If you haven’t heard, voice search has become a big deal — and if done right, can direct much more traffic to your site.

A few years ago, everyone was counting down the days until Google released its dreaded April 2015 algorithm update – which became known as “Mobilegeddon”. The prospect of mobile SEO had digital marketers all over the world in a frenzied panic. Basically, the main effect of this update was to give priority to websites that display well on smartphones and other mobile devices. But in the end, the update didn’t change much of anything. What worked for desktop SEO pretty much worked for mobile SEO, too.

Fast forward to 2018. The way people search for information online is rapidly changing. Instead of typing a query into a search engine, people are using voice search on their smartphones, tablets or smart speakers (like the Amazon Alexa or the Google Home devices) to search for information on the internet.

If you use an Apple device – you summon your personal voice assistant by simply saying “Hey Siri”. Google voice search (“OK Google”) is popular on Android devices, and Microsoft’s Cortana is useful on your PC and smartphone using their native app.

It’s only by understanding just how a voice search works that you can direct more traffic to your page. In this article, we take a look at why you should care about voice search, what sets voice search apart, and how you can optimize it for your website.

Why should you care about voice search?

As of 2018, just over 36% of the world’s population owns a smartphone, up from about 10% in 2011. Sales of smart speakers have also increased in the past couple of years, which means that as time goes on, it’s just going to get even easier to search with our voice.
By far, the reason why people have started using voice search is that it’s so convenient. It doesn’t matter what you’re in the middle of – driving to work, cooking dinner, feeding the baby, walking the dog, even taking a shower – there’s simply no need to stop what you’re doing to type your query on your smart device. You can just use your voice!

Then there’s the statistics from Google itself, with one out of five mobile queries now being a voice search.

What sets voice search apart?

We mentioned at the beginning of the article how mobile SEO didn’t change much of anything. Actually – mobile queries are often the same as desktop queries, with the exception of searches that include phrases like “near me” and “store hours”. There are a few differences that can affect your position on a search engine results page (SERP).  For instance, if a mobile site is unresponsive, it may have a drop in it’s rankings.

What sets voice search apart is mainly the language people use in a search. For example, if you’re working late at the office and decide you want to stop on the way home and grab a burger. You might quickly type “BurgerFi hours.” But, if you were on your smartphone and did a voice search, you’d probably say something like this: “OK Google, what time does the nearest BurgerFi close?” The language is much more conversational which makes the phrasing different. This will significantly affect how your page is optimized.

According to Google, voice searches are 30 times likelier to be action searches than a typed search. Here’s the exact quote from 2016:

“We’ve got a lot of, a huge increase in voice queries because as people are using their phones more, and a more natural way to interact with it is by speaking what they need. And we are seeing that around 20% of the queries on the Google app on phones are now voice queries. As well as out of voice queries as a total thing, we get about 30 times more action queries by voice than by typing. So there is definitely a shift happening.”

This shift in user behavior is definite proof that the search game is changing. Once you understand a user’s intent – you can create the kind of content that will boost your ranking.

How to optimize your site for voice search:

1. Make sure your site is optimized for mobile.
Since most voice searches are done on mobile, it’s super important that your site is mobile-friendly.
Many people assume that since their website looks awesome on a desktop, that it’ll automatically look great on a mobile phone, too. And that’s simply not the case.

So, what should you do? You should start by implementing a responsive web design. Otherwise, the mobile version could look sloppy, be hard to navigate, and take forever to load.

2. Use more natural language in your content.
That’s right, keyword researchers! You can think like a human again. When we type a search into Google on our desktop or smartphone, we know that we can be a bit general with our word choice because Google will fill in the gaps. For example, if we want to know what year the film Casablanca was released, we might type into Google “Casablanca film year”. Now, if we were to use voice search instead, we’d probably say something like, “OK Google, what year was the film Casablanca released?” The key point here is that voice search is much more conversational.

3. Use more long-tail keywords in your content.
Voice search tends to be action-oriented and contain lots of question phrases. For example, let’s say we have an important meeting the next day and we’ve discovered that our favorite pantsuit (don’t judge, we just finished watched Annie Hall…) has a huge stain on it. So, we grab our smart phone and quickly ramble “OK  Google, where is the nearest dry cleaner near me.”

As a business owner, it’s a good idea to find out what questions potential customers are asking. A good place to start getting answers is to simply listen to people speak. You can hardly go anywhere these days without someone whipping out their phone to ask it a question. But, there’s also a few helpful tools on the web, such as  Answer the Public. This helpful site will not only give you an insight into the questions that people are asking or speaking, but will also give you powerful insights into their intents and motivations.

4. Optimize your business listing.
Even if your business ranks high on Google, it still may not be easy for people to find you via voice search. Nearly a quarter of voice searches are for local businesses – which, if you think about it, makes a lot of sense. We mentioned earlier that voice search is convenient especially when you’re on the go. People are constantly on the move and use their smart devices to assist them with something right then and there – whether they’re looking for a spot to grab a bite, or a place to get their nails done.

Imagine that you’re out running your Saturday errands and decide that you want to get a massage that afternoon. Great! You pull out your smartphone and say “OK Google, where can I get a massage today near me?”

Google returns all kinds of useful information, including reviews of local massage parlors, closing times, distance, and even phone numbers. This is a fantastic feature for customers, but it’s not great for you if your business isn’t showing up in the SERPs.

So, how do you optimize your site so that your local SEO performance is better? We’d recommend that you start off by claiming your Google My Business listing. This is important because ever since the advent of mobile SEO, users are using queries like “dry cleaner near me.” And if your business isn’t listed in Google My Business, your site won’t be displayed in the search results.

Final thoughts.

Voice search isn’t just a fad that’s going to go away. We’re in the midst of a huge shift in SEO and how users are going to get the results they’re searching for. Voice search and personal assistants are altering the digital marketing landscape that we’ve come to know.  It’s estimated that by 2020, voice and image-based searches are expected to contribute to at least half of all searches, so it’s imperative to start a strategy now.

Published by Merilyn Ritchie

Merilyn Ritchie is the Director of Media Services and Content Strategy at EX Media. She has crafted content for small businesses, large non-profits, tech startups, and everything in between. Writer by day and reader by night, she loathes to talk about herself in the third person but can be persuaded to do so from time to time. So it goes. Find her on Instagram: @MerilynMcg