Not only does this change the keywords that people often use, but more specifically, the length of the search query.
Imagine the results for a query like “car rental”. You are likely to find a series of results that often have little bearing on each other except for the use of the targeted keyword. You could see results from car rental brands in the country in which you are searching, or more specifically, the region in which you are searching. You could find car rental price comparison websites. You might also find articles about renting a car in a specific country or from a specific provider.
These types of results are often tedious to work through for searchers and often lead to a secondary, more refined search and possibly further refinements until a searcher gets to a satisfactory result.
With conversational search, the initial query is often much more specific and leads to a much better experience for searchers. The results returned are much more refined and targeted, leading to less yo-yoing between sites and improving the overall user experience.
How does conversational search impact your content?
We asked the question, “do you need to adapt your content for voice search?” and the answer very much depends on how you currently create content.
If you are still old school in the way you write content – identify a selection of keywords and sprinkle them discretely into your content – then the answer is probably yes, you need to change your approach.
For your content to rise to the top of the rankings, it needs to satisfy the searchers’ demands for information, but more than that, it needs to do so in a way that is engaging and relatable. An article or landing page stuffed with keywords that doesn’t read naturally is not going to get the job done and will impact your ability to rank well, especially for people using conversational search.
Instead, your content should flow as a conversation would. A searcher should be able to “hear” someone speaking the content to them as they read and that should feel natural.
Optimising your content for voice search
The first place to start when optimising for voice search is the same place we have always had to start when creating any piece of content – know your audience.
It is so crucial to know who you are writing for, and this is especially true when you are having a “conversation” with them.
When we think about a conversation, especially a conversation a prospective customer is likely to have with a business, then it makes sense to think about the questions they are most likely to ask.
Research popular questions
Once you have an understanding of your audience, researching the types of questions they are likely to ask is the next step in planning out your content.
- What do they already know about your products/services?
- What do they hope to achieve after reading your content?
- What is the next step they will take once they have consumed your content?
- Can you tell them everything they need to know in one content piece or do you need to give them more options to learn more?
Understanding the types of questions people are likely to ask will help you to carry out keyword research to determine the questions you need to answer in your content.
Include an FAQ section
Most keyword research tools today come with the option to refine the results by “Questions”. Let’s say we are creating a page about car rentals. If we plug this head term into any keyword planner tool such as SEMrush, then we can get a set of results that show all the main questions people ask about car rental in a particular market.
These questions are a good way of creating a conversation on your content page. By creating an FAQ section on the page, you are able to control both sides of the conversation, answering the key questions that people have whilst optimising your content for both the questions and the answers.
Of course, you don’t need to add an FAQ section to answer questions. You can simply weave these questions into the overall structure of your content, allowing you to provide a detailed answer to those questions in a conversational manner.
This tactic allows you to use natural language – the way people would ask and answer a question – in your content, helping you to optimise that content for voice search.
Use natural language
Talking of natural language, you should always look to answer questions and write content using natural language from a grammatical perspective. Don’t simply shoehorn high-volume keywords into your content piece – think about how you would explain a topic to someone if you were talking to them and use a similar language in your writing.
Try and think like a prospective customer would and use the language they would use. For us, that means thinking about questions like “how do I rank number one in Google” rather than “how do I improve my SEO” – a lot of people don’t know what SEO is so it’s important to understand how those people would search and ensure we appear in that space.
Of course, it makes sense to include keywords that also target people that do have an understanding of what SEO is as this will also help Google to understand the overall context of the piece.
Make your content easy to access
Whilst the language you use is important when it comes to optimising for voice search, it’s also important to make sure that your content is super-accessible.
Much of this will come down to the way the content is presented. Use clear headings that incorporate natural language so that people can easily scan a content piece and get to the information they want/need as quickly as possible. By using natural language, you are much more likely to engage your visitors and get them to do what you want them to do after visiting your page.
The use of images, videos, bullet points, and interactive content can all help to improve the overall accessibility of the content you are providing. Couple this with the use of natural language and you are onto a winner.
Whilst some of this might seem like a big shift, especially if you are old school in the way you currently create content, then don’t panic. It’s actually not that different to the way we have always created content.
Instead of focussing on specific keywords or keyword groupings, think about the way people would start up a conversation around the topic you are writing about and then make sure your content matches the way that conversation would play out in person.
All you are doing is reframing the way you present your content. You are trying, as always, to answer the questions that searchers’ have in the best possible way, but instead of this being keyword driven, it is conversation-driven, helping to meet them on their terms.