Conversation search, or voice search, is a new searching phenomenon where human spoken questions trigger search results that are read out loud in our natural language. This new human/machine interaction is now included in various devices including home assistants, tablets, mobile phones, streaming devices and more.
Conversational search analyzes spoken questions and replies with the top search result that best matches the query.
Voice Search Growth
The fast adoption of voice search is astounding:
- In the beginning of 2018 there were a one billion voice searches per month performed, according to Alpine.AI
- By 2020 half of all web searches will be voice searches, according to Andrew Ng, former Chief Scientist at Baidu
Clearly, search engines are desperate at making voice search work:
- Bing released an improved version of voice search in 2013 (It’s also now powering both Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa’s voice search)
- Yandex has had its voice search assistant – Alice – working on multiple devices for a few years now
- Baidu and Sogou recently launched their voice assistant applications in 2013
How about Google?
Google has been focusing on voice search for years now. Apart from using voice search across all its devices (including on desktop through Google Chrome browser), Google has also been used for searching through Apple’s Siri since 2017. With that, Google has a substantial voice search market share, and the company is working hard to make it work well in order to ultimately dominate the market.
Voice Search and Google Algorithm
Voice search revolution has been coming for many years now with Google clearly realizing it’s the future of search:
- Back in August of 2013, Google introduced Hummingbird update focusing on semantic analysis to identify search intent behind its query
- In 2015 Google also unveiled its Rankbrain system as the method to better understand and respond to any query. Rankbrain uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to be able the machine “to think like a human being”.
Fundamentally, both of the above systems allow Google to see beyond keyword strings. Together, they bring parts of conversational search to the Google search engine. These days Google evaluates context, understands search intent and is able to deliver search results that solve problems, not just match keywords to web documents.
Conversational search can analyze an entire spoken sentence or phrase rather than picking and choosing keywords from the sentence like typical search engines (used to) do.
The advent of conversational search means content creators need to focus more on the structure and work to answer specific personas.
Voice Search Optimization for Content Marketers
Forget About Keyword-Matching: Build Relevant Context
The first step is changing your keyword optimization game. Stop stressing out about outdated practices like keyword density and keyword extension. Start focusing on search intent and (natural-language) context because that’s what Google is doing.
Resources and tools:
TextOptimizer helps you research and optimize your content using semantic analysis. In essence, the tool helps you think like Google by doing the following:
- TextOptimizer runs your query in Google and extracts the search snippets Google returns (The idea is simple and genius: Google generates search snippets based on what it thinks satisfies each search query best, so analyzing those snippets is like analyzing the best possible summary of the topic)
- TextOptimizer uses semantic analysis to generate the list of related terms, categories and questions that Google has identified to best answer the query
- Next, the tool helps you use these terms and questions in your content to build a more relevant context and better match Google’s expectations
Basically, TextOptimizer helps you to better optimize for the semantic context of your target query which is now a powerful signal Google is using to rank pages.
Answer Your Customers’ Questions
Most voice searches will start with the 5W + H questions, i.e. who, what, when, where, why and how. The most common answers to these questions include a single item of information that can be easily isolated on a web page.
Most conversational search platforms answer these questions with instant answers. Becoming an instant answer is a boon to your website and increases your brand awareness.
A FAQ page, or Frequently Asked Questions page, is a great idea to add to your website. Conversational search engines can pull from an FAQ page to provide users with an immediate answer.
Resources and tools:
- You can easily put together a FAQ page using one of these plugins.
- Research questions in their natural context using Twitter comments
- Use these tools to research and optimize for niche questions
If you still lack data for an FAQ page, reach out to your customer support and sales teams for what questions they are asked the most. Collect this data first, then build a FAQ page that answers the most critical issues.
Utilize subtitles, bullet points, tables and highlighted passages in your content. These content formats increase your page’s readability, making it easier for machines to understand the content.
Physical readers also tend to scan material before committing to reading your blog or article, so including subheadings, bullet points and tables increases the chance they’ll read the entire piece.
Resources and tools:
Webfx has a free tool that grades your content readability using most popular readability indicators including Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease, Gunning Fog Score and Automated Readability Index (ARI)
Aim at creating short sentences (10 words on average) and structuring your content using short paragraphs (a 2-3 of sentences in each).
Simplicity is Key: Don’t Think Like a Marketer
Keep your content simple and clear. Users are doing less and less typing relying on spoken commands to text, start a phone call, and conduct an Internet search. Optimize your content by dropping the jargon and using clear language that improves readability, and comprehension.
For voice search optimization, you must stop thinking like a marketer and start thinking like your target audience or customer.
What information provides your customer value? What does your audience need? No customer uses voice search for marketing messages.
Conversational searches are just that, a conversation. If your content is heavy with buzzwords that no one uses in a real discussion, your search engine visibility decreases. People don’t use voice search to look for a B2B industry leader utilizing corporate synergy. Keep your content as close to natural conversation language as you can.
Resources and tools:
- Apply important voice patterns to your content marketing strategy
- Here’s a good explanation of how Natural Language Processing works
- Be factual and clear. For example, if the possible search intent is to find out the price, give the actual number (even if it’s an estimate) instead of long details on how it was calculated.
- Add content sections that target an immediate need for an answer. These include glossaries (here’s a good example), Q&A pages (here’s an example), etc.
Finally, make sure your shopping experience and conversion channels are as smooth as possible. Simplify your on-site purchasing experience to never lose a sale. One of the key takeaways from BigCommerce omni-channel marketing report is that the new generation of consumers value the simplicity of shopping experience on top of everything else (including privacy and security):
younger consumers being averse to any shopping behavior that puts a burden on their time. They’re interested in easy ordering, fast delivery, and easier returns.
Voice Search SEO is Still SEO
Yes, there are voice-search-specific guidelines and techniques, but at the end of the day, the basic tenants of traditional SEO still apply to voice search optimization. Use long-tail, contextual keywords, meta data, and structured markup to help search engines understand your content. Best voice search optimization practices include load time optimization, local listing management, and HTML content structuring – all of these tactics also help with traditional, non-voice search.
Technology is continually changing, but voice search is here to stay. Optimize your content for both typed search queries and voice search queries by writing your content as a conversation, providing clear answers and building content sections that target an immediate need.