Imagine where we would be today with the internet but without Google or search engines. Wouldn’t be the same, would it? We all got used to the Google search bar and typing in queries etc. But now, there’s another way to search and it’s growing. It’s been around for awhile, but now it’s big enough that if you are a digital marketer, you simply can’t afford to ignore its impact on search marketing. A recent study observed that 40% of Americans make at least one voice search per day, that there are over 118 million smart speakers in American homes, and that 20% of searches through the Android Google App are voice searches. And these numbers continue to rise.
The study found that the criteria used by Google in its voice search algorithm are somewhat different from those of its typed counterpart, and listed the distinctions. However, one thing that they didn’t discuss was how to implement their findings. Some of them come at the expense of important aspects of websites, or would require a page redesign, potentially hurting the function of the website. And for many businesses, voice search isn’t relevant. So, let’s examine the basics of voice search as it differs from regular search, starting with the search itself.
Voice Search tends to follow question form, with longer searches – involving more keywords – and simpler language, seeking an actionable result. For example, a regular search might be, “nearest Starbucks”, with a voice equivalent of “Where is the nearest Starbucks?” Questions that don’t work with these criteria – a search for in-depth information, for instance – are unlikely to be asked through voice search. An article such as this would be a good example; it’s not something someone is likely to ask their Google Home to find.
Texting and other forms of abbreviated communication have driven people to type efficiently even when it’s no longer necessary. Conversation, though, hasn’t gained similar inhibitions, and so has retained its long form. People search in the same way they interact with their devices: abbreviated text or extended conversation.
As with the longer form of searches, people search using voice in the same way they speak. And when you want to know something, you ask. There’s no form of communication that’s distilled verbal questions into something simpler.
People use simpler language when speaking than when writing because of the inability to edit their speech. When you write, you can look over the text, editing where needed and replacing imprecise words with longer, more accurate forms.
Voice searches using smart speakers don’t display an SERP (Search Engine Results Page); they tell you what they find out loud. That means that when using one, you’re looking for immediate, relevant results, as opposed to something you’ll look into deeply.
Whether or not you need to optimize your website likely depends on that final characteristic of voice search, simple results. When someone finds your website through Voice Search, they’re not looking to buy something. They just want information, and probably just a very specific piece. So if your website isn’t selling the type of thing someone looks up quickly – say you run a B2B (Business to Business) company – the people who conduct voice searches aren’t looking for your company anyway. At most, they may be looking for your contact information or address, which should be easy to find even if you haven’t optimized for Voice Search.
What Google Looks For
As mentioned above, Google’s search criteria are different for Voice Search. It generally returns pages with a better reputation and with better security than normal search, as well as drawing primarily – 80%, on average – from the top 3 results. The pages also had more links, on average, and it also favoured websites with keywords as anchors for backlinks. Page speed is one of the most important factors in Voice Search, as the websites presented loaded anywhere between 5 and 15 times as quickly as the websites from the first page that weren’t presented. Finally, 70% of the answers were in an SERP feature, including 60% which were in Featured Snippets.
Security is particularly important for Google to protect the devices that return the results. The user has a harder time discerning whether a website is safe when they only hear the name, and the search engine needs to accommodate for it.
Reputation is presumably a factor in the security aspect above, but it also helps make sure the content being returned is useful and relevant for the user. This is also likely part of the reason for the use of the first three results and the SERP features – though this also makes reading smoother, as below:
The key factor in the search engine algorithm seems to be how quickly pages load, and that’s another reason for Google’s favouring SERP features. When someone asks a Voice Search question, they’ve got a particular piece of information they’re after. That leads them to expect a faster answer – they know exactly what they want; why doesn’t Google – and so Google favours websites that can provide that speed.
Your Business & the Balanced Solution Required for Voice Search
Most of these issues aren’t relevant for your business. You want a site with good security and a good reputation anyway. Page speed is an issue, though. It sounds like something everyone wants to improve, but there’s a trade-off. One of the best ways to improve page speed is to optimize images among other details which are too detailed to cover in this post. Keep text simple, since the website is just being read aloud by Google or the search engine. So now you may have sacrificed a bit on imagery and design but you’ll have a website which loads faster than any other search result. Still not perfect.
The solution is a balance; produce a separate Voice Search landing page. This is a page that should be built to load quickly, contain plenty of links and few pictures, using plain text. It can function as an FAQ page, or just be its own page, but it should be established as a landing page. It will convey your Voice Search traffic – small though it may be – and give you useful name recognition. It won’t ever replace your main home page page, though, because it’s meant for the many regular searches that will never stop coming in.
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