Google Home - Voice Search 2021

Gavin Hirst - Tuesday 29th December 2020


How to optimise for voice search – 5 strategies in a post-COVID world

I’m not sure how many posts I have written about voice search during my time with Digital Hothouse. Since my first conference to Sydney in 2015, it feels as though we have been talking about voice search as the next big thing and here, we are, approaching 2021, and still talking about the importance of voice search.

I think the reason for that, is that voice search is a slow burner. It’s not something that is suddenly going to be adopted by everyone all at once. The reason we have been talking about voice search for the last six years is that it is still in the initial stages of adoption, however, we are starting to get closer to a tipping point and the COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to an acceleration in the uptake of people using voice search.

According to Gartner, 32% of consumers are interested in hands-free technology that would limit touching or contamination. This is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and a sign that we can expect a bigger shift in the use of voice search in 2021.

As voice search becomes more reliable, people are now trusting the results more and voice search can no longer be considered a fad.

As voice search evolves from voice recognition to voice understanding, Google gets nearer to its aim to transform voice search into “an ultimate mobile assistant that helps you with your daily life so that you can focus on the things that matter.”

Voice search is getting smarter

One of the major reasons for the increase in the number of voices searchers and people using voice search is that voice search is getting smarter.

Whether you use Google Assistant, Siri, or Cortana, all these platforms are evolving and gaining a better understanding of the way people search.

From understanding what has previously been said and carrying on ‘conversationally’ with follow up questions to understanding your location and making the returned results geo-focussed, voice search has now become much more intuitive and therefore, much more user friendly.

The rise in voice search presents new opportunities for SEOs and it’s important to understand the changing landscape of voice search to invest in the best strategies to target queries on voice-activated devices.

There are some key areas we would recommend focussing on in 2021 – let’s take a look.

1.      Focus on conversational (long-tail) keywords

The way people search using voice is completely different from the way they type. If you are typing a query, you may include something like this ‘weather auckland’. If you were carrying out the same search using voice search, you are much more likely to say ‘what’s the weather like in Auckland’ for example.

Our behaviour is much more conversational and by nature, that means search queries on voice-activated devices tend to be much longer.

That’s not to say that short tail keywords will become irrelevant. It’s more than you will need to ensure you are maximising the opportunities to optimise for the most relevant long-tail keywords in addition to the high volume short-tail keywords.

2.      Answer key FAQs

By nature, FAQs tend to be conversational. Te ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ questions are usually long tail and to answer these effectively, your answers should be conversational as well – treat them as if you worked in a shop and someone came up and asked you the same question in person.

You can either create individual pages to answer the most frequently asked questions relevant to your business (where the search volume is sufficient) or create an FAQ page or series of FAQ pages that answer multiple pages.

You should, of course, use relevant schema markup on those pages to make it easier for Google to understand the nature of the content and make them more likely to present your answers, both in written and voice search.

3.      Provide context with schema markup

It’s not just your FAQ pages that will benefit from the inclusion of the relevant schema markup.

There is a huge library of different schema types, all set up with the goal of helping search engines to understand the context of your content, and ultimately, helping you to rank better for typical searches, and more relevant in specific queries made through voice search.

There is also a very specific schema called speakable schema which allows you to tell voice assistants like Google and Siri what you want to be said for the content on a page.

This is currently only available in beta for news articles, however, it is expected to roll out across different content types moving forward. It should only be used to emphasise key points, not an entire article and speakable text should be 2-3 sentences taking no more than 30 seconds to read.

It is important to closely monitor new schema deployment and understand whether it will work for the content you are creating – it can take time and effort to deploy so make sure your efforts will be rewarded.

4.      Structuring your content

As well as using schema to help provide context to your content, the way you structure your content can go a long way towards helping you ‘appear’ in voice search.

Brevity, context, and relevancy are essential when optimising for voice search. Think about the answers you like to receive via voice search – brief and to the point is what most people are looking for, so structuring your content to allow that information to be extracted for voice search is important.

Building on a very successful model, consider researching the most popular questions relevant to your business. Then look to structure your content in a way that answers that question immediately below the headline on the page, as concisely as possible.

You can then use the rest of the page to build out a comprehensive answer to the question and provides more context to Google about that opening paragraph.

Practice reading your opening paragraph out loud and consider how you would feel if you received that result via voice search. Tweak as necessary to ensure it is concise and can be read in under 30 seconds.

Not only is this a good tactic for ‘appearing’ in voice search, but it also appeals to Google’s ranking algorithm and has an opportunity to rank for relevant featured snippets in typical search.

5.      Optimise your site for mobile and local

In the mobile-first world in which we now live, it’s important to focus on the mobile experience. Whilst someone may return a voice response on their mobile, that search result will be saved for them to look at later and it’s important that you deliver a high-quality mobile experience, even when optimising for voice search.

It’s also important to focus on speed. Just as users will quickly bounce of your website if it is slow to load, Google is much less likely to serve up a voice-activated search result if it is slow to respond. This should be part of your overall strategy and not just for voice search, however, speed is an important factor in ranking sites for voice search so don’t let it slip under the radar.

Finally, remember the importance of local SEO when it comes to voice search. Users will often be looking for hyper-local search results when using voice search ‘on the go’ so make sure you have a comprehensive Google My Business (GMB) listing, to accompany strong local content on your website. Consider optimising mobile content for ‘near me’ type searches.

Summary

I may still be talking about voice search in 12 months, however, expect it to be with more certainty and more data to support the growth we anticipate in 2021. COVID-19 has accelerated the demand for contactless experiences and search is no different. If people can carry out an action without the need to touch a screen, they are now looking at ways to do this in more areas of their lives.

Voice search will be rolled out into a whole range of services and the more people become familiar with using their voice to carry out tasks, the more people will come to see it as part of their day to day life and turn to it more frequently on mobile and even desktop for searching.

Whilst you might not necessarily think it applies to your business, I would urge you to review the keywords you are currently optimising for and carry out some additional research which incorporates long-tail keywords around the same topic. Look at trends. Are there any longer tail keywords that have grown significantly in volume over the past 12 months? If so, try carrying out a voice search for those terms and check out the results – are these relevant to your business? If so, then now is the time to start optimising for those terms.

Follow the five strategies above and discover new opportunities in 2021 with voice search.

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