6 New Ways To Think About Optimizing For Voice Search

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Voice search, which, by some estimates, will account for half of all searches by 2020, is still somewhat new – Alexa, after all, didn’t come out until 2015 – and so optimization tips remain somewhat limited.

In fact, at a recent event, SEOs’ best advice was to create content that earns a featured snippet.

That’s not to say this isn’t valuable feedback as Alexa, Siri and Google pull quick answers from position zero, said Casey Markee, founder digital agency Media Wyse. And, in turn, that means brands looking to reach consumers hearing verbal answers from their assistants must learn to answer questions simply (and to perhaps consult Markee’s guide on How to Optimize for Position Zero.

Damon Gochneaur, founder of digital agency Aspiro Agency, said he thinks featured snippets will continue to drive most answers for Google-related devices, but searches on Amazon hold opportunity for savvy marketers “as their information sourcing is still immature compared to the competitor device networks.”

And, as voice usage grows, what else can brands/marketers do to be found?

Anna Lebedeva, head of media relations at competitive intelligence suite SEMrush, said voice search is actually pretty straightforward and requires less tech-savviness than optimization of yore.

“It can be considered as an extension of the trend towards the humanization of the web experience,” she said. “By and large, the days when your job was to appeal to the algorithmic bot are coming to an end. From now on, you are pleasing the bot once your users are pleased with the kind of experience you provide.”

In other words, she said voice search is “merely a manifestation of all the other trends that have been going on for a while now – localization, personalization, humanization [and] intent orientation.”

She argues voice search makes optimization – and the entire web experience – more intuitive and natural and simply requires a slight shift in the way we think about optimization.

Here’s what that includes:

1. Optimize for questions.

Consumers have questions. That’s potentially why they are using voice search. And that means marketers should optimize their content for question-specific searches, Markee said.

“That means who, what, when, where, why and how phrases. Doing so means mining your customers for data as well as putting up detailed FAQ content based around your product and services,” he added.

To help find question-specific searches, Markee recommended using tools like Answer the Public, Keyword.io, Buzzsumo Question Analyzer, Quora, Google searches and your own Google Search Console Search Queries report data.

In addition, Lebedeva said to make sure Q&A content is at the top of the page and ideally includes answers in the first sentence.

“You know your product/service inside out, but people often don’t, and it is your job to help them realize all the opportunities your product/service opens up to your customers,” Lebedeva added.

2. Experiment with voice assistants.

It’s also hard to optimize for devices and/or assistants you’ve never used, so Jason Bauman, senior SEO associate at optimization agency Trinity Insight, recommended investing in Google Home and Echo devices and using them in addition to Cortana and Siri.

“See how they answer,” he said. “Ask your question a few different ways to see how modifiers change the answers you get. Voice search is all about optimizing around how your customers look for information. When you ask Alexa or Google a question, you know the type of answer you want.”

Because voice assistants build their answers based on actual searches, brands that don’t receive answers they expect should consider whether consumers are using different words or phrases – and amend their content accordingly.

“If your website does not offer the answers voice assistants provide, see how you can integrate them,” he added.

3. Address local intent.

Markee noted voice search queries are 3x more likely to have local intent, so “as a marketer, that’s where I would be putting my focus.”

Individual locations can tap into these so-called “near me” queries in part by ensuring the information in their Google My Business listings is up to date, as well as writing with local intent to capture the attention of local consumers, Lebedeva said.

Bauman agreed this is the kind of information consumers often want to know about companies and “keeping this listing up to date will make it more likely that Google will have an answer to questions related to it.

Brands can also optimize their ads for voice search in part by utilizing AdWords location extensions and using Google Maps Local Search Ads.

4. Use schema.

Using schema and structured data, which help search engines figure out what is on a given page, allows machine learning algorithms to easily access to your data, Markee said.

That means marking up for Google’s Knowledge Graph and learning to optimize using the pending Speakable markup from Schema.org, which indicates sections of a page that are particularly appropriate for text-to-speech conversion and is projected to potentially be released by the end of 2017, he added.

Bauman agreed having details like the color, price or quantity of items you’re selling marked up in schema can improve the chance crawlers will find it.

“I think structured data will continue to play a huge role in allowing search engines and voice engines to contextually and semantically understand our sites’ content,” Gochneaur added.

5. Remember SEO best practices.

And, of course, don’t forget the basics.

“Make it easy for Google and users to find your content on desktop and mobile,” Markee said. “Focus on page speed, HTTPS, optimized content with a conversational focus, links to that content, structured data and, most importantly, mobile-friendliness to take advantage of the pending mobile-first index.”

6. Create audio answers.

Another way might be to also create your own audio responses to questions your audiences have.

That’s according to David Erickson, content marketing strategist at Karwoski & Courage Public Relations, who pointed to Google Home, which uses its algorithms to find the right answers to voice queries and then uses text-to-speech technology to read it.

“Google’s modus operandi in search has always been to deliver the best possible result for any given query. Wouldn’t, then, a better result from a Google Home query be the appropriate response from an actual human’s voice rather than Google’s text-to-speech response?” he asked. “And what if that response came from a recognized expert on the topic of the query? Following that logic, then, one thing I would be doing is recording audio answers to your audience’s likely questions and incorporating them into your efforts at optimizing for featured snippets.”

On the Amazon Echo, for example, brands could potentially publish audio books on Amazon that include answers to their audiences’ questions, he added.

Lisa Lacy is a senior reporter for The Drum, where she covers the digital and search marketing industries. She’s a graduate of Columbia’s Journalism School and has also written for CMO.com, ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal.