When I first spoke to Siri, I acted like the most high-school, skeptical, ridiculous version of myself. “Hey Siri. Can you call me Bunny?” – “Yeah, sure, Bunny.” – “You’re a *****.” – “Bunny, your language!”
If you’re anything like me, you started playing around with voice search not because you believed it was at least slightly useful, but because you wanted to see just how badly it’d work. You threw silly jokes at Siri and asked her sophisticated questions, so you could go and tell your friends how slow-witted she was.
But, surprise surprise, she wasn’t.
Neither are Cortana and Google Now (or its upgraded version, the Google assistant). Skeptical as we were when virtual assistants became a thing, we’ve grown to use them a lot, for real day-to-day tasks – like searching for things online. According to MindMeld, in 2015 voice search jumped from zero to 50 billion searches a month.
Google recently said that 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches, and the ratio of voice search is growing faster than type search.
Let’s look at the implications the rise of voice search has for SEO in 2017.
1. The even bigger bigness of mobile
With almost all voice queries coming from smartphones, voice search has a lot to do with the mobile boom. Presently, over half of search queries globally come from mobile. For Google, that’s enough to switch to mobile-first indexing – and for marketers in most industries, to understand that mobile should, in fact, come before desktop.
The first thing to do before you embrace the voice search trend is to take Google’s mobile-friendly test. Classifying as “mobile-friendly” is the prerequisite for ranking on mobile devices (as in, a page won’t rank in mobile search at all unless it passes the test).
A quick (and free) way to run the check is with WebSite Auditor — Google’s mobile-friendly test is incorporated into it. Just create a project for your site, jump to the Content Analysis module, select a page you’d like to test, and enter your target keywords. When the analysis is complete, switch to the Technical factors tab and look at Page Usability (Mobile).
Granted, usability isn’t the only thing that matters for mobile SEO. Here are the other things to keep in mind when auditing your mobile site.
- Avoid Flash. Flash isn’t supported by most mobile (and increasingly many desktop) browsers. To make sure Google (and mobile visitors) can access all content on your site, it’s best to avoid the use of Flash on your mobile pages.
- Optimize load time. Fun fact: 40 percent 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.
You can find a comprehensive guide to mobile SEO here.
2. A different kind of keyword
People don’t search the same way with their vocal chords as they do with keyboards; they use natural-sounding phrases and questions instead of the odd query language. A great help in researching voice queries is a tool called Rank Tracker. In the app’s Keyword Research module, press Suggest keywords. Pick the Google Autocomplete method from the list, and type in keywords with wildcards. If, say, you’re researching topics for a blog post about SEO, these could be some good terms to enter:
Why * SEO
How * Google
What * search engines
You’ll end up with hundreds of questions you can target.
3. Conversational content
We’ve been goodbye-ing with exact-match keywords since the launch of Hummingbird in 2013, but voice queries clearly make the old-school approach to on-page SEO a thing of the past for good.
For SEOs, the voice trend means we may need to re-think our content. The first step towards this is understanding the customer’s conversational speech (see point two above). Don’t be surprised to find consumers going “Okay Google! I’m looking for — what d’ya call it — an app that will help me get things done with reminders and stuff”. That won’t make a tagline for your productivity app, but it can help you create the copy that speaks your customers’ language.
Second, voice searchers usually have more urgent needs in mind. Google calls these needs micro-moments and divides them into 4 types:
The urgency is the crucial part. Research the questions your customers are asking, and offer quick answers and immediate solutions on your blog, FAQ pages, and social media posts.
4. Location, location, location
Location plays a role in 80 percent of all searches, but voice searches are even more location-focused than typed queries. This means that setting up your site correctly for local search is crucial, especially if you run a local business. Here are the main things to pay attention to.
- Reviews: The number of reviews is critical for ranking in Google’s local pack. Encourage customers to leave reviews, and don’t forget to respond to the negative ones. Here’s one example (from Search Engine People) of a customer who took the time to change their review because of the manager’s response:
- Google My Business page: Register with Google My Business and make sure all details are up-to-date. Put up a unique description for your business, choose the right categories, and upload at least five photos.
- Photos: The number of photos on your business page matters to Google a lot, so it pays to take the time to take the pictures (or hire a photographer to do it for you).
- Schema markup: Utilizing microdata can give your site a local ranking boost for non-branded keywords. The local section of Schema.org has a variety of categories you can use, including address, phone, and working hours.
5.Getting ready to embrace change
The possibilities of Siri, Cortana, and now the Google assistant go way beyond searching for things. These little helpers can already complete tasks (e.g., take notes and set alarms), and their skillsets will continue to expand.
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’.”
It looks like things virtual assistants will be able to do (booking tables at restaurants, buying tickets, etc.) are still going to be powered by search, opening up a new market for SEOs — one where we’ll be competing to become virtual assistants’ preferred services. As we’ll be fighting to become the restaurant that the Google assistant books or the provider it orders tickets from, the competition will likely be much tougher than in today’s SEO – after all, there’ll only be one spot to compete for.