Voice search is on the rise
We all know the internet is an ever-changing place and voice search is currently at the forefront of that. Those of us with websites have definitely felt the force of this evolution. As new technologies are introduced, search engines are evolving to better serve their users. This leads to changes in search algorithms that can greatly affect the rankings of our websites and the traffic we obtain.
One of the largest shifts we’ve seen recently is voice search. Now, voice search is super handy and convenient for users, but it changes the way people search. As a result, we need to change the way we think about how users are finding our websites and what we can do to optimize our sites for these types of searches.
What is voice search?
Before we get too deep into it, let’s talk about what voice search really is. We all know the “hey Alexa” or “hey Siri” but what does this really do? Voice searches act as a conversation between person and device. The goal is to help the user complete tasks in real-time, with minimum effort.
These tasks can be anything from setting a timer, adding to a grocery list, ordering tickets, or checking the weather. The options are nearly endless.
For the user, voice search makes things easy. No browsing the web looking through search results. You ask a question and get an immediate answer. However, the technology behind voice search and how this technology determines the best answer is impacting websites and changing how businesses present their information.
What is the technology behind voice search?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the mastermind behind voice search, not to mention many other things. But, let’s break down how AI actually works in this scenario. In voice search, AI uses voice recognition which is, in short, the computer taking in information in the form of sound vibrations and converting that information into a digital format that the computer can understand.
This information is then run through algorithms to recognize the speech and return a result to the user.
This concept of Machine Learning is going to continue to grow and continue to impact search engines and our websites. With the ability to “think” AI devices are able to continuously improve and more effectively handle unexpected search queries successfully.
Speech recognition technologies aren’t perfect
At this point speech recognition used in voice search, is about 95% accurate. This 5% error rate is attributed to background noise, heavy accents, unknown dialects, and varied voice pitch. Although a 5% margin of error does not seem huge, as people increasingly use voice search for more and more tasks, this error margin could cause issues. An example would be telling your navigation system to give you directions to a specific location and being led to somewhere else.
For the most part, these errors result in only a minor inconvenience. However, in a situation such as the example above, a person driving, realizing they’re going in the wrong direction, may try to correct the error, thus taking their attention away from the road. So although most errors only cause users a small amount of annoyance, there are situations where that 5% error margin can cause safety concerns.
As AI and voice search continue learning and advancing they’ll become more accurate. This will not only decrease that margin of error but also provide a better experience for users.
How does voice search change SEO?
As we’ve talked about before voice search allows users to receive an immediate response to their query, eliminating the need for them to scroll through search results. As you can imagine this is changing how businesses need to optimize theirs in order to have the best chance to be in those results.
Let’s take a look at some key areas that are being affected by this.
Spoken language usually isn’t as concise as written queries would be. In turn, SEO strategists will need to think more in terms of natural language. Meaning, we’ll need to use more long-tail keywords. Instead of thinking about it as a key “word” think more so as a question and answer format.
For example, if someone asked what the weather was like today, they wouldn’t be interested in an article about different weather patterns. Instead, they’re looking for a forecast, most importantly, local to them. That’s where machine learning would recognize the user’s most probable intent, and return to them a forecast, or even a message stating what the weather will be like for that day.
Going off the natural language concept, in voice search, you will see a lot more question words such as “who, what, when, where, how”. This further instills the need for marketers to think in a question/answer format. Marketers need to present content that can deliver answers to these questions, and be able to distinguish between simple questions and questions that may require more of an explanation.
There are basically two different types of search; semantic and lexical.
Lexical searches look for exact matches for the keywords you type in. Have you ever searched something on Google and scrolled through the results page and noticed that under some results it says “does not contain: keyword example”? This is the search engine telling you that, although this website matched most of your keywords, it does not contain that specific keyword. Now, if that were any important keyword in your search, what do you do? Probably go back and reword your search to try and find what you are looking for.
Semantic search on the other hand looks more at the user’s intent or meaning behind the search terms used. Search engines can try to understand the user intent by looking at the user search history, global search history, the location of the user, and keyword spelling variations.
For example, if you search for “coffee shops near me” a search engine may gather that you are intending to go to a coffee shop. Being so, it’ll look at your location gather the information on coffee shops in the area, and likely present to you a map option with directions at the top of the search results.
The previous example is also a great example of local search. When it comes to local search, voice search users are actually about 3x more likely to be searching locally than someone typing in a search. This is important because the more website can optimize for local search, the better they will perform in local search results.
How can your business optimize for voice search?
There are quite a few ways to boost your website for voice search results on top of normal SEO efforts.
Relating back to natural language, a great way to help optimize your site for voice search is to frame your content in a way that answers a question. This type of content will perform better with the type of queries people are using in voice search.
Schema markup is already a great tool to utilize for SEO, but when it comes to voice search it’s super important. If a search engine is not able to understand your content quickly it will likely be passed over. Schema markup not only aids in getting your site a rich snippet in search results but will also enable search engines to better understand your content and better match your content to a user’s search query.
Google My Business
As we’ve mentioned, voice searches are oftentimes used for local search. So, a great way to boost your website is to ensure that your Google My Business listing has up-to-date and accurate information. Your Google My Business listing is a huge asset when it comes to local search as it gives users quick access to the contact information, hours, and address for your business. This information is very easy for search engines to understand and providing that information to your customers in local search may help you get them in the door.
Ensure your site is current and up to date
This may seem obvious, but for some websites that are more static and not updated frequently, details like this can slip through the cracks.
Same as your Google My Business listing, the information you provide to users on your website should be kept up to date and accurate. Optimize your content by removing duplicate pages, old information, and inaccurate business details. This will help your users have a more enjoyable experience on your website and also help avoid any confusion that will occur if business information does not match up.
Domain authority along with traditional search rankings carry heavy weight when it comes to voice search. A great way to improve your domain authority is through links. Getting quality backlinks, linking out to credible sources, and auditing your site for broken or bad links draws search engines’ attention.
The best way to go about this is through content. Creating content such as blog posts that link out to other credible sites can build credibility. Creating good content is actually a win-win, because not only are you adding to your credibility by linking out to credible sites but your also creating quality content that other sites can link back to.
Where does voice search go from here?
It’s clear voice search is here to stay. Voice search has been proven to be easy and convenient for users and, because of this, will likely continue to be used more widely. As more companies indulge in voice search, technology and accuracy will continue to improve. Creating an even better experience for users and open doors to future technology.
As people that own and run websites, we need to start thinking more about how to optimize for this shift. This article has hopefully provided you with a good starting point. Now’s the time to start taking voice search into consideration, as it’s just going to advance from here. Be proactive and don’t let your website get left behind.