The form of a medium is embedded in the communicated message itself.

Google’s Voice search – quickly becoming a fascinating medium all of its own, presents new challenges and considerations for professionals of all breeds seeking to stay ahead of the curve and be ready to capitalise on developments in how the public finds information online. After reducing highly literate queries down to only the most critical keywords for the last two decades, now Google is inviting us to challenge it with our most varied form of expression and all the nuances that come with it.

At of the end of Q2 last year, the yearly Internet Trends Report measured Google’s speech recognition at an impressive 95%. According to CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Alexa had sold “tens of millions of units” before the end of 2017, and now with Apple joining the market with its Homepod only weeks ago, there’s no doubt that Google will continue to invest in the voice market to improve its service and maintain a competitive edge in the field.

Un-phased by the broad range of accents, languages, tones, timbres and environments thrown at it, at 95% accuracy Google’s voice service is getting unnervingly close to the accuracy of human voice recognition. The stage is set for 2018 to be the heyday of voice search – how can we prepare and adapt for a world of “Answer Engine” Optimisation?

Position 0

This January, Google stated in their blog that “featured snippets aren’t meant as a sole source of information. They’re part of an overall set of results we provide, giving people information from a wide range of sources.”. While this is still certainly true for traditional text searches on both mobile and desktop devices, things have become a little different for Voice, where often a result will simply be a quotation of a featured snippet with contextual changes, depending on device, or language.

Very often a Voice snippet result will lead with the information’s attribution – “According to”, “I found on”. This adds extra value to a featured snippet position in ways which are difficult to quantify. SEO marketers will already know that position zero snippets in text searches drive traffic, but can we expect the same to be true for queries which will not necessarily lead to further investigation? It’s difficult to say. For the meantime, Google Voice searches which lead to your site are still attributed as regular old search results. While you might have some success looking at traffic by specific long-tail terms with a tool like SEMrush, or filtering and diving deeper with analytics, there’s no easy solution as of this time.

There’s of course no doubt that Google will be investigating how best to implement Voice data into analytics in the immediate future, and perhaps when they do we’ll be able to get a better handle on how these kinds of snippets help position 0 value. That being said, featured snippets are for the meantime the best real estate to ensure that the content on your site is consumed by a voice search audience.

Mark your target

Semantic HTML5 helps Google to crawl in ways which make it significantly more likely your site will receive a featured snippet or higher search ranking when providing relevant information. Marking your pages up removes some degree of ambiguity from content which you want to maximise, making your information more authoritative and understandable.

Ultimately, voice search is semantic search – taking all the data and supplemental information a mobile platform provides, connecting it to a Google account full of behavioural history, providing a rich range of sources to discover intent.

Using semantic HTML5 isn’t nearly as intimidating as it might sound. Properties and types easily integrate into existing HTML tags, making it both easy to write from the get-go, and to retroactively format existing pages.

Set up by Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, you can head over to Schema.org to learn more about semantic HTML5 as well as find great information on implementation, and how to make it work for your SEO results.

Mobile optimised

The push for mobile optimisation is broader than just making sites accessible to mobile users. With mobile traffic now occupying such a large portion of the search market, Google are actively penalising websites which aren’t mobile friendly from search results.

Having great keyword understanding and optimisation for mobile devices’ text search will already put you a step ahead in being ready for mobile voice search, however, voice search will also recognise new commands like “near me”.

While you might rank #1 for “best jewellers Leicester”, what happens when someone searches “find jewellers near me” while on a mobile device in Leicester? Be thorough. If Google isn’t immediately letting a user know about your wonderful jewellery then you need to adapt. Consider how you are targeting searchers, on every level of your SEO strategy. Think from the perspective of someone who would use voice search to investigate your business – why they are using voice search in the first place and how can you use their reasoning to identify them. Are your competitors exploiting elements of your otherwise complete SEO strategy which you haven’t considered?

Consider if accelerated mobile pages (pages built on open-source super light-weight HTML) are a suitable solution to serve your mobile users. Read our informative blog post on the topic and investigate if they could improve your mobile optimisation.

If you haven’t already, don’t hesitate to check out Google’s documentation for making sites mobile friendly. In addition to excellent information on mobile optimisation and semantic HTML schema, you’ll also find detailed explanations of many of the other topics touched on in this article.

A question of content

Examine your content. What questions does it answer? Is the answer a comprehensive one? Will it leave the user satisfied, or ready to bounce to a different resource?

High-quality Q&A pages are extremely valuable, and if marked up correctly, Google won’t hesitate to distribute your content on voice search as relevant. Think beyond the typically FAQ pages which even the most basic website will utilise. How could you use them in blog posts, or category pages? Can you actually end up solving problems for your users, enhance the functionality of your site, all while optimising for voice search at the same time?

Your content should naturally pertain to, and act as an extension of your chosen keywords, so as previously mentioned, don’t be afraid to adapt, and dig deep to look for solutions if your current content isn’t generating excellent results for voice search.

Pages of detailed, well-written content might be great when serving desktop users, but if the content can’t also provide concise, informative answers quickly, it’s unlikely that otherwise quality content will serve voice searchers’ needs.

Brand authority

As with text search, the most reliable way to make Voice Search work for your brand still lies in true and tested best practice. Managing your online presence to ensure that brand’s authority and credibility are easily proved to Google is easier said than done but is increasingly important as Google deemphasises SEO metrics which digital marketers are used to, in favour of things like high-quality reviews and non-linear amplification of content from social media.

In Summary

The most immediate actions you can take to optimise for voice search are:

  • Earning featured snippets – be the best source of information on a topic.
  • Reinforce your content with semantic HTML – make your site more understandable to Google.
  • Make sure your site is mobile compatible – use accelerated mobile pages to improve performance if required.
  • Write detailed, quotable content – utilise the Q&A and other conversational formats.
  • Investigate your keywords – make sure they pertain to the context of voice-search.
  • Maintain brand authority – encourage customers to review your excellent services.

Forward-thinking brands are increasingly including a plan for voice-search in their overall marketing strategy as services become more accessible and efficacious. Williams Commerce offers a complete range of SEO services.

Get in touch and find out how we can support your business’s search engine optimisation on 0116 326 1116 or email [email protected].