Voice Search

In July, Google released Speakable markup to help news producers optimise their content for voice search devices, such as Google Home. Like all schema markup, Speakable makes it easier for search engine bots to identify the content of an article or webpage when it’s crawled, allowing it to be ranked appropriately in the SERPs. However, Speakable differs with other markup in that it identifies sections of a webpage that are “best suited for audio playback using text-to-speech (TTS).“

Magnanimous as ever, Google provided content and technical guidelines on Speakable, outlining how news outlets can optimise their content for Google Home devices. The main focus was on keeping Speakable structured data concise, focused and easy to say. Although this markup is focused on English-speaking, US based news content, it provides an interesting insight into Google’s manoeuvrings and the future of voice search SEO.

In this article, we will explore the main ways voice search will affect SEO and how you can keep up with it by optimising your webpages.  

Speed is key

Google announced back at the start of 2018 that from July, page speed would be a ranking factor for mobile as well as desktop searches. The increasing importance of page speed as a ranking factor would inevitably be reflected in voice search results too. And it has – a recent study by SEO expert Brian Dean on his website Backlinko found that the average voice search result page loads 52% faster than the worldwide average.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. When you ask Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa or any other voice search device a question, you want it answered immediately. It’s the main reason that voice search is the fastest growing search type – it’s quicker and more convenient than traditional typed searches. So, if you want your website to rank as high as possible in voice search, make sure your pages are loading as quickly as possible.

Short & simple content

When it comes to voice search, Google has further guidelines on the characteristics of the ideal “search speech” answers it, and its users, expect. Google splits its evaluation of voice search answers into two ratings – Needs Met Rating and Speech Quality Rating. Needs Met relates to the relevance of the response (something every SEO should be all too familiar with), while Speech Quality concerns how it was answered.

The three main three features of Speech Quality are:

  •      Length – is the response an appropriate length?
  •      Formulation – is the response grammatically correct and formulated like a native speaker?
  •      Elocution – were words pronounced correctly and was the rhythm and intonation of voice natural?

It’s pretty clear from the guidelines that Google wants voice search answers to be short and specific. Moreover, BackLinko’s study found that the average voice search result is only 29 words long. Brevity is definitely a virtue when it comes to the world of voice search.

Although “eyes-free voice assistants” (as Google likes to call them) are becoming increasingly sophisticated, their elocution is still not perfect. Voice search results must therefore be worded in the simplest way possible to give eyes-free devices the best chance of understanding and articulating the answer.

Whereas traditional SEO strategies have focused on the length and formulation of content, it is only with the advent of voice search that SEOs will now have to also consider how it is articulated. – Is anyone else picturing a metallic ‘Alexa’ Doolittle repeating the phrase “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”? No? Just me then.       

Question format

An online search ultimately boils down to a person asking a question. Whatever answer they may be looking for, the user’s intent can best be expressed as a Who, What, When, Where, Why or How question. This is even more apparent when observed in voice search users who express their intent aloud in a detailed, grammatically correct question – as opposed to the bare bones of a text-based, keyword search.

It would therefore make a great deal of sense for marketers to optimise their content for long-tail, question-specific searches. “Doing so,” explains Casey Markee, founder of digital marketing agency Media Wyse, “means mining your customers for data as well as putting up detailed FAQ content based around your product and services.”

Focusing more on the Q&A format for content will be a reasonably easy shift for many companies as they will already have FAQ and Q&A pages on their websites – admittedly, given about as much love as their T&Cs pages. Prioritise and optimise this content by positioning it at the top of the page and provide simple, succinct answers in the very first sentence.     

In summary

Although voice search does pose some new challenges and opportunities for marketers, the fundamentals of SEO still reign supreme – excellent website usability, awesome links and most importantly, relevant and quality content. These all contribute towards providing the optimum user experience. As Anna Lebedeva, head of growth marketing at online marketing platform SEMrush explains, “[Voice search] can be considered as an extension of the trend towards the humanization of the web experience.”   

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