When Google first introduced the concept of voice search in 2011, it was seen as a bit of a novelty. Something a bit quirky that wouldn’t be used seriously by your everyday search users. Fast forward to the present day and sales of smart speakers are at a record high year-on-year, and 65% of those aged 25-49 say they use voice search at least once every day. Moreover in 2020, 30% of all searches were done without the use of screens. Voice search isn’t a trend, it’s already part of everyday life.
So what can you do to compete and improve your SEO when there isn’t a visual SERP to rank on? No ten blue links? No snippets and rich results?
Why voice search is growing and what it means for SEO
There’s one extremely easy answer as to why voice search has grown so exponentially in the years since its introduction - convenience. People want instant answers, and they don’t always want to trawl through a search results page to find them. If they’re making a dish and want to know the internal temperature for cooked chicken, they can ask their voice enabled Google Assistant. If they’re sitting on the sofa watching Netflix and want to know the name of an actor, they can ask Alexa. When you look at Google’s data, 72% of people who own a voice-activated speaker say they often use it as part of their daily routine.
Another aspect to the rise in voice search is that smart speakers are being sold at an increasingly accessible price point, and therefore are becoming more commonplace. These days you can get a Google smart speaker for as little as $50, sometimes less during promotional periods. That makes it even more attractive to average consumers, and increases adoption. This is on top of the fact that as new smartphones and laptops are released, these too will feature voice enabled assistants.
Lastly, voice and language recognition technology has become more advanced and intuitive. It’s a common joke that voice recognition software frequently makes mistakes, however this is becoming less and less of an issue as technology has grown and learned from these errors. Google’s voice recognition technology boasts over 95% accuracy, with other competitors in Asia such as iFlytek utilizing voice AI so advanced it can recognize people by their “voice print”. Trust in reliability of voice recognition technology is growing, and this makes it more likely for the average consumer to use voice enabled devices.
So, what does this mean for SEO? Many optimization techniques and practices rely on climbing the ranks on search engine results pages, or SERPs. Voice search is fundamentally different from traditional on-screen search, in the topics they look for, the situations in which they’re using it, and the phrases and language they use. With the growth in adoption, it is something which every business including ecommerce merchants will need to adapt for. It requires a different approach to traditional SEO, one which prioritizes natural language and puts an even greater emphasis than usual on local and mobile.
5 ways to optimize for voice search
1 - Understand how your audience uses voice search
We mentioned already that how people use voice search is different to how they’d use an on-screen search engine. That means in order to optimize, we need to first understand how people are using voice search - what they’re searching for, and what their search terms look like.
From the above study, we can see that people aren’t really using their voice enabled devices to make purchases - more than half said they never do so. On the other hand, the vast majority are using it at least monthly to ask quick questions and for other search queries they’d typically make. Therefore it’s somewhat unlikely that you’re going to be able to push purchases through your store via voice search in the same way you’d hope to do so with traditional SEO.
Where does that leave room for ecommerce merchants? Especially when you consider how people make purchases with voice search, it’ll typically be through a site like Amazon rather than an independent retailer. The answer is in being a valuable resource of information, local SEO, and building your strategy on omnichannel experiences rather than relying on search alone. This means you’ll need to rely more on your blogs, resources, and local reviews and information. With blogs and resources, if you can answer a question they have in a satisfactory way then they may be more likely to later visit your site. If they want to know where to buy something nearby, then you want your store to be the first place Google chooses to tell them about. These are your golden voice SEO opportunities.
2 - Adapt keywords to suit questions and conversation
Consider how the majority of people use voice search. The keywords and phrases are longer, more conversational, and use natural speech patterns. Instead of searching “ski jackets near me”, they’ll say “Hey Google, where can I buy a ski jacket nearby?”. This is a much longer term, and the language used is a bit more complex than a simple search term. Voice search is also more likely to involve a question, rather than a straightforward phrase.
This means that in order to optimize for voice, you need to adapt and extend your usual set of keywords to suit a more natural, conversational long-tail format. Consider how your keywords would fit into a question, and the kinds of questions your target audience may ask around those keywords. One of our key opportunities with voice search for ecommerce lies in content and blogs, therefore when you’re writing content you should consider these questions and speech focussed long-tail keywords. Try to incorporate these, and write content that specifically asks questions.
