We’ve heard about Google’s recent love affair with romance novels, feeding their AI engine with almost 3,000 of them to help improve it’s conversational search abilities – but why are they placing so much focus on conversational foreplay – linguistically at least?
Voice recognition is getting more and more accurate and voice assistants such as Alexa are rapidly increasing in popularity. These two key drivers mean that people are using voice to search for things in surprisingly large numbers.
The rising of voice search: the stats
In May 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that 20% of mobile queries were via voice search. Well apparently 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. It was also stated that 41% of people using voice search last year had only started in the previous 6 months, and that 1 in 5 searches on an Android app in the USA were through speech. Below is an interesting timeline that helps show the growth over the past few years:
The number of articles on the growth of voice search are plentiful and the growth stats are varied, but all are stating it going in one direction, up.
Why so much growth in voice search?
- Personal assistants are now included on smartphones by default.
- The Amazon Echo was Amazon’s best-selling product during the 2016 holiday season.
- Sales of Google Home and Amazon Echo are predicted to exceed 24 million in 2017.
Long-live long-tail search
Voice search is revolutionary for SEO and Digital Marketers because it helps unveil the user's intent upfront, as opposed to the traditional problem experienced by search engines of understanding the true motive of the search, due its traditional nature. The majority of people are lazy when it comes to the tradition practice of typing a search query, around 1-3 words lazy.
When voice search is involved, people unconsciously change their behaviour, and feel an urge to give more information, more words, and be more specific to help them get the best result possible.
Users also tend to turn their query into a question with voice search, beginning their search with who, how, what, where, when or why.
Imagine you’re meeting an old friend for lunch in a new city. Normally, you would find yourself typing something like “best lunch in Cheltenham”. When using voice search, you change your behaviour and say something along the lines of “What is the best restaurant for lunch in Cheltenham?”. Same motive, different execution, more detail.
Something else that plays a part in this is the fact that humans can speak 150 words per minute versus typing 40 words per minute. So find voice search easier, and therefore give more information upfront.
These long-tail phrases are more important than ever, and mean a lot less guess work for the search engines regarding user motive, helping for a better user experience, and gives a lot more detailed data for marketers to work with.
These long-tail phrases provide clearer insight into the intent of the user, thus presenting search engines and marketers with new opportunities to deliver an improved user experience.
Why the fuss over voice search and mobile SEO?
To stay prominent in the search engines for a voice search you need to adapt your website content accordingly. The swift arrival of voice search presents an exciting opportunity to connect with customers, to better optimise your website, and to rise above the competition in the search engines.
How do you optimise your site for voice search?
1. Target long-tail keywords
Finding relevant, long-tail keywords through in-depth keyword research is crucial to determine what phrases people are saying when searching for products/services related to your business, or looking for answers to their questions through voice search. The increase in long-tail keywords (and a greater variety of them) brings new opportunities to tailor your website content to phrases that you may find to be lower in competition, and thus easier to rank for.
Regularly analysing the actual ‘speech’ terms used by your site visitors with tools like Google Search Console, will help you stay ahead of the competition and to stay on the lookout for any new search term opportunities that arise.
Although we already do this with our monthly SEO client's, long-tail search phrases are great for determining ideas for new content, and are the building blocks for your blog/content strategy.
Consistently writing articles based on the questions your potential customers are asking, is a sure way to help increase your traffic levels, and help attract those all important leads at an early stage in the marketing funnel. Not forgetting that having high-ranking page one articles on search engines is one of the main aims for online businesses, as you will be generating increasing levels of traffic from a free, organic result.
For paid search campaigns, you can incorporate these long-tail keywords into your keyword lists to reach potential customers at different stages of intent depending on their questions searched. Cost-Per-Click on average tends to be lower for long-tail search queries due to competition levels being lower, and it’s greater levels of specificity.
2. Make featured snippets a secret weapon
‘Position zero’ is the new ‘page one’ for voice search. To best show you how featured snippets feed voice search, and therefore offer a massive opportunity for top of page 1 results (or page 0 since there’s only one spot), we’ll show you an example from one of our SEO client's, an independent firm of chartered surveyors and planning consultants:
A potential client is doing some top of the funnel research, so they go to their Google Home, [OK Google, what is an access audit?]
Google will now find the answer, as shown below, in the form of a featured snippet created from the designated Access Audit page on our client's site. Google will read it out loud, and state the cited source (Evans Jones).
So the potential customer is getting the answer they need from a business offering the service they are enquiring about, and Evans Jones are getting the brand mention every time the featured snippet is read out, helping brand recognition and brand authority. It’s essentially Google declaring one company, Evans Jones, the Access Audit expert.
What’s impressive from Google’s side, is that if you follow your question with another voice search and replace the products/services name with ‘it’, for example “How much does it cost?”.
