How to Optimize for Voice Search

Overview
The use of voice search has steadily grown since it was introduced as Google mobile voice search in 2008. By 2014, 55 per cent of US teens and 41 per cent of adults used it more than twice a day. With emergence of voice search technologies such as Google Voice Search, Alexa, Siri and Cortana, the trend is only going to grow that by 2020, it’s expected that more than half of search entries will be in voice format.

Helping out the rise in adoption is the voice search error rate has been as low as 8 per cent — two years ago, speech recognition word error rate was 20 per cent.

Voice search advantages
It isn’t difficult to see why people have preference to use voice instead of typing them on search boxes. Average human beings speak 150 words a minute while only managing just 40 words in the same timeframe. It takes faster to ask someone a question than typing the same query.

No wonder you’ll often see people recording voice chats on WhatsApp and WeChat on a typical Hong Kong street, in public transport and doing so isn’t as disruptive as doing search while, say, driving.



Current lifestyles make voice search more useful
Despite bigger mobile phone screens, wider space to type search queries, growth in mobile phone usage has also made search behavior adopt this new trend. As mobile phone zombies continue to litter the streets, risking lives and limbs for being too engaged with their devices, at least voice search uses their mouths while their eyes guide their way.

Google has also made adjustments, making mobile devices the focal point in recent algorithm updates, putting emphasis on secured, mobile-friendly and fast loading pages when evaluating pages. Such amount of attention also empowered mobile users to make full use of the voice search feature, with higher likelihood of using long-tail terms for more pinpoint accurate results.

Optimize your site for voice search
Website owners and webmasters are always on the lookout on how to improve websites as search engines constantly upgrade and revise search algorithm. And since there’s no doubt voice search is a growing trend, as a webmaster, you don’t want your competitors to get ahead and leave you behind.

1. Optimize for local search
Type of queries people on the road do might have to do more about physical locations. Perhaps they’ll do voice search queries like 7-eleven near ifc or pizza hut in north point. So if you’re a directory site or store location pages for 7-Eleven and Pizza Hut websites, you might want to optimize appropriate pages for such queries.

But mobile users also get more accurate listings based on their location, might ask “7-eleven near me” with the “near me” as the operative word and will use physical location of the searcher as factor to deliver the result and refer to your data provided at Google My Business. Therefore, provide  as much information as possible (operating hours during holidays or adding categories as accurate as possible — think pizza delivery or pizza takeaway instead of pizza restaurant if your business does not offer in-store meals) to get your profile 100%.

2. Think long-tail search queries
While typing keyword search might be abbreviated, voice searches are more specific, such as prepositions. We seldom speak in wrong grammar, do we?

For voice search, user behavior is more likely long-tail rather than core keyword queries.

So instead of searching Google for domestic helper hkid when typing on the search query box, a voice search might just be a longer how to apply for Hong Kong ID for domestic helper. 

Tools such as Answer the Public can provide a list of possible questions people may formulate within their voice queries.

From the generated questions, try to provide answers as appropriate to your page. And if there’s too much topic to fit in one page, create another one to expand its coverage and increase its reach among people who search for similar terms.

Also explore how people reached your website and what keywords delivered traffic. You might realize that there are similar terms that bring traffic, and they are generally long-tail keyword in nature. If you look beyond the number of clicks, you’ll discover how many people use the same terms as reflected in the impressions number, but only a small fraction ended up on your website.

3. Review your mobile user experience
Using your favorite analytics tool, you can get an idea how people who visited your site and what’s their user experience, at least compared with desktop and tablet users. Did they stay longer, viewed more pages or otherwise?

Google recently said that 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches. Though we don’t have data on how many of desktop users use voice search,  we’ll assume that most of voice searches are from mobile devices, based on personal experience and other people we talked to.

An old Google research indicates that mobile bounce rate is 9.56% higher than desktop. While improved user experience through responsive website and introduction of AMP pages may have improved mobile user experience and reduced bounce rates, the data sample shown still sees consistency on that Google research data.

Poor user experience not only is related to mobile content — visitors cannot find desired information or struggle to navigate through pages, accidentally clicking on links or inability to fill out search queries — it can also be through slow loading speeds. Try out these Google tools:

  • Check PageSpeed Insights – identify areas, if any, that caused slow loading speed and corresponding recommendations on how to fix them.
  • Mobile-Friendly Test – determine if your website is indeed displayed properly across a variety of mobile devices.
  • Mobile Website Speed and Performance – simulate how your website is displayed not only across different mobile devices, but also on various connection speeds.

4. Expand your website content.
As more people use voice search of long-tail keyword format, it becomes even more important to get your website’s content more comprehensive and directly answer these specific queries.

  • Expand your FAQ page. FAQ pages are sections in the website that provide crisp brief answers to questions visitors might ask. Some of these FAQ pages are categorized accordingly depending on the context of the website. While some sites devote one page to handle all questions and answers, there are those which devote special page — and dedicate specific keywords to optimize — for every question.

    We can postulate that a significant amount queries made on voice involve questions so FAQ pages, and how they are being built, is crucial in attracting these types of visitors. For more detail on optimizing FAQ page, check it out here.

  • Enrich your information page. Lack of resources or interest in expanding content on a website is an obstacle in developing content for the website. But to compete in an age where millennial search engine users are part of your audience, expanding website content should also be part of your marketing efforts.

    For example, if your product details, online buying options, and store locations are all in place such as, say Lush Hong Kong website.

    But besides information about a product such as description, reviews or photos, questions may still arise. What is the best product for which type of skin? Are there any recommended product for those with sensitive skin reactions?

    Such types of questions can easily be answered in an FAQ page, but if no information is available when both text- or voice-based queries are used, visitors might just search elsewhere. Information that the company cannot assure of accuracy and reliability.

 

Conclusion
If we are solely focusing on text-based SEO to optimize our website, we are then missing out on modern search behaviors and could get left out by competitors. Not only is voice search growing in popularity, it’s also evolving that what is written here might be irrelevant and replaced by more sophisticated approach. Keyword-based SEO is still helpful, but as people get more convenient, conversational means of searching for information, content on our websites must also adopt and be conversational as well.