Voice search tools such as Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa are experiencing a surge in popularity. This not only provides great convenience but also seamlessly integrates into the concept of smart homes, where an assistant manages lights and home electronics.
Voice Search Engine Optimization is becoming indispensable for businesses aiming to reach their target audience. In this article, we will examine the main factors for successful SEO, taking into account the nuances of voice commands.
To commence, let’s consider some data. According to Search Engine Journal, up to 71% of consumers state that they use voice search more frequently than on-screen keyboards. Concurrently, the number of smart speakers in US households is steadily increasing. At the beginning of 2022, forecasts suggested that as many as 66 million US residents would acquire such devices in the months to come.
It thus appears that manually typing search queries is no longer the most popular way to use search engines. More and more users appreciate the convenience of voice commands. The problem, however, is that speech is very different from writing. When a user types on the keyboard, he or she most often uses schematically built queries, e.g. ‘cheap car mechanic Warsaw’, etc. With voice commands, the formula changes into one that resembles live speech: ‘Find a cheap car mechanic in Warsaw’. SEO practitioners must therefore consider this modification.
However, the interesting data does not end there. Since we have several dominant competitors in the area of voice search, it is worth looking at the percentage popularity of each. Let’s look at the figures from 5 years ago.
In 2018, only 4.9 percent of users used Microsoft Cortana to find answers to their queries. Slightly more, just 6.2 percent, claimed Samsung Bixby. Both of these services, although noticeably promoted by their brands, were not very popular with users. On the one hand, this may be due to the relatively low popularity of the brands themselves, but on the other hand, the other three voice assistants, which we will mention in a moment, are simply associated with greater accessibility and better user convenience.
How, in contrast, was the situation in the context of the three main players that rule indivisibly in the field of voice search?
In last place on the podium was Amazon’s Alexa with a score of 13.2 percent. It was significantly ahead of Google Assistant, which scored 28.7. However, the winner outclassed its contenders – Siri from Apple is used by 45.6 users.
Where do Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri look for answers?
Regardless of which voice assistant you use, ultimately the search engine gets involved anyway. However, it is worth raising the question: which engine? As is always the case, the matter is not so simple.
The vast majority of users limit themselves to search queries on Google. Does the same hold true when using voice search? In the case of Google Assistant, the case is straightforward. Apple’s Siri also uses Google search, but is not limited to it. It also crawls Yahoo or Bing search results. As it is an Apple tool, it also checks the informational third-party apps of this company. Google is completely absent from Alexa, narrowing the search field to Bing search only.
What conclusions can be drawn from these observations? Firstly, we can speculate that Siri’s popularity is not just a matter of accessibility. While US users overwhelmingly use Apple tools, the rest of the world is not so compliant. However, Siri’s ability to search for information appears to be much greater. More search engines result in much more competent results for the user. Apple’s voice assistant therefore wins over the competition in effectiveness and efficiency.
It is quite impossible to discuss voice search optimization without the context of Google Hummingbird.
This update was announced on 26 September 2013, although experts are certain that it had already been implemented into Google’s structures a month before. The primary goal of Hummingbird is to enhance the search engine’s ability to understand the context and intent behind user queries, providing more relevant and accurate search results.
Key features and workings of Google Hummingbird include:
- Semantic search: hummingbird focuses on understanding the meaning behind words and their relationships, rather than just matching keywords. It employs semantic search to comprehend the context and intent of a user’s query.
- Conversational search: with the rise of voice search and natural language queries, Hummingbird is designed to better interpret conversational language. It takes into account the entire query and tries to provide results that match the user’s intent, even if the keywords are not an exact match.
- Knowledge graph integration: Google’s Knowledge Graph is a database of interconnected information about people, places, and things. Hummingbird utilizes the Knowledge Graph to enhance the understanding of entities and their relationships, offering more comprehensive and relevant results.
- Contextual understanding: hummingbird considers the context of a user’s query and the user’s search history to deliver personalized and contextually relevant results. It aims to provide a more tailored search experience based on the individual’s preferences and behavior.
- Mobile optimization: with the increasing use of mobile devices for search, Hummingbird is optimized for mobile users, ensuring that search results are responsive and user-friendly across various devices.
One of the outcomes of Google Hummingbird is that there is no need to click on the links found in the search results. Above the organic results, a snippet ‘pulled’ from the article best suited to the query appears, which – it is assumed – is intended to provide a direct answer to the user’s question.
Google’s strategy is therefore quite simple – to shorten the user’s journey of finding out the answer to their question as much as possible. This is directly linked to the UX principles, under which the user journey should always be short and intuitive. Voice queries usually relate to simple, non-complex topics. Sometimes it is a question of finding a restaurant in the user’s current location, sometimes it is about simple instructions such as changing a tire in a car. The user does not want to click through the pages visible in the search results, they want a simple, concise and straightforward answer to their question.
