29 March 2017 | James Jezusek

OK Google. What does Voice Search mean for SEO?

The continuing rise of mobile, smart ‘digital assistants’ such as Google’s own Home product due to launch in the UK in April, Amazon’s Alexa, plus a surge in connected devices such as in-car assistants has given rise to a shift in the way people are searching for information and products online, by using voice search instead of typing keyword searches into Google.

The trend is increasing rapidly, with 50% of all searches predicted to be voice searches by 2020 and 30% of all searches to be carried out without a screen by 2020.

It’s clear voice search is mobile, and already part of everyday life. According to Comscore, 40% of adults now use one voice search per day, and Social Media Today reports that 50% of people are now using voice search when researching products. It’s a trend driven mostly by convenience. As the technology ecosystem has developed, it’s become quicker, and easier to speak to search, rather than type. Humans can actually speak 150 words per minute versus typing 40 words per minute.

Technology reliability and increased precision have also accelerated adoption. Speaking at Advertising Week Europe last week, Matt Bush, the Google UK performance director claimed Google’s voice recognition accuracy is now at 92% in its ability to understand what people say. Last year it was 75%. As a result, Google has seen people use more natural sentences instead of query language, such as “What’s the weather like in Paris?” vs. “weather Paris.”

Google showed us it was ahead of the curve in anticipating this change by introducing latent semantic indexing with its Hummingbird algorithm update back in 2013. The change meant it began to determine intent behind user queries and focused more on semantic language. It accelerated a change in SEO to focusing more on inherently useful and in-depth content, rich with context, rather than keywords.

Voice search is another step in this direction and shows us that it’s more and more important to be aware of “the why” behind what users are searching for. According to Matt Bush, when it comes to search, people search for various reasons including researching a product or service (20%), finding out about world events (15%), discovering something new (11%) and exploring how to do something (11%).

Providing answers to questions not only allows you to rank your website for thematically relevant keyword searches, it also increases your brand’s topical authority, and increases trust between your brand, customers and potential customers. Adjusting to natural language search also helps you think more like a consumer and less like a marketer. This improved understanding of what your customers are currently seeking can lead to new product and service ideas to improve your business offering.

How do I optimise my website for Voice Search?

Focus on natural content backed by long tail keyword research

Speak the language used by your customers. This will ensure you’re not only providing long-tail keyword phrases in your content, but you will be closely matching user intent.

A simple trick to start understand what type of keyword searches your customers might be searching is to use a wildcard search in Google. Use key question words such as ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ followed by an asterisk and then your product or service. Google instant search will populate with ten or so frequently searched questions around your product. In the example below I searched ‘how * seo”, and I can see a number of topics I can start to build content around.

Use Schema markup to provide context

Schema markup is a great tool for helping Google better understand your site and its content. The markup is added to your existing HTML and provides Google with more context around the content. It’s especially useful for securing Rich Snippets in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), and to secure answers in Google’s Answer Box for any relevant questions.
Technical implementation is still very important

Keep all of your resources crawlable and ensure key pages such as directions to brick and mortar locations and XML Sitemaps are readable to visitors and search engines on your website. Mobile voice-related searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text.

Make sure your Mobile site is fast

40% of mobile searchers will wait no more than three seconds before abandoning a site. Compressing your images is the simplest way to improve mobile UX and page speed, however, there is a whole host of optimisation that can be carried out in order to ensure a quick loading experience. Making use of Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is a great way to ensure your site loads quickly on a mobile device. You’ll also want to ensure that you understand the principles of creating mobile-friendly content.

Add an FAQ

Use your site search and keyword research to investigate the most common questions from users about your service or products. Adding questions and answering them conversationally (with structured data markup) will appeal to both search engines and users alike.

The Future of voice Search

With 25 million devices projected to be shipped in 2017, bringing the total number of voice-first devices to 33 million in circulation, it’s clear adoption shows no signs of slowing, and it’s clear the capabilities, use cases and potentials for Voice Search are still in their relative infancy.

As Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, explains, “Because of our voice recognition and natural language processing” the Google assistant understands context. “Imagine going a step further over time.” Instead of merely answering general queries, you can ask more pointed questions and even ask the assistant to follow up with tasks. “I might ask, ‘Is Jungle Book any good?’ Then I might have it pick up tickets, after which I’ll receive a response that ‘It’s a few hours before the movie and your tickets are here’.”

As the millennial generation grows up with search, favouring convenience and experience over the more price-driven decision comparison websites of the past, punching for the top spot; the restaurant Google recommends in the area or the most helpful brand, is more important than ever. It’s a new market for SEOs, where we’ll be competing to become virtual assistant’s preferred services, but the tools and knowledge already exist to incorporate voice search strategies and capitalise, ahead of competitors, on the change.


James Jezusek

James Jezusek

Head of SEO at Tamar.