Hey Alexa, How Can Marketers Strategize and Optimize for Voice Search?

“Hey Alexa, How Can Marketers Strategize and Optimize for Voice Search?”

Have you used voice search today? If you’re in marketing, your customers probably have. According to Google’s mobile voice study, 41 percent of adults use voice search every day, conducting millions of queries. But how do you optimize for voice search?

If you’re in digital marketing, that’s a question you should start tackling now, experts say. As Daniel Tyreus, founder and CTO of Peck.me, says, “Companies need to be thinking about how they can publish content so that it’s available in all the ways that users are going to consume it.”

The upshot? “If you’re a marketer, you want to get smart now about anticipating the types of questions that users are going to be asking, and you want to create content and make it available—indexable—by voice search.”

Marketing: How to Optimize for Voice Search

The numbers back Tyreus up. Mobile devices, smartphones and smart home devices featuring digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant are becoming increasingly important to our lives. Google Home shipped about 3.5 million units in its first quarter of sales, followed by Amazon’s Alexa, which sold 2.5 million. Voice commerce sales are expected to reach $40 billion by 2022. These devices are rapidly changing retail marketing, altering the way people shop, and providing disruptive opportunities to those who seize them now.

Is optimizing for voice just like optimizing a “regular” search query?

The answer is: Not exactly, but if you’ve already optimized for text-based queries, you’re halfway home. You can use the tips and strategies here to handle the rest: the special considerations and problems of optimizing voice search.

Some of the same principles apply. “If you publish an article that is formatted in a way that makes sense to voice devices: with a clear topic, and it answers the question and it offers content that backs that up, there’s a good chance that it will get picked up. Especially if that article has an existing rank in the SEO world, if it ranks highly in traditional search.”

“But now that we’re seeing this rapid growth in smart speakers, you have to make your website responsive to voice so its content can also be available on a voice device.”

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What Voice Search Means for Marketers

Search engines have improved to better understand longer, more specialized searches, and natural language processing capabilities continue to evolve in the process. Content should be shifting to a “natural speak” approach—natural language queries that make sense to a person rather than a machine.

It may help to simply think about how you would search on a desktop computer verses how you would conduct a voice search. You might type in “buy and sell Bitcoin” on a computer. But your question to a voice assistant would be, “How do I buy and sell Bitcoin?” or, “Where can I buy something with Bitcoin?” You might even ask, “Why is the price of Bitcoin so high?” or “Why is Bitcoin going down so fast?,” depending on market conditions. Text queries are generally short phrases made of keywords, while voice queries tend to be more conversational and longer.

It’s Still SEO—But Ranking FIRST in Search Results is Now EVERYTHING

Tyreus explains, “Before voice search, marketers wanted their content to be on the first page, say in the first ten results. Google could present those ten results and a user could scan through all of them and decide what they want to click on. But with voice search, there’s no mechanism for previewing a lot of results and choosing the one you want. You’re looking for the one right answer. It’s more transactional.”

“If a user makes a request, they don’t want a bunch of possible answers; they want the answer. If I say, ‘Hey Google, what’s the best-selling car in the United States?’ I don’t want Subaru’s take on it and GM’s take on it and Honda’s take on it, I just want the answer.”

Your company’s SEO focus is on developing a search engine-friendly website. As you probably know, most answers from voice assistants—such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Siri—come from search engines (mostly Google, but also Bing—for Alexa and Cortana. Let’s remember that the whole purpose of these new technologies is for the device to provide convenient results for searchers on-the-go. To do this, the devices try to find easily identifiable, short and relevant pieces of content to serve back to the searcher.

Marketers: What You Have to Do to Rank First in Voice Searches

In search results, earning the answer for a voice query depends primarily on the implementation of SEO best practices, with significant changes for voice search optimization technology. The following four tips can help you optimize for voice search, so your content can rank first in voice optimization.

Tip #1: Add Structured Data to Your Website

Structured data, also referred to as schema markup, is a form of HTML data embedded into your website’s code. It is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying its page content; its purpose is to make it more discoverable by search engines, including optimization for voice search. Adding structured data to your site’s codebase helps boost your online presence and allows voice searchers to discover your content more easily. To learn more about implementing structured data on your website visit schema.org, a repository of tags and microdata that you can add to your HTML code to provide precise information about your web pages (which helps search engines better surface the content you produce).

Tyreus explains, “There is a standard that has been put out by schema.org—they’re backed by Google and Microsoft—called SpeakableSpecifications. This allows you as a web publisher to indicate content on a website that is suited for voice, specifically text speech. It’s optimized to be read out loud.”

Tip #2: Include Conversational Keywords

Keywords in the voice search world are long-tail+. The “plus” refers to conversational phrases that you need to add when optimizing for conversational voice search. Now your keyword strategy needs to be more conversational, more ‘human,” like the way people talk and ask questions. When customers call you, what questions do they ask? Write these down—it’s a great place to start. Once you have a list of questions and answers, you can then start creating pages that focus on those longer, more conversational search terms.

Tip #3: Target the Long Tail

One easy way to optimize your website for voice search is to create Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) pages that focus on relevant long-tail and conversational keyword phrases. You don’t want a duplicate set of pages for voice search; you just want one set that will work for reading and for voice. Aim for natural-sounding questions and phrases instead of the traditional SEO-keyword phrases you’ve been using. Each page should answer a specific question with a short, one-paragraph informative answer. Individual pages are better for SEO than one big FAQ page because each one can be indexed by Google. Creating individual pages and snippets of content centered around specific semantic questions can not only boost your visibility in voice search results, it can also increase your chances of appearing in a Google “Featured Snippet.”

For example, an FAQ page could include questions like, ‘How can athletes follow a vegan diet?’ or ‘What is the safest sunscreen?’ with clearly written content answering each question.

Tip #4: Keep Business Information Up to Date

When a user initiates a voice search such as “coffee house near me,” search engines will use their location to determine which coffee houses are closest. Their sources are typically Business Listings information, which means it’s more and more important for companies to keep these listings updated with relevant information, such as name, address, phone number, open hours, etc. A good place to start is your Google My Business listing.

As Tyreus puts it, “The Internet is this massive trove of data—most of the information we are looking for is available on the Internet. We believe that voice data is also going to be available on the Internet, and it just needs to be formatted correctly.”

To understand other trends that are making over the way marketers do their jobs, check out what the experts say about the future of marketing.

Lisa Stapleton
Lisa Stapleton
Lisa Stapleton is a former editorial director at IDG and former senior editor for InfoWorld and InformationWeek. She has written extensively about enterprise IT, business and environmental topics, and now serves as a senior marketing content manager for Treasure Data. She holds an MBA from Santa Clara, an Applied Math undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley, and an MA in journalism from Mizzou. She also enjoys being a Toastmaster.
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