In a world where Alexa, Siri, and Google Home are slowly becoming a part of our everyday lives, voice search results are starting to become more and more necessary to optimize for. By 2021, 36.6% of Americans will use a voice assistant at least once a month. Search engine optimization (SEO) is still very important, but as more and more people utilize their voice assistants, it’s time to start giving some attention to voice search optimization.
What is VSO?
Voice search optimization (VSO) is the method of tailoring your web content (landing pages, blogs, etc.) so that it is discoverable by Google to answer questions and display information based on voice search queries. VSO is a different facet of SEO (search engine optimization) because it focuses on keywords and content organization to meet the needs of these different types of queries.
The competition for VSO is also a lot different from normal SEO. Typically, SEO focuses more on having a presence on the first search engine result page (SERP) rather than focusing on the result hierarchy. However, with voice searches, 80% of answers delivered to users came from the top three results in a search engine results page. While SEO and VSO differ slightly, VSO results are a reflection of SEO efforts.
Why optimize for voice search?
Why are users increasingly using voice search more and more? Let’s take a look at some stats.
- 60% of all searches are performed on mobile devices and Google reports that 20% of all mobile searches are through voice.
- Voice search is 3.7 times faster than typing and voice search is easily integrated with mobile searches.
- In the US, 71% of 18 to 29 year-olds, 59% of 30 to 43 year-olds, 39% of 44 to 53 year-olds, and 38% of 54+ year-olds are using their mobile personal assistants for searches and other tasks, like making phone calls or texting.
- 45% of millennials use voice assistants while shopping
- 27.8% of people use voice assistants to search for product information
It’s also important to consider how people are using voice search:
- 21% fun and entertainment
- 22% local information
- 27% personal assistant
- 30% general info
With the prevalence of smartphones, users are leaning on voice assistants for internet searches, not to mention they’re more convenient if they’re preoccupied.
How do you Optimize for Voice Search queries?
Before you can start optimizing for voice search, you need to do research on what specific keywords and phrases will help increase your presence on the SERPs. When researching keywords for SEO, you are looking for short, to-the-point phrases and words; however, with VSO, you want to look at the long-tail keywords that are more conversational and include filler words (like “the,” ”of,” or ”for”).
We recommend using Answer The Public to research what questions and conversational queries people are asking based on the keywords you provide. It’s free and gives excellent search data that can help you identify the best keywords for VSO. For your site, embed long-tail keywords, a more specific search phrase and niche keyword, and conversation keywords into long-form content. This is done by including “filler” words in questions. For example instead of having “benefits of wireframes” change it to “What are the benefits of wireframes.” Just by implementing these small changes, your likelihood of showing up in voice searches increases drastically.
The two most frequently searched queries in voice search queries are “near me” and question phrases. “Near me” queries are when users ask about a certain business or general category. For example, these could be “Find a coffee shop near me” or “What restaurants are in SoHo” or “Clothing stores near the Empire State Building.” 22% of people use voice search to find local information.
In order to optimize your site for “near me” queries, incorporate keywords and phrases that users use to describe your location/neighborhood on your site, in title tags, meta descriptions, internal links, anchor text, etc. This can be done by mentioning what city you are in and even the specific neighborhood you are in. Users might also include landmarks or relevant and credible institutions near your location in their queries, so it’s important to consider those factors as well.
There are many ways to incorporate keywords on your web content in order to optimize for voice search. There are three main content types that work well for VSO:
- Informational intent (guides, how-to’s, etc.)
- Navigational intent (store location, services, press releases, customer service info)
- Transactional intent (videos, product information, comparisons, product stories)
When creating this content you should always consider and include the questions your customers are asking most so voice search queries will pick up your answers. You can use tools like SEMrush, Google Trends, or Ahrefs to not only find keywords, but also relevant questions that people are searching with these keywords in them. Readability should also be at a 9th-grade reading level so it’s easily accessible to a wide range of users. Hemingway Editor is a great tool to use to check your content’s readability. It’s also important to be concise and to the point because users want answers fast and will ask the question again to their device if they don’t quickly find what they’re looking for.
It is also important to understand what point your customer is in their customer journey (awareness, interest, evaluation, purchase, customer support, and loyalty) and to tailor questions to those points. “What “ and “Who” questions signal the user is in the research phase whereas asking “Where” shows they are almost ready to buy.
We recommend using Markup Schema in order to make your site more “crawlable”. Markup Schema is a great way for you to tell Google what the information on your site is actually about. For example, tagging information with a particular property (ie address, email, author, etc.) shows Google that the information it’s looking at is a person, date, article, etc. With markup schema, Google can more accurately (and quickly) find specific information on your site and present it to the user when they use voice search.
One final recommendation is to include an FAQ page for every subject on your site. FAQs are the best way to not only answer commonly asked customer questions but to show up in voice search queries. When writing these pages it’s important to understand how your customers are both describing your products and what questions they’re asking to increase your likelihood of winning the top spot in a voice search query.
Many of the above suggestions will also assist in obtaining a featured snippet. Featured snippets are a summary of answers to a user's query, which is displayed on top of Google search results. These are the best way to ensure that your response is being displayed or voiced when a user is searching for that specific query.
The list can go on and on, but here are a few more suggestions we recommend for on-site VSO:
- Ensure restricted data pages are not blocked using robot.txt and other control methods
- Improve site speed (use Google’s PageSpeed Insights)
- Use structured data
- Have a good domain rating
Most importantly, ensure your site is mobile-friendly because the majority of voice search questions come from mobile devices.
The most important off-site VSO tip we’ve found is to have a Google My Business account that is updated with as much relevant and important information as possible so that anyone can easily search for it. This includes:
- Office hours
- Contact details
- Correct categories for what your business is (not what it does or sells)
- Introduction fields (this is your business pitch with relevant keywords)
Be sure to submit a detailed sitemap to Google (often), especially if you change anything on your site or add more main navigation pages.
If you are really serious about VSO, you can create your own Google Actions or Alexa Skills. These features are built-in capabilities that allow users to interact with your content or app easily. It can create a back-and-forth conversation with your brand that gets customer’s questions answered in the most streamlined way possible.
“Hey Siri, What Is VSO?”
If you’re looking for a more in-depth understanding of VSO, you might want to study up on natural language processes. Natural language processes help you to not only understand how to improve your site, but also how programs like Alexa and Siri are processing information and retrieving results based on search queries. As natural language processing and artificial intelligence technologies improve to understand language and how we communicate, we will gradually rely more on voice search and less on manual searching.