Although Voice search is a feature that we’re seeing more and more today, it was once considered by experts to be a passing novelty, which is an unfortunate fate assigned to many Google products. Within a relatively short period of time however, it goes without saying that Voice Search has made its stance as a whole new form of data input.
In fact, some now even consider it to be a rival of standard web text.
Although it is still a long way off being a second standard alongside text, recent advancements in technology and new voice-enabled products (see Google Home and Amazon Echo), have made Voice Search into a profitable investment for websites to follow.
With this in mind, it is essential that websites should optimise now so that they will be prepared for what some cal “voice search armageddon”, as the chances are that the technology will result in a reshuffling of current SERP rankings.
Voice Search markup
Google is always trying to improve on its own projects, which in this case, includes Voice Search.
As the search engine constantly introduces new products which utilise voice input (specifically Google Home), Google needs to ensure that these technologies are catered to from a search perspective.
With this, it has introduced new structured data for the US market (full roll out expected soon), to allow for clearer results to be shown to users utilising Voice Search.
This is known as ‘speakable schema’, which assists Google Assistant in delivering content through voice in its products.
This can be implemented anywhere in a webpage, like all other schema, and can read out anything you want it to.
Clean information architecture
As we all know, Google loves webpages with clear, well-structured information architecture on a page-by-page basis. This means utilising standard heading tags and using them effectively within a webpage to help organise information.
As we have started seeing Google become a “destination” page rather than a “gateway” page (by which we mean users are starting to go to Google for information, or sometimes products, and retrieve all the information just from a Google webpage), it relies more upon featured snippets.
This coincides with Voice Search, as it tends to use whatever is in Google’s featured snippet to provide users with an answer, so you must have clear information architecture to be worthy of appearing within featured snippets.
This means that Google requires organised content that it can identify headers within, say, a blog post and the following content.
Clear structured data
Structured data is becoming increasingly important from an SEO perspective as Google expands its knowledge graph through crawling a website’s schema.
With Voice Search, users search for informational queries — such as, “what time does the nearest Sainsbury’s close?”
Google can easily acquire this information by crawling schema, and with the growing prominence of Voice Search, it may think of websites differently on how much information they provide Google on the organisation.
This shouldn’t be an issue for many websites, as they already include site-wide schema, however, if your site doesn’t, you must implement at least some organisational schema.
Good, natural content
As with any other aspect of Search, Google won’t consider including you in its Voice Search results if your website does not have good content.
Content has been decreasing in popularity among many site owners, as web designers have started to develop websites with a clean, minimal aesthetics.
Although this sounds good on paper, your site will lack content for Google to crawl and help deem itself worthy to earn a top spot on SERPs.
Optimising for Voice Search means prioritising content to match how and what a user would say. More specifically, this means matching content on the website to suit the tone of queries.
As users who use Voice Search tend to use conversational dialect (i.e. asking a question with a full sentence) rather than just using keywords, this means that queries will contain more words, or long-tail keywords.
As you can imagine, this will therefore affect what the results will display, and site content may need changing to cater around this.
Although this has been historically important for general SEO, it applies further for Voice Search, as more exact match queries can be found.
The average response for a Voice Search should be no longer than 30 words, so any Voice Search opportunities fall within this limit.
This also includes making sure readability is at an accessible level. The recommended limit by Google is 9th grade-level, as any level above this can deter a website’s chances of getting Voice Search results.
There are many tools on the internet that measure the readability of text. Hummingbird is one of the most prominent, and also offers recommendations for improvement. Without having these checked off, there is very little chance of your page obtaining a top Voice Search result.
Websites must ensure that they have good content throughout every page, which matches the conversational dialect that is used in voice search queries to even stand a chance at getting featured within voice search results.
If you’ve seen any other Voice Search article, then you will have probably seen this subject littered around a couple of hundred times (I even wrote a blog post about it not long ago).
Many users who use Voice Search (especially those using it through smart home speakers) will query local searches, such as when they are searching for directions or finding out when certain shops shut, meaning that local queries take a predominant portion in the voice search area. Even 39% of voice searches are for local business information.
This means that your website, to rank for Voice Search, must be optimised for local searches.
You should there put information such as locations in meta tags, and write content about the area, as well as ensuring that you have a GMB listing (as Google takes advantage of this when looking for local business for its assistant applications, as well as other companies).
Strong E-A-T (Google website rating)
Google has recently introduced its new rating system, which judges websites on their content and reputation.
E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) is another one of those important, all-encompassing ratings that affects organic search at an almost fundamental level.
Websites with good reputations, that are regularly used as reliable sources of information, will therefore perform better in the SERPs and will inherently affect how websites appear in voice searches.
If your website does not meet the standards Google suggests on E-A-T, it will strongly affect performance in Voice Search.
Fast page speed
Page speed blew up in 2018 as Google launched the mobile-first index era, which puts emphasis on website speed and how fast everything loads.
As Voice Search is primarily mobile, Google will look for how this page performs on mobile devices, which will affect how the site performs.
There are many ways to optimise for page speed, however the two big things to consider are implementing HTTP/2 and a CDN (such as Cloudflare). These can give your website a massive push in speed. That said, another thing to be wary of is your website’s TTFB.
Without a good TTFB, the above recommendations doesn’t really make a difference. Make sure your website is on a good hosting provider and has a TTFB of less than 500ms before implementing these changes.
When to prepare for Voice Search
Admittedly, Voice Search hasn’t fully taken off yet, and no one knows when it truly will.
There are many things said on the internet about Google Voice Search which simply aren’t true, and some are mere fabrications to help promote businesses (ever heard the statistic that “55% of teenagers are using voice search on a daily basis”?).
People don’t yet truly shop for things with it, as many simply aren’t accustomed to it yet or don’t trust it.
What’s more, the actual AI behind the technology hasn’t fully developed for daily use and most technologies can’t fully understand complex speech patterns, accents, and sentences.
As however, it is proving its worth for many already, as in general, voice search is being recognised as a new form of data entry, as mentioned previously in the article, but it is still a long way away from becoming anywhere to being truly mainstream.
However, it does not hurt to prepare for it now, as optimising for all the above doesn’t just apply for the eventual “voice search armageddon”, but also right now in the current SEO environment.