Voice search has come a long way since Siri debuted in 2011. Today somewhere between 10% and 40% of people use voice search at least once per day, and comScore predicts that voice will account for 50% of all searches by 2020. Thanks to massive advances in natural language processing and the advent of home assistants like Amazon Alexa, people are beginning to talk to computers as naturally as the Dave talks to HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Though hopefully without the downsides.)
This development has ramifications in all kinds of areas, but today we’re going to focus on what voice search optimization means for SEO marketers.
A Quick History Lesson
In the good old days (i.e. the mid-oughts) there was only way for most people to search for things on the Internet. You navigated on your desktop browser to your search engine of choice, and you typed in your query. Then smartphones came along and suddenly marketers started wondering, “Where are these searches coming from?”
It turns out that people use their mobile devices differently than they do desktop computers. For example, people on mobile devices are much more likely to search for things like “how to massage kale” and “ramen near me” than people on desktops. In response to these changes in user behavior, search engines and SEO marketers have had to adapt. In late 2017 Google began rolling out a long-anticipated mobile-first search index that aims to surface websites that are optimized for mobile experiences while answering certain kinds of queries via micro-moments.
As you can probably tell, mobile didn’t replace desktop so much as complement it. Voice search today is a lot like mobile search circa 2006. That is to say, usage is increasing at a rapid clip, but not everyone is capturing that data and marketers don’t necessarily know what to do with it.
What’s Different About Voice Search?
A few things. For starters, the words people use are different. Since search engines were developed in the mid 1990s, people have learned how to write terse, efficient queries. This didn’t change when people moved to mobile devices. Part of the appeal of voice search, though, is that you can ask your question as naturally as you’d ask another human. (This is hard to do.) That means voice searches tend to be longer, more conversational, and grammatically correct, meaning it takes more work to identify the meaningful pieces of semantic content required to answer the question.
For SEO marketers, voice search optimization might require a new keyword strategy, one that accounts for the types of conversational phrases that can signal user interest and intent. If you interact with customers or users over the phone, you might consider paying close attention to the way they ask your real-live customer support reps–there’s a good chance that people are using voice search in a similar way.
Tip: When it comes to voice search, think about how to answer questions rather than how to rank for specific keywords. “Does Eddie’s Pizza deliver?,” “Does the iPhone X have use a micro SIM or a nano SIM?,” “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” Your FAQ page is a great place to answer these kinds of questions.
Where Voice Search Could Be a Game Changer: Local SEO
One characteristic of all mobile searches is that they’re much more geared toward local businesses than desktop searches. Surveys found that nearly 53% of people using voice search do it while driving (even though it’s no safer than texting) and that mobile voice searches are 3x more likely to involve local intent.
This makes sense: If you’re walking around looking for the nearest place to get avocado toast, you’re probably not going to run home and search on your laptop. Because voice search tries to limit the number of responses it returns, there’s a serious advantage to being the listing that turns up when someone asks “Where can I find the best avocado toast in San Francisco?”
Tip: Besides keywords, there are some basic steps you can take as a local business that can dramatically improve your SEO. If you’re a local business and you haven’t verified on Google, you should probably do that. Remember to make sure your name, address, and phone number are consistent across the web and social media.
Looking for more SEO tips? If you’re looking to develop and refine your keyword strategy, check out our comparison of top SEO tools.