Category of Intent
User behavior can be clearly categorized. What’s more, Google has done exactly that. Dividing query intent into defined types makes it easier for algorithms and search systems to offer users exactly the answers they are interested in. These categories are:
The ability to recognize and correctly interpret the user’s intentions not only eliminates misunderstandings but, above all, provides users with exactly what they need. The modern world is driven by a vibrant relationship between impulse and reaction. Users do not want to be kept waiting, they do not want to be misled. Every time they search for information, they want a satisfactory answer in a few seconds.
As the structure of query formulations changes, the content published on the website must be adapted to suit. This naturally translates into the selection of key phrases, which are then woven into the structure of the content. It is important to create content that answers user queries in a clear and concise manner – this can be achieved, for example, by building popular FAQ sections at the end of each entry. Furthermore, it is a good idea to include bullet points at the beginning of the article, i.e. a short set of questions or problems that the user will find answers for in the text.
|SEO Specialist comment – Jędrzej Karpiński
When optimizing content across the site, it is worth focusing on creating articles using everyday language. This is the type of speech people use when making voice queries – thus, the content should match the nature of the search query. It also works well if you incorporate natural language processing techniques using an NLP approach. Creating articles in a conversational tone and using long-tail key phrases will certainly deliver satisfactory results.
Page structure makes it easier for virtual assistants to understand the hierarchy of information throughout the site. It is essential to use the relevant headings denoted by tags (H1, H2, H3) in the content. This allows algorithms to better understand the subject of the website and index the content. H1 must be reserved for the main title of the page, while the other headings define the structure of the subsections.
Virtual assistants favor portals that load quickly, which positively affects the user experience. There are many factors that influence so-called page speed, such as optimization of images, HTML code, or use of cache. Ensuring optimum page loading speed is a frequently mentioned criterion for improving a site’s ranking, while it becomes even more crucial when it comes to voice search.
Voice search often involves searching for relevant information about a user’s current location. Entrepreneurs should focus on optimizing content for the local market. It is worth including place names, regions or local information related to the business in the content. This will increase the chances of appearing in voice search results for users from a specific geographical area.
The greater the authority of a website, the greater the chance of it appearing in voice search results. Building authority includes gaining valuable backlinks, creating unique and valuable content, as well as being active on social media. It is important to build page authority organically and in an ethical manner.
|SEO Specialist comment – Łukasz Dunajski
To build site authority, it is also worth adding optimization for UX and UI principles. Although there is now more and more talk about what it means to align a site with user experience principles, the reality is that many companies overlook these guidelines.
Featured snippets are special information displayed at the top of a Google search results page. Useful for user queries, featured snippets present short pieces of answers to the questions asked. Google extracts these answers from selected sites and places them in a special block called the Answer Box. In addition to the responses themselves, the featured snippets also include a link to the source and its title and URL.
Voice search selects the top search results but, curiously, does not start from position 1, but from position 0. What does this mean for advertisers? Being number 1 is no longer enough to catch voice searches. As much as 40 % of search results come from the featured snippets section, so your company should also be featured in this section.
If you have a page with an FAQ section, you’ve already got most of the work done. If not – it’s time to have the content edited. Both featured snippets and voice search favor short but concise answers to user queries. The key to success becomes the straightforward phrasing of messages. The average Google voice search result should be written in clear language, free of unnecessary embellishments, so it is worth avoiding academic language.
The conclusion is clear – while optimizing a website for voice search is not as different from classic SEO as one might expect, there are a few ‘must-have’ criteria to bear in mind here. The potential of voice search should not be underestimated, especially as modern devices increasingly encourage the use of this feature.
|SEO Specialist comment – Jędrzej Karpiński
The future of voice search appears promising, marked by several key trends shaping the trajectory of this emerging technology. Here are pivotal considerations to contemplate:
Greater accuracy and contextual understanding: Search engines, notably Google, continually refine their natural language understanding algorithms. Consequently, voice search is poised to exhibit enhanced proficiency in comprehending intricate queries and user context, furnishing more precise and pertinent responses.
Integration with IoT: Voice search is poised to seamlessly integrate with diverse Internet of Things (IoT) devices, encompassing smart speakers, TVs, cars, and household appliances. This integration enables users to pose questions and receive answers across an expanding array of scenarios and locations.
Personalization: The evolution of voice searches includes an escalating level of personalization, factoring in the user’s search history, preferences, and geographical location. This tailored approach ensures the delivery of even more accurate and relevant results.
Development of voice assistants: Voice assistants, exemplified by Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa, are advancing towards heightened sophistication. Evolving into quasi-personal assistants, they are positioned to aid users in daily tasks, facilitate learning, and provide entertainment.
Integration into e-commerce and transactions: Voice search is anticipated to play a pivotal role in e-commerce, enabling users to search for products, compare prices, and execute purchases through simple voice commands. Virtual consultants within stores will field inquiries and offer guidance akin to their counterparts in physical retail establishments.
In conclusion, the trajectory of voice search suggests an increasing integration into daily life, streamlining access to information and services through natural, intuitive voice interactions.
About the author
Łukasz Dunajski has over 12 years of experience in SEO. He started his journey with algorithms in one of the biggest SEO agencies in Poland. From the very beginning, he focused on technical optimization issues. In his free time, he is a motorcycle and SUP fan.