Voice-enabled search is one of the biggest topics in SEO circles, but many content marketers haven’t embraced the implications of virtual assistants and other voice-powered technology.
As an SEO and content architect at Moz, I urge marketers to understand voice’s importance and the need to do so today to prepare for the voice revolution.
Voice search growing
Whether it’s Google Home, Siri by Apple, Cortana by Microsoft, or Amazon’s Alexa, voice represents an ever-growing share of the search pie. Statistics on usage are difficult to come by, but in mid-2016, voice search represented 20% of queries on Google’s mobile app, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. And Baidu reports that one of 10 searches on that platform are voice searches.
Usage rates are likely to grow as more consumers buy virtual assistants, and as the natural language processing and machine learning behind these engines become more accurate and useful. The more people use virtual assistants, the more training data machine-learning models will acquire, and the more powerful and accurate they will become.
Research from MindMeld’s 2016 Intelligent Voice Assistants Research Report breaks down the primary reasons consumers use voice:
- 61% – Useful when hands / vision occupied
- 30% – Faster results
- 24% – Difficulty typing on certain devices
- 22% – They’re fun / cool
- 12% – To avoid confusing menus
- 1% – Other
The survey also reveals the most frequent settings for use of voice-assisted search – home (43%), car (36%), on the go (19%). Work comprises the remaining usage.
Voice SEO basics every marketer should know
First, know there isn’t just one approach to SEO for voice. Google Home uses Google data, Siri pulls Bing data and Alexa pulls in Bing and Amazon data from your personalized shopping habits (unless customized to do otherwise).
It’s really interesting to see how different the results are for each voice technology. For example, I recently tested a question on three voice-search technologies. I asked Google Home, “What are the best laptops?” Google Home read a list from TechRadar.com. Then I asked Siri the same question, and she responded, “The Apple Macintosh is my favorite computer.” Alexa admitted, “Sorry, I don’t have the answer to that question.” Google Home is the most powerful in terms of the answers it currently provides.
Also, keyword research is more important now than ever. Specifically, in regards to capturing Google Home answers. Google provides most of its voice answers from the featured snippet (i.e., answer box) at the top of search results. Marketers can do strategic keyword research to discover which keywords in their space result in a featured snippet, then they can try to provide a better answer that’s marked up accordingly to grab that featured spot. “What” and “how” questions result in the most featured snippets.
Snippets, SERP, and other voice search-related terms
If you feel uncomfortably “noobish” when the conversation wanders into voice technology and machine learning, here are some keywords to master. (If you are comfortable with the terms, skip to the next section.)
Definitions vary, but the simplest is by Arthur Samuel in 1959: “Machine learning: The field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.” The application of machine learning to marketing is vast – from online recommendation engines to social media sentiment analysis. In voice-search applications, machine learning will allow virtual assistants to understand customer intentions with greater accuracy and so improve search results and transaction fulfillment.
When you type a question into Google, the first result is often a featured snippet – a short summary of the answer pulled from a third-party site. For SEO experts, becoming the featured snippet is highly desirable for visibility and traffic; layer in voice-search considerations, and winning the featured snippet is critical because Google-enabled voice search only delivers a single answer.
SERP: Pronounced “surp,” it’s the first page of your search result or the “search engine results page.”
Google uses online and offline signals to determine how credible or valuable your company is. The higher your entity authority, the more highly your content will rank. According to local SEO expert David Mihm, entity authority boils down to three major signals: a business’s name recognition locally (determined by online mentions), its reputation (do consumers and the media have positive things to say about it), and the level of engagement that business earns online.
People Also Ask (PAA) boxes
You’ll see more of Google’s PAA boxes that continuously expand with new questions (based on what PAA you click). Google makes money from advertisers, so keeping us on Google with interactive options makes sense. Research from STAT Search Analytics shows a single PAA can show up in 21 unique SERPs. PAA opportunities can take over some serious SERP real estate.
Keyword research for voice SEO (Hint: Look at featured snippets)
There are two primary tools to help you figure out which queries result in featured snippets: SEMrush, where you can research keywords that result in a featured snippet. And Moz’s (the company I work for) Keyword Explorer, a tool…