Use the language that your audience uses; you can identify this through some voice search focussed keyword and content research. This will allow you to create content that closely matches how your audience uses voice search, and makes it more likely that your content will rank for voice.
3 - Focus on local search terms/GMB
If you have a physical store, then local SEO is always hugely important to your overall search engine optimization strategy. It’s also important for your strategy around voice search, as local information is one of the most common queries that voice search users are looking for. 76% of those with smart speakers say they search for a local business at least weekly, with 46% saying they do so daily. 58% of consumers in general use voice search to find more information about a local business - this includes on their smartphones, laptops etc.
The best way to optimize your local SEO for voice search, is by following general best practices alongside keyword targeting and staying highly engaged with your Google My Business profile. You want your local SEO to be consistent, relevant, and useful to search users, and this will ultimately benefit your business when it comes to voice search.
Ensure your NAP is kept up to date across different platforms.
If your store is featured on other trusted directories such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, then you want to make sure that your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) is consistent across these along with Google My Business and your website. If you update your phone number, for example, then update on all places where your phone number is featured.
Update your opening hours on your Google My Business profile
Turning up to a closed store is a very frustrating experience for a customer. When they use voice search to find a local business, they expect it to be open. To ensure you’re one of the top businesses that appear in voice search results for “near me” enquiries, keep your opening hours as up to date as possible. This includes if you’ll be open or closed on specific holidays, or if you’ll have different opening hours e.g. extended hours for holiday shopping. That way if Google has a choice between your business and another local store, they may be more likely to suggest yours as you’ve proactively given them reliable information.
Answer questions and respond to reviews on Google My Business
Staying on top of questions and reviews on your GMB profile is vital to your local SEO, as it demonstrates that your business is engaged. It boost reliability and trust with both search engines and users.
Consider local keyword modifiers
One of the big differences between regular and local SEO is how people use modifiers to help in their search. These include standard modifiers such as “near me” or “locally”, as well as city or neighborhood names. Use these as part of your local long-tail keywords to figure out which modifiers your audience most commonly uses.
Host locally focussed content on your site
By finding the local keywords and modifiers your audience uses, you can better approach the kind of local content you host on your store. Create a local landing page for your physical store, with all the information users may be searching for. If you have several locations, create a directory landing page with your different locations along with any information such as opening hours and services available i.e. buy online, pick up in-store.
These actions will not only improve your chances of appearing in a voice search, but also greatly improve your local SEO in general.
4 - Write content for rich snippets
When it comes to how search engines determine which content to feature for voice searches, a large number of those selected results will come from SERP features such as featured snippets. If you can create and optimize content that has a high chance of appearing as a featured snippet, then that will translate into voice search results also.
The best way to do this is through using those long-tail, conversational keywords we looked at earlier, and creating content which seeks to answer the questions your audience has about a given topic. Use short, simple sentences that summarize the answer to the question at hand, and use formatting to your advantage to draw attention to specific sections of your content that contain your target long-tail keywords.
We can see a good example of this from one of Homesick’s blogs - “What does Cedarwood smell like?”. The title is likely the exact phrasing that a search user may say in order to find the answer, and the content itself is primed for featured snippets.
5 - Optimize for mobile
Mobile is important not only for screen-based enquiries, but also for voice search. That may seem unusual as the search doesn’t require a screen, however Google prioritizes mobile sites and considers mobile as a ranking factor. It also has to do with where people are using voice search, and given consumers on average spend 70% of their internet browsing time on their smartphone, it makes sense to give mobile weighting in voice search.
To optimize for mobile, you should do the following:
- Ensure your store is mobile-responsive - this comes as standard with any Shopify theme from the Shopify Theme Store.
- Test your site for mobile-friendliness, and resolve any issues regularly.
- Regularly test your site for speed, so that you can identify anything that may slow your site down on mobile.
- Optimize your content and formatting for mobile browsing, e.g. using header tags to separate long pieces of content for easier readability.
Maintaining mobile friendliness on your store will be a benefit to both your chances of appearing in voice search, and also boost your ranking chances in regular on-screen searches.
The way we search changes as technology evolves and the way we use it adapts. As smart speakers become more commonplace and AI voice algorithms become more advanced, people will increasingly use voice search as part of their daily routines. By adapting your SEO strategy to target voice search as well as on-screen, you can better suit the needs of your target audience and make it easier for them to discover your business.