“OK, Google, how can I rank higher in voice search?”
That question might have seemed silly ten years ago, but the era of voice search has arrived, making this a very real expectation and thing to consider for your WordPress site.
Even back in 2016, voice search was already powering 20% of Google’s mobile searches. As virtual assistants have only grown and expanded (Activate estimates there will be 21.4 million smart speakers in the US alone by 2020), it’s a pretty safe bet that the voice search percentages are even higher today.
The increase in people using voice search has led to similar growth in people trying to optimize their websites for voice, as well as people investigating what that optimization actually entails.
Thankfully, that means we now have some data to go on. So…want to optimize your WordPress site for voice search? Here’s what the data says to do…But first.
What is Voice Search?
It seems pretty self-explanatory now, but to define it further voice search is the act of searching something on a search engine by the use of voice commands.