For all the content sites out there, driving traffic and cutting through the noise to get visitors’ attention becomes increasingly harder. Hence, getting a website optimized so that Google and the likes understand what it’s about and get it in front of more people becomes critical.
While the majority of publishers and bloggers have a decent understanding of search engine optimization (SEO), voice SEO is another story. Why should you care?
Because voice search is huge and getting bigger by the day as more and more people discover the value of voice technology. In this case, it’s far easier and convenient to speak than to type so you would do well to apply the basics in order to rank high(er) on the search engine result page (SERP).
There are a number of things you can do to voice-optimize your website because optimizing content for voice search differs from the usual SEO practices. What exactly can you do to lay a solid foundation? For starters:
Run a “radio test”
Having content that is easily pronounceable is beneficial for voice search. The goal is to have audio-ready content so that the voice assistant in question can pronounce it correctly. Some elements like links, abbreviations, numerals, acronyms, and special characters are problematic because they differ from the standard phonetic and semantic representations.
For example, check out the audio version of this post. You can click to listen and hear for yourself how it all sounds through a layer of voice technology, and check if everything is easily understood (as on radio).
Get the big picture first
You need to understand the fundamental differences between voice search SEO and traditional website SEO in terms of rankings. Factors that typically affect website rankings aren’t necessarily the ones that affect voice search and vice versa, even though Google uses the same algorithm for rankings. As we move from short keywords to long phrases and queries, all with their specific nuances, there’s more effort involved now.
Probably the first aspect you should pay attention to is the meaning and accuracy of the user’s input. As a general rule of thumb, voice queries are often imprecise because there are no do-overs. Speech comes with a fair share of filler words and pauses because voice is more intuitive and natural as an interface, meaning it’s often more spontaneous without clear intent at first.
Voice search uses conversational queries that usually have a specific action in mind. These are complete sentences that include long-tail keywords but that doesn’t mean you should go Dostoevsky on your visitors. Google actually prefers short and concise answers with around 30 words. As a bonus, it helps to have easy-to-read content.
Focus on the intent
All of the above leads to arguably the biggest difference in voice SEO – the user intent. Because the process has evolved to include spoken searches, there is more detail attached to a query. The catch is that intent either is or isn’t expressed (explicitly or not) so the trick is to offer an immediate answer. Google understands this and focuses largely on the semantics and the broader contextual relevance of the query.
For instance, ‘photo editing software’ likely turns to ‘best affordable photo editing software in 2019’. The logic is to aim for the most likely scenario, and mine is as relevant as can be (not expensive and up-to-date). With voice SEO, short-tail keywords need to have more information that a user would ask smart assistants rather than type in most cases.
It might surprise you to learn that long-form content fares/ranks best, both in voice and traditional search. For many, this is an area where voice search impacts SEO the most and for us bloggers, this is good news. According to Backlinko, the average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words. In general, voice places more emphasis on semantic search (the implied meaning of search queries) in order to determine the intent behind otherwise vague searches and provide a better experience.
Think of yourself as an FAQ
I often use that analogy to explain the “form” of voice SEO. Up until voice search burst onto the scene, the majority of website optimization focused on the most popular online searches through the use of almighty keywords. But because things have changed, it’s critical to remain focused on the user intent when structuring your content. One of the best ways to achieve this is by preemptively “answering” questions through partial sentences and conversational words.
A great example of such a FAQ-like approach are featured snippets. You’ve seen these – boxed answers extracted from a certain website, along with a title and link. While it’s tough to have your result featured (there’s a bit of advanced tinkering in order), you should always focus on structuring your content that way to rank high(er) in voice search results.
And now, a word from an expert:
“After you optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets, optimize for Bing Search and Bing’s Featured Snippets as Bing powers 45% of the voice devices on the market today,” says Katherine Watier Ong, SEO and social media strategist and owner of WO Strategies. Katherine has a great Bing voice SEO guide if you want to get things started with the “other” search engine.
As I’ve passingly mentioned before, long-tail keywords become very useful when optimizing content for voice search. Leveraging long-tail keywords is one of those practices that is good not only for voice search optimization but also for traditional SEO as phrases with three or more words face less competition (in the keyword sense) and offer better chances for top ranking. By nature, voice search is more mobile-centric, largely due to the omnipresence of smartphones, but also locally focused because it’s embedded into numerous apps and devices.
Having a mobile-friendly blog is a must
It should be obvious but I’d still like to cover this aspect, if not only for the sake of consistency. With more and more traffic coming from mobile devices along with voice searches, it’s vital to keep your blog updated according to responsive and adaptive mobile scripts. You can test thanks to Google and its Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
That being said, don’t forget about the “usual suspects” like page speed and local SEO (especially if you are running some kind of business), social engagement, as well as a few unconventionals ones like having an HTTPS-secured website – all of these have an effect on how well your content will perform in voice search.
Make your site audio friendly – provide the option to listen
Katherine also had another valuable piece of advice: create well-formatted audio content for audio indexing.
“Google has started to surface podcasts if the topic or person (entity) is present or mentioned within the audio file. You can then momentarily click to play the answer to your question starting at the time stamp where the podcast addresses your question. I believe in the near future Google will read off these answers to users.”
And I absolutely agree. Because the transition to audio and voice content is growing day by day, offering a listening experience will be important (not to mention mandatory) in the next few years. Google is already tinkering with indexing podcast content and returning audio clips in search results and I believe the trend will continue. Search engines will prioritize sites that provide an option to listen so having an audio player will be important SEO-wise in getting a better ranking.
Don’t forget about your old content
That would just about cover the basic voice SEO strategies when creating new content for your blog. When tidying up your blog, you can also optimize your old content, especially that with evergreen potential. The fact that high-ranking content in desktop search is likely to appear as a voice search should only encourage you. Think of the key question that each post answers, and optimize for that.
With voice search steadily evolving, you can expect more diverse effects on SEO, rankings, and choice of keywords. It will be equally important to keep a close eye on these developments as this is a fast-developing industry – you don’t want to miss anything.
Bonus: voice SEO checklist