Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant… They’re all recognized names for the artificially intelligent virtual assistants we use every day.
In just the first year of being readily available on the market, from 2014 to 2015, voice search skyrocketed from a statistical zero to around 10 percent of global search volume. That amounts to about 50 billion voice searches every month.
Furthermore, studies have shown that approximately 13 percent of all households in the United States own a smart speaker, such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, and the Apple HomePod.
What can we expect in the near future for voice search?
Looking into the future, it is predicted that 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by the end of 2020. It is no wonder that Amazon’s Alexa was their number one selling item during the 2017 Christmas season.
In November of 2017 I had the privilege of presenting on chatbots at Information Development World. While speaking was a great opportunity and provided some excellent learnings, seeing other presentations and speaking with attendees was even more fulfilling. Voice search was one of the hot topics at IDW 2017.
Several of the attendees were Amazon employees that worked on the Alexa team. While they couldn’t share exact numbers, they did indicate that Alexa is one of their fastest-growing employee segments and that Amazon is seeing Alexa as a main driver for future revenue.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a soon-to-graduate BYU MBA student. He disclosed that he was going to be working for Amazon upon graduation. When asked which division he was working for, he told me it was the Alexa group. He also indicated that they are hiring into the Alexa group so actively that he wasn’t sure yet which aspect of the Alexa product he was going to be working on.
This got me wondering… How many people is Amazon employing for their Alexa product? Last September, Amazon disclosed that the number was 5,000 employees, though I can only imagine how much larger the pool is now that Alexa was the top-selling Christmas gift last year.
Amping up your website for voice search optimization (VSO)
Take a step out of your marketing shoes for just a moment. When we do a voice search, we use different words than if we were typing on a keyboard. We speak differently and word things differently than if we were writing or typing. Therefore, it’s important to consider this when crafting content and optimizing it for voice search. This has implications for marketers who are concerned with SEO.
Additionally, since these voice searches are being conducted using mobile devices, it is becoming increasingly important for websites to be mobile-friendly, or they won’t get their share of the valuable voice search traffic.
How can you ensure that your website pulls in those voice searches? Here are several tips that will help you leverage martech and voice search marketing best practices to optimize your site for mobile devices in 2019 and beyond.
1. Take the test.
According to TheNextWeb.com, your first step should be to take Google’s “mobile-friendliness” test. This report will give you a basic “yes” or “no” on whether your page is friendly to mobile users. It will also show you the resources on the page that could not be loaded. If you want to gauge the usability of your entire site, log into your Google account to use the sitewide mobile usability report.
2. Ask questions and keep it conversational.
Keep in mind that people often ask their virtual assistants questions instead of inserting in a couple of keywords. As you plan your new mobile-friendly SEO strategy, incorporate question words like “how,” “why,” “when,” “where,” and “what.” Around 10 percent of voice queries start with those words.
Write your web page copy and blog articles the same way that people talk. For example, rather than writing, “The difficulty lies in adequately enhancing performance for online-based platforms so that users may discover the specific information for which they are searching,” instead say, “How do you optimize your website so users can easily find what they want?”
By speaking the mobile user’s language, you’ll be more likely to grab your share of the incoming mobile search traffic. To gain even more insight into voice-based search engine optimization, consider using a tool like Link Assistant’s Rank Tracker. Another tool that will help you generate phrases, questions to answer, and other ideas around a topic is: Answer the Public.
3. Deprecate Flash.
We all know that Flash is just about dead. The Verge published an article back in 2016, announcing that Google was planning on starting to block Flash in Google Chrome. The reason behind this decision initially was due to a heavy drain on battery life, a number of security problems, and other issues.
Additionally, the lack of support for Flash as well as Flash-based content made it difficult for users to browse a website with a smartphone or other mobile device. And any difficulty you’ve built into your primary piece of marketing technology, your website, will hurt your user experience and the likelihood that Google will show your site in voice search results.
Instead of making your visitors work for it, remove this obstacle altogether and smooth the way for incoming mobile users. You can find other ways to present the content you want your users to see.
4. Make it quick.
Did you know that 40 percent of mobile users will only wait 3 seconds or so before giving up on your website and moving on? That’s why it is crucial that you ensure fast load times for your mobile webpages. Talk to your web design guys and IT gurus about how to compress images and increase page load speed.
5. Use local listings.
Many mobile users are interested in finding specific locations near them. They might ask their mobile AI to “find Chinese restaurants near me” or to locate “Realtors in Greenville, South Carolina.”
To get a piece of this location-sensitive pie, you’ll need to include your business in Google’s listings. Make sure that all your information is present and accurate so that Google can help people find you. A helpful article from SearchEngineLand.com can give you insight into Google’s methods for ranking your pages in local search.
