How voice search will affect your SEO strategy 

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Voice search is taking off in Australia, thanks to the popularity of smart speakers. Find out what this means for content marketers.

Emily Tatti

Smart speakers are going to be a big seller in Australia this Christmas, especially now that Amazon Echo and Apple’s HomePod are on the market. According to Telsyte, we can’t get enough of the technology. Though smart speakers have only been available to us since July 2017, 1.5 million Australian households already own one. 

This might not seem like relevant news for content marketers, but it could actually have a huge impact on how we write SEO-friendly content.  

It’s true most users rely on their smart speakers to stream music, but it’s also common to ask the built-in virtual assistant questions about everything from nearby cafes to tomorrow’s weather. In fact, one fifth of all Google searches around the world are voice searches, and experts predict that 50 per cent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. This is why it’s so important that content marketers learn how to rank for voice search now – because it’s not going anywhere.  

How does voice search work? 

Voice search is a new frontier, which means SEO experts are still learning how it interacts with Google. But before we dive into what they know, it’s worth recapping the basics of voice search.     

Users can conduct voice searches with any smart device, from mobile phones and laptops, TVs and fridges, to wearables and in-car smart speakers. Their queries will go through one of the three main virtual assistants – Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon) or Google Assistant (Google, obviously). All are activated when users say a wake word – for example, Siri is activated by “Hey Siri” and Alexa is activated by "Alexa" "Echo" or "Computer". From there, answers are sourced from either Google or Bing. 

What are people searching for? 

According to Google, this is what smart speaker owners want when they search for brands:   

Information about deals, sales and promotions 
Personalised tips and information to make life easier 
Information about upcoming events or activities 
Options to find business information (store location, hours) 
 Access to customer service or support 

Currently, industries with a physical address are the most impacted by voice search, particularly restaurants. In the US, one in four consumers who ask for a nearby restaurant will visit the venue that their virtual assistant suggests. 

While there have been privacy concerns regarding how smart devices store data (research from Telsyte shows that 41 per cent of Australians are more concerned about cyber security than they were last year), the convenience factor is clearly winning consumers over. The most common times to use voice search include when we’re cooking, watching TV, exercising – and apparently, when we’re in the bathroom!  

What makes voice searches different to written searches? 

One of the most significant differences is that ranking is a lot harder. On a desktop search, you have 10 chances to rank on page one of Google. That shrinks to three chances when someone does a voice search on their mobile. And one chance when someone does a voice search on their smart speaker, because the virtual assistant will only recite the best answer. 

Then there’s the way voice searches are asked. When you’re talking to someone, obviously you’re going to use a complete sentence – “Where can I find the best coffee in Richmond?” whereas you’ll leave out words and trust Google to understand your meaning when you type it out – “best coffee Richmond.” Focusing on conversational long-tail keywords will become even more important in the future. 

How does voice search impact SEO? 

While there is a lot of overlap, SEO experts agree that search engines favour slightly different criteria when ranking voice searches. Here are the main elements to think about: 

Page speed 

The average time it takes to load a website is 8.66 seconds, and a mobile site 22 seconds. However, voice searches favour results that load in under 5 seconds. Take a look at Crazy Egg for tips that will help you speed up your website. Most suggestions involve compressing your files in the back-end, so it’s worth asking your developer about this one. 

Website security 

Google has already confirmed that it prefers HTTPS websites. A study by Backlinkto suggests that HTTPS is an even more important ranking factor for voice searches. Switching your website to HTTPS means that all information is encrypted, so it’s good practice in general, and it shouldn’t be difficult for your developer to do. 

Long form content 

According to Backlinko, 40.7 per cent of all voice search answers come from a Featured Snippet (the brief extract that often appears at the top of the search results page). To increase your chances of ranking in this coveted spot, use your content to answer "who, what, when, where, why, how" questions.  

Google also tends to source a voice search answer from long form content exceeding 2,000 words (this makes sense – the longer the content, the more likely you have answered someone’s query). However, virtual assistants will look for a concise sentence within that content because it’s easier to pronounce (the average voice search answer is only 29 words) – meaning simple, easy-to-read language is crucial. You can use tools such as SEMrush and the Hemingway Editor to check the complexity of your sentences.  

Domain authority 

The higher your website’s authority, the better, whether you’re trying to rank for a written search or a voice search. Domain authority is a search engine ranking score that was developed by Moz to indicate how trustworthy and valuable a website is – for example, Facebook has a domain authority score of 100 (the highest possible score) because it’s one of the most popular websites in the world.  

You can check your score by entering your URL into Website Authority Checker. Websites that rank in voice searches have an average domain rating of 76.8. According to Moz, the best way to increase your authority is to work on your overall SEO. Take a look at our article on how to improve your search engine ranking on Google for more tips on this.   

Social media engagement 

Content with an extremely high number of shares (1000+ on Facebook) seems to appear more in voice search answers. However, before you start funnelling all of your budget into social media, it’s worth remembering that Google does not use social media signals in its algorithm. Instead, this demonstrates a relationship between a content’s overall quality and its shareability, which is a strong reminder that everything you publish should be as engaging as possible. 

Right now, it’s hard to track how well your website is performing in voice searches because this metric isn’t separated out in Google Analytics.  

It’s understandable why Google hasn’t made this change just yet, because there are ethical concerns (people are afraid their devices are ‘listening’ to them and this would confirm that). However, it seems inevitable that there will be a way to monitor voice searches in the future, so watch this space. In the meantime, you can start implementing some of these strategies now, to keep your brand ahead of the curve. 

Emily Tatti, assistant editor 


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