The SEO industry is constantly changing as Google and other search engines seek to improve their user experience. One of the more recent changes we’re seeing is the rising popularity of voice search, particularly as it relates to local search. What used to be novelty is now a necessity as more consumers are on the go with their smartphones and tablets. Google says 20% of mobile searches are voice searches, but when you add in searches from personal assistant devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, and Cortana, the actual percentage of voice searches is much higher.
Voice recognition is far more accurate than it used to be, which means it’s finally serving its purpose as a helper, rather than frustrating users to the point where they no longer use it. One report shows voice search accuracy has reached an impressive 92%. As consumers turn to personal assistant devices, voice search is reaching more every day consumers, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing an uptick in the number of searches.
If you’re a local business, it’s important to optimize your website for voice searches and the sooner, the better. One study shows 55% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18, and 41% of adults say they use voice search more than once a day. Their questions range from calling a contact, to finding local movie listings, to getting help with home, and even getting directions. The study also revealed people tend to use voice search when they are multi-tasking. 54% of teenagers use their voice search while they are socializing with friends, while 23% of adults say they use it for hands-free searching while they cook.
Perhaps what’s more interesting is that by 2020, nearly 1/3 of searches will take place without a screen, meaning we’ll see an increase in the number of smart speakers – which by that year is estimated to reach 21.4 million.
This means marketers have multiple ways to capitalize on voice search despite the fact that it’s still in its relative infancy.
Use Natural Language as Much as Possible
When people use voice search about a local business they want to go to, they will likely say something like, “Where is the best taco in San Diego?” (That’s a hard question to answer, of course, but, if you’re a restaurant serving tacos in the area, you want Google to choose you.) In this case, you’d optimize the content on your pages for “best taco in San Diego.” The natural language to your site’s content will definitely help you appear in the voice search results.
If you want other ways to add natural language to your website, consider adding Q&A pages using various words and phrases people are actually known to speak, as opposed to phrases they’d type into a search engine. When you create the content for these pages, write them with a conversational tone, to ensure the keywords you use will resonate with the voice searcher. Ultimately, you need to talk how your users talk.
Don’t Ignore Other SEO Standard Best Practices
Whether you’re trying to get into the voice search results or not, you should still make sure you’re doing the basics like creating and submitting your sitemap, using schema and other microdata so Google and other search engines can learn what your content actually means, and so on. You can use structured data markup to address things like your address, phone number, hours of operation, prices, and even directions from major highways. Make all of that work for you – because that’s what your customers will be searching for. You’ll also want to still avoid flash, and focus clean and lean code to keep your website loading fast because usability will always matter.
Make Sure Your Website is Mobile-Friendly
Google considers mobile-friendliness a ranking factor and has for a while now, since more internet traffic comes from mobile devices than desktop devices. Since voice searches are coming from mobile devices, you need to make sure your website is mobile responsive and can be indexed. Check it with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tool.
You can design your website with a responsive theme or install a plugin, if you’d rather not build a completely separate mobile version of your website. Mobile responsive themes will automatically adjust the elements on your website to fit the visitor’s screen, regardless of their screen size or resolution.
Double-Check All Your Local Citations
Many people who are searching for local businesses, regardless of whether they’re using voice or standard searches, often add the phrase “near me” to the end of their query. Your on-site SEO probably isn’t going to affect the results much. (Trying to rank for ‘best taco in San Diego near me” would mean some unnatural text in your content.)
When this happens, the search engines pay more attention to the user’s physical location, and that’s why it’s important for you to have current, accurate local citations in the main search engine’s local directories: Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, and Yahoo Places, at the very least.
When you’re setting up those directory listings, be as specific as you can when you choose your business category, since this can increase the chance that you show up in voice searches targeted to your local niche. To improve overall local SEO, keep your name, address, and phone number (NAP) data consistent across all those directories. Check the accuracy of your listings in other directories like Yelp, and if you don’t already have an established profile on those sites, search for and claim your listings, or create new ones.
We’ve known for a long time that online reviews of your business can make or break your reputation. But the number of reviews your business has is a critical part of ranking in Google’s local map pack. And when a customer takes the time to leave a review for you, take the time to respond to it, especially if it’s a less than stellar review. You may not be able to make the negative comments go away, but you can at least show potential future customers that you’re paying attention and you care.
Google’s Not the Only Game in Town
Remember to think about what people are searching in Bing, too. Several platforms – including Cortana, Siri, and Alexa (Amazon Echo) use it, so you need to be, too. If you focus solely on Google, then you’re missing out on potential traffic from people who use those personal assistant devices at home.
Consider Searcher Intent
Mobile voice searches will use more natural language, making the long tail keyword even more important. You can brainstorm a list of naturally spoken questions people may ask about your product, service, or business.
I’ve already mentioned Answer the Public in other blog posts because it’s one of my favorite keyword research tools, but it’s really the perfect tool for this, too. Others you can use to help you brainstorm ideas for natural language phrases to include in your content include Question Samurai and StoryBase.
Beyond tools like this, your own analytics data is a great source of information about what your users are looking for. With Google Search Console reports, you can see what queries people are using to find your site – many of which use natural language. If you see a phrase or two that is bringing you a great deal of traffic, make sure to work those into your content.
Does Your SEO Strategy Need a Complete Overhaul?
Voice search isn’t new; it’s been around for a few years now, so the increased use doesn’t mean you need to completely rethink your current SEO strategy. It does, however, mean that you’ll need to make some adjustments to your content to make sure you have a fair shot at getting traffic from those voice searches.
Right now, analytics data cannot tell you whether the query came from a standard search or a voice search. It may never tell you, but then again with the direction voice search is moving in, it may be a feature we see rolled out in future.
Another study estimates half of all searches will be voice in 2020, so it’s important for businesses to get to work on it now, so they can be ahead of the game.
Are you working on optimizing for voice search? How is the process going for you? What’s holding you back? Tell me in the comments.