Optimize Content For Voice Search: Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have received a fair amount of publicity. Despite this, it was Hummingbird, released almost five years ago, that turned the idea of search upside down. It marked the beginning of Google’s effort to analyze intent.
By processing natural language, the update allowed Google to begin to understand user intent. It allows users to search using language (words and syntax) that is natural to them. Without it, we would still be typing keywords into the search bar and trying to figure out what to put in quotes.
How Hummingbird led to voice search
Imagine trying to use voice search without Google‘s ability to understand spoken language. Instead of searching for local movie theaters showing the Black Panther movie by saying, “Show me the closest movie theaters showing the Black Panther movie,” you’d have to reduce everything to the correct keywords.
You’d probably even have to use the old search within the search results: ‘movie theaters in my city,’ ‘open now,’ and ‘Black Panther. Hummingbird laid the groundwork that made voice search possible and pretty easy to use. Now Google has gone even further: not only is it able to understand what you’re asking based on the words and phrases you use, but it also learns your speech patterns and accent.
Of course, as with anything, you can’t just rely on search engine updates. You have to make sure your Web content is optimized to work with this technology. This applies to voice search as well as everything else. In fact, failing to optimize and update your content could result in a loss of rankings or a penalty.
To make sure your content is optimized for voice search, follow these five steps.
1) Think about frequently asked questions
Even though natural language is being used much more frequently than in the past, it’s important to remember that there are still differences between the phrases people use in voice searches and traditional Internet searches. You may have noticed some of these differences when you did a Google search:
Input: movie theater hours
Voice: Show me movie theater hours.
Enter: Thai food delivery in my area
Voice: Which restaurants deliver Thai food?
Entry: directions to Six Flags
Voice: Take me to Six Flags.
If you pay attention, you may notice a pattern. When you talk to customers on the phone or in person, there’s a good chance that they use the same words and phrases as they do in voice search. Study the questions they ask you and pay attention to the phrases you hear over and over again. Then answer those questions.
One option is a frequently asked questions page. After all, what better way to reflect the voice snippet answer you get when you ask a Google question? It’s usually a short, concise answer to your question.
Remember, though, that you don’t have to stick to just the traditional, single FAQ page. Just keep this structure in mind. You can also consider the most important questions people ask about your business, and then build an information page around each of those questions.
Don’t forget to optimize existing pages for voice search
It’s good practice to look at each page of your site and determine what question you’re trying to answer. Are visitors coming to each page looking for information about your company’s history? an explanation of how a particular product works? a description of a popular, special offer your business is known for?
For example, if you sell beautiful handmade furniture, you might describe one of your products as a “primitive maple dining table.” That’s fine, but if your customers are looking for “heavy kitchen table with yellow trim,” it makes it less likely that they’ll actually find what they’re looking for in a voice search. In a sense, you’re researching long keywords that your customers might use.
2) Use structured data.
Creating relevant content is the best way to optimize for voice search. There are other ways to help search engines better understand your content and how it should be ranked and categorized. Structured data can be used to do this.
Using schema markup language has not been proven to have a direct impact on page ranking. However, it can still help optimize your site and blog content for voice search.
Structured language is not something that is visible to people reading your content. Instead, it is microdata embedded in your code that search engines can read to better understand your content (check out this great guide to using structured data on your site).
If you’ve ever searched for any type of business and seen hours of operation, contact information and other data in the search engine results, that’s the result of using structured data.
Another example of this is often seen when searching for recipes. When photos, cooking steps and ingredients appear in search results, it is because markup language has been used to highlight this information from the content on the site.
Here’s how using structured data can help in voice searches. Much of voice search is local. People typically use their phones when looking for information such as directions, phone numbers, business hours and other relevant information. Using structured data, you can highlight such information on your site.
To make sure everything is in order, use Google’s structured data testing tool to make sure you’re on the right track.
3) Make sure the content is mobile-friendly
As mentioned, mobile devices are a major source of voice search, which is 1,000,000,001 reasons why your website or blog should be mobile-friendly!
In fact, now is the time to check if it’s as mobile-friendly as you think it is. Luckily, there are plenty of tools available to test whether your site is mobile-friendly:
When you test your site, you may be surprised to find that you should make some adjustments. To optimize your site for voice search, take the time and resources to fix any problems you have now. If you are using a CMS, you may want to consider themes, plugins, or other options that implement responsive design principles.
If you want to opt out of using any tool, just remember to apply the basics of mobile-friendly content writing and page layout:
- Use lots of white space.
- Break up your material into short paragraphs.
- Use subheadings, bullet points and numbered lists.
- Don’t use slow scripts or unoptimized images.
- Be concise. If content writing is not your strong suit, it may be time to outsource at least some of these tasks.
4) Aim for Featured Snippets.
Sometimes if you ask Google a question, it will take the answer directly from the site and place it at the top of the first page of the SERP. This is called an answer box, snippet, or null position.
If Google’s voice search answers your question directly, it will use the information from that box. For example, if you type “how to catch catfish” into the search box, you will see the following:
If you do the same search with voice, Google will answer, “According to Shakespeare-fishing.com…” Obviously, Shakespeare (the name of the company, not the British playwright) did the right thing, since they rank first on the “How to Catch Catfish” query.
Google’s voice search will also show the best local search results (“near me”). For example, if you ask Google to show you the nearest shopping mall, you will hear about the result at the top of the three local search results.
Here are a few tricks you can use to increase your chances of ranking as a snippet:
- Focus on ranking above the fold on the first page, as more than 99% of snippet snippets appear in the top ten of search results.
- Use the keywords most commonly used in search queries that produce snippets, including words like best, recipe, cost, price and definition. According to Ahrefs, 99.58% of the time Google only displays pages in snippets that are already in the top ten results.
- Use analytics to find out what keywords users are searching for (in hopes of finding your site).
- Pay attention to “also searched” questions and answer them in your content.
5) Take ownership of your Google My Business Listing page
Obviously, voice search is a local search, so the best way to optimize for voice search is to optimize for local. You’ll also have the added bonus of making it easier for your customers to find you.
On your website, you can do this by simply putting your location and contact information in a prominent place. Include this information in the header or footer of each of your web pages. That way, people won’t have to search for it.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a page with contact information. It absolutely has to be. It should contain basic contact and location information, as well as other information such as an online contact form.
Local searches generally work in two ways. The location is either listed directly in the search (e.g., car repair in St. Louis), or Google uses location services to locate the user (e.g., car repair near me). The latter option is fairly common, and is the main reason to take responsibility for your Google My Business page and ensure that it is complete and accurate.
Below is a checklist to use when filling out your profile:
- Make sure basic information such as name, address and phone number (NAP) is complete.
- Use a working email account associated with your site, not a free account.
- Provide a phone number with a area code.
- Make sure the location information matches on your website, Google My Business listings, and other local business directories.
- Upload some high-quality photos to make your listing more appealing.
- Choose all relevant categories for your business.
- Don’t choose irrelevant categories in an attempt to attract new customers.
- Use the “Introduction” field to fully describe your products and services.
Conclusion: Voice search will evolve as mobile devices evolve
As mobile device usage continues to skyrocket (and there’s no reason to believe it won’t), users will increasingly use voice search, so optimizing for it just makes sense.
Fortunately, the many steps you take to do this will have a triple benefit: you’ll improve your overall mobile optimization, get your content to Google better, and improve your chances of showing up in local results or for snippet selections. You’ll even be ready to search with smart home devices like Google Assist and Amazon Alexa.