6. Solicit local reviews.
Local reviews are like gold in the world of local search rankings. Through social media campaigns, discounts, giveaways, and simply asking for them, encourage your customers to leave reviews for your business on Yelp and Google. The more positive reviews you have out there, the more likely it is that mobile users will see your business and come to you for goods or services.
7. Make your site AMP-friendly.
Another speaker at Information Development World was content strategist and content engineering expert, Cruce Saunders. In his session, he highlighted the importance of making your content voice-search-friendly.
In particular, he indicated the importance of creating structured, semantically rich content. Interestingly, at this IDW conference in November 2017, it still wasn’t entirely clear what kind of content would be considered semantically rich in the eyes of Google and Amazon.
In the last several years, Google has shared light on which semantic layouts are important to their voice search algorithm. In hopes that I won’t put anyone asleep, I’m going to summarize what Google has been telling site owners: Make sure your website is AMP-friendly. That’s it. If your site is AMP-friendly, then Google says they have what they need to scrape your content and use it in voice search. Here is a helpful ClearVoice guide on setting up an AMP ready website.
As of June 2019, the Amazon Echo has sold more than 100M+ devices. And at the time of this writing, Amazon’s requirements for voice search-friendly websites closely resemble those of Google. Therefore, if you optimize your website with keywords that are voice search-friendly, your website is on its way to be AMP-lified.
8. Let the bots crawl.
Make it really easy for Googlebot and other search engines to crawl your site. This is how search engines discover new pages, find updated content, and identify web pages and content to add to Google’s massive index.
Google offers plenty of information about how you can ensure that your website is crawl-worthy and easy for the bots to access. Google even supplies a “crawl errors” report where you can see if the Googlebot encountered any roadblocks while crawling your site.
9. Adjust Google Search Console/directory page settings.
Modifying the settings for the “directory page” items under your Google Search Console will allow you to specify to Google Assistant how your company’s name, description, and logo will be surfaced by Google Assistant.
If you don’t set these up, Google will do its best to autofill them for you. While Google hasn’t come out and admitted this, some experts believe that if you’re proactive in updating these directory page settings it will put your site higher in the voice search algorithm used by Google. Google provides this easy guide to setting up your directory page.
10. Optimize your images.
If you haven’t already, take the time to go back and optimize your images on your website with the appropriate tags, titles, and captions. Although this might seem like an overwhelming and time-consuming task, it can drastically help make your site voice search-friendly.
Think about it: Now that you understand just how many users have a voice search device in their homes, you want to make sure those users see your awesome photos.
11. Use featured snippets.
If you aren’t sure what a “featured snippet” is by name, we are willing to bet that you will recognize them with a visual example. For example, I typed in this basic keyword, “what is a featured snippet” into a Google search.
The results that populated in the screenshot below is what a featured snippet looks like, which typically appears at the top of the SERPs.
Ultimately, as described in the example above, the featured snippet answers the user’s query right away. Featured snippets are more important than ever today, especially with the number of voice search queries. If you include a Featured Snippet, then a voice assistant will read the answer directly from there.
12. Consider user intent.
Remember, users who rely on voice search aren’t that much different than users who prefer to manually type and search for content and information. All in all, users want immediate results, regardless of their search method.
In regards to voice search, this means that you need to consider user intent. For example, most users rely on voice search for directions, or other general and local information.
As a result, users may not actually visit your website to find this information, but Google will return the top sites and locations, based on reviews as well as the distance from the user’s location. User intent makes local content and SEO, reviews, and featured snippets that much more important.
Are you ready to AMP up your website for VSO?
All in all, VSO is a top marketing trend for 2019 and beyond, and clearly isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, VSO is only expected to grow in the not-too-distant future. Is your website ready?
Optimizing your website for VSO doesn’t have to be overly complicated or as time-consuming as you might think. In many cases, it might take some small tweaks and rewording some of your existing content to make it more conversational and easier for search engines to pick up.
Most of the tips we provided above are general best practices and should be considered in your SEO and content marketing strategies anyhow, especially if you are trying to target and reach a local audience.
Are you ready to jump in and start optimizing your website for voice search? By following the tips and steps outlined above, you can make sure you hit each area of content and your website to optimize for VSO.
Remember: Evaluate your site for mobile-friendliness and find ways to integrate a conversational style and question phrases into your content. Additionally, optimize your marketing technology stack: Drop the Flash-based content; speed up page load times; and work on garnering those local accolades.
With time, hard work, and the help of some handy online tools, you can draw a whole new crowd of mobile users to your website.