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How to optimise for voice search in 2018

July 2, 2018 • General

How to optimise for voice search in 2018

Graham van der Merwe, digital sales specialist at Outdoorphoto.

In his keynote at the Google I/O in May 2018, CEO Sundar Pichai announced that one-fifth of Google queries were voice searches. This supports comScore’s prediction that by 2020, a total of 50% of all searches will be voice.

Early adopters are finding that voice searches are more convenient – not just when you’re on the go, but also when you’re chatting with friends, in the bathroom, busy exercising or watching series. In fact, the Global Web Index has found that 25% of voice searches among those the 16-24 age group were on mobile. We no longer have to look at our screens or read for that matter – headings are used for orientation. Mediapos confirms that by 2020 “about 30% of searches will be done without a screen”. This requires a responsive mobile-first web design that caters to our need for immediate answers.

Voice searches are also faster. Digital strategist, Katherine Watier reminds us that “humans can speak 150 words per minute versus type 40 words per minute”. It is an evolution of efficiency.

Voice semantics are more conversational. In voice search, users form questions of about seven to eight words that contain more natural, active phrases. The same three-word “camera store pretoria” text query translates to “where can I find a camera store near me?”. Such queries often comprise questions and active words that reveal intent such as “play”, “track my parcel” and “set my timer” (instructional) and “what’s the weather” (informational)? Optimising for voice search thus means integrating contextual, long-tail keywords that answer and even pose questions.

Additionally, mobile devices allow location queries that were previously not available on desktop. “Near me” search queries have grown more than 130% year-on-year, of which 88% were mobile. In keeping, SearchEngineWatch maintains that half of daily mobile searches (text and voice) with local intent lead to store visits, of which voice accounts for 22%. Users often look for directions, contact details and trading hours, particularly on public holidays. Leverage this characteristic by incorporating local keywords and location queries into your on-site content. Also, update your Google MyBusiness listing with complete and accurate information. It is also good to have users review your service. Learn why online reviews matter.

While various factors contribute to getting “position zero” in SERPs, experts like John Warner surmise that based on Google’s push to provide quick answers, voice search plays an integral role in qualifying for featured snippets. It is thus crucial to create content that answers user questions, clear and concise. Base these answers on your customer’s questions – pose the user’s question in the headline and answer immediately thereafter, whether in your on-site content or a dedicated blog post. Done right, this strategy will increase your search visibility and more importantly user experience. PS: Don’t forget to use schema, also known as structured data, to markup your content and tell search engines what your website is about.

We can get an idea of the consumer’s mindset with voice search data. In an effort to lower barriers to entry, Google Analytics added voice-based navigation in 2017 but has since then only hinted at including voice search query filters. Google has thus made it easier to gather trends from your data using natural language voice queries, but there is no data on actual voice queries yet. For now, you can use Google Analytics to check out the keywords people use to find your content or use the tools like AnswerThePublic and StoryBase to find out what your customers really want to know.

As we prepare new strategies for voice search, technology is learning to adapt to our needs. Another big announcement at the Google I/O 2018 pertains to Google Assistant, a personal voice assistant available on mobile and smart (voice-first) devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo. These are fast becoming common household appliances that enable full home automation – the type of control we used to dream about. A VoiceLabs report states that in 2017, there were a total of 33 million voice-first devices in circulation. Such technologies are still in its infancy stage but will learn with time. In fact, Hummingbird, a 2013 Google algorithm update that combines natural language processing with artificial intelligence, is busy learning how to provide wider contextual relevance by recognising and interpreting voice texture (accent and speech patterns), interests and behaviour. As Google learns, we can expect less speech recognition errors and a better user experience. It is becoming smarter with every conversation.

Don’t ignore voice search in your SEO. It has started to become the primary search interface and powers artificial learning. It’s a matter of semantics. OK Google, what’s next?

By Graham van der Merwe, Marketing Manager at Outdoorphoto

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