Tuning Into Voice Search

The big question for search marketers is: What must be done to make sure that a site comes up in answer to voice search queries? This is both a simple and difficult question, but one that must be addressed.

SEO Is Dead — 5 Rules for Winning in the New World of SearchHave you met Siri, Cortana or Alexa yet? If you haven’t, you will soon. Perhaps you’ve used Google Voice or Amazon Echo. The market for voice-activated search is poised to explode. Users are rapidly embracing this technology.

I expect that we will see rapid adoption, because voice-activated search doesn’t have a huge user learning curve and the devices are increasingly affordable. It’s their simplicity of use that will drive rapid adoption.

The big question for search marketers is: What must be done to make sure that a site comes up in answer to voice search queries? This is both a simple and difficult question, but one that must be addressed.

In previous posts, I have urged site owners to prepare their sites for mobile search. My admonitions have been to increase site speed and to make sure that the site is mobile-compatible. This is the underlying technical architecture needed for search success in 2017. Faster is better, and not to be fast and mobile-ready is to be left behind from a technical standpoint.

Unfortunately with search, no matter how wonderful the content and offering is on a site, technical miscues can doom it to obscurity. With the technology challenges met, it is time to turn to the offering itself, and this is where voice search enters the picture. Voice search is all about the user, the user’s intent and the user’s challenges in articulating the query.

Voice Search Adoption Will Be Faster Than Mobile

Voice-activated programs have been in the technology marketplace for a number of years. They are finally maturing.

The original versions required extensive training before they would recognize the user’s commands. The results were sometimes comical. I once tried an early version when I was writing a book and decided that it would require more editing to make the results coherent than just keyboarding the text.

Fast-forward to today, and we have technology so simple to use that it is prudent to safeguard it from toddlers likely to place orders on their parents’ Amazon accounts.

Estimates suggest that one in five consumers use voice search on a mobile device. Younger users have adopted the technology faster and use it more often than older users. As mobile searches increase, so too will voice searches. However in my opinion, the proliferation of voice-activated devices with search capabilities will add a booster rocket to the adoption rates and the volume of searches.

How Can Search Marketers Respond?

The key to an effective response is to ensure that your content addresses the questions a user might pose.

This may require rethinking your content approach. Most SEOs have used keyword-based strategies for search. These have been quite effective; however, in the future they must be linked to what the user wants.

This requires an inside-out process. Content must be able to answer the types of questions users pose. Where, when, why, how, and what are often starting cues for a voice search. Searches for directions are “where is” something; events are the answer to “when is” queries; “why” and “how” are often signals for factual information. There are a number of other signals — best, near, open, etc. An individual searching on a voice-activated device is unlikely to search for a giant head term — computer. The user is much more likely to pose a question that would fall into the realm of long-tail search.

As site owners create content, they should carefully consider if the content does address these cues and what other questions might a user ask. This will result in voice-search-relevant content.

If you haven’t already done it, now is the time to implement structured data on your site. This provides a framework for the presentation of data in a format easily consumed by search engines and returned in answer to voice queries.

One More Tip

Here is a bonus tip — extra credit, if you will. Years ago, many sites included FAQ pages. They fell out of fashion, but it is time to dust them off, make sure that they are up-to-date, linked into the site structure (not orphaned, as happens with older, unloved content), and the SEO reviewed to make sure it isn’t outdated.

These pages often provide just the type of information a user wants and seeks on a voice-activated device.

Voice search will change how we search. Instead of keying in keywords, we can expect search to become more conversational. If we expect to succeed, we need to think about engaging in an informative conversation with our site users.