Google understands your intent by incorporating the previous search into account,. Recognising that ‘it’ is referring to the Access Audit, and offers you another highly relevant answer from another featured snippet, if available. That’s where Google’s love affair with romance novels plays its part, showing impressive conversational search abilities.
Why does that matter?
Because it provides a clear understanding that Google, and other voice search platforms, are focusing heavily on user-experience and ensuring they’re offering the best experience they can.
How do they give the best user-experience?
Giving quick and easy answers that are being pulled directly from featured snippets. Content pulled directly from a relevant website created by someone else. In this instance, our client's.
How did we get featured snippets for our client?
- Identified a common, relevant question related to the client's service offering
- Matched the question with a clear, marked up heading
- Immediately followed by a direct, valuable answer in a concise paragraph
- Made it easy for site visitors and Google to find the service page and answer
It must be noted that there is no guarantee with featured snippets, and that it's completely up to Google as to whether a particular source is cited and/or whether a featured snippet is even triggered at all!
What about Structured data though?
For a quick understanding, structured data helps search engines understand web page content through pieces of specific code being added the web page in a specific format. This helps search engines to display search results in a more effective format. Search engines use this code to generate ‘rich snippets’, pieces of extra information that appear in a search result giving a better user experience. For example, a burger recipe shown below with rating, reviews, duration and calories alongside the result on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
Always make sure that Structured Data is integrated into your website’s backend. It’s important due to being one of the signals that Google uses to help power its search results. As Google states, “our first priority is to help our users find relevant, engaging answers for their search queries”. It’s sole purpose is to help Google better understand the content on your site, and crawl (and show) the data more efficiently. All this can help your exposure and click through rates on search engines. Structured data however, did not produce this featured snippet directly.
3. Write in a natural, conversational tone
We find ourselves regularly advising this to our clients. We commonly find that when people start writing content online, they seem to turn on their corporate, robot voices regardless of context, and forget they’re writing to other humans! Dull, mundane content isn’t well received. With voice search, write relevant content that answers your potential customers questions in a natural, conversational tone. Concentrate on semantic search and building the context related to answering a question.
With Google's assistant, nearly 70% of requests are "natural" or made in "conversational” language, and technology has evolved enough that voice recognition accuracy is now at about 95%. So it’s time to raise your (natural) voice!
4. Focus on mobile first
This one’s fairly obvious, but voice searches are more likely to be conducted on mobile devices than desktop and tablet devices. Optimising for mobile is essential regardless of voice search this day and age. The number of our client's receiving a higher number of traffic from mobile than desktop or tablet is rising steadily.
Responsive Web Design
Allowing your website to adapt to the users device through responsive web design is just one of the ways in which to optimise your website for your mobile audience:
Page Load Speed
Page load speed has a significant influence on conversion rates, website ranking, bounce rates and revenue figures. It’s been known for a while now that every second counts with load time and site performance, and around 40% of people abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Having a fast, optimised site will help achieve a strong site ranking and improve mobile user experience.
Format videos to show full-screen regardless of whether the screen is held vertically or horizontally. This will improve the mobile user experience.
Intrusive Interstitial Ads
Remove intrusive interstitial ads and/or annoying promotional messages as Google’s mobile popup algorithm is apparently live, although many have said they’ve not seen much impact on their rankings as a result of ignoring Google's warnings.. Google could turn up the dial at anytime though so is it worth the risk?
With this in mind, consider the frequency and intent of any popup messages on your website which are not initiated by the user. Do they provide a promotion or inform in a way that will be genuinely appealing to the majority of your audience? Do the pop ups compromise usability? If they risk compromising usability and/or frustrating your audience, consider a compromise whereby you incorporate your promotional message into the primary site content, as opposed to an annoying popup.
The beauty of optimising for voice search, mobile and responsive design, is that it improves your overall SEO as well. Higher rankings, increased exposure and traffic levels are a one way ticket to prompting higher conversions and revenue from your website. Secure ‘position zero’ results with featured snippets and get a head start over your competitors. Write relevant, insightful and original content in a natural and conversational tone.
Half of all searches are now long-tail searches, so optimising content and completing regular keyword research and search term analysis is crucial to keep your content current and build competitiveness. Make sure you capitalise on this opportunity to discover what people are actually searching, and also to help discover what people are ‘saying’ in voice searches. Finding long tail searches that present new opportunities for additional ranking in the search results will help guide your voice search strategy.
Voice search and mobile usage are very clearly on the rise, and you should be optimising your SEO and Digital Marketing strategy to take full advantage of the opportunities. Overlooking voice search isn’t a smart option these days if you want to get ahead of your competitors. It’s time to start acting, because it’s already here, and it’s here to stay.
Or for more crucial insights read another from SOZO’s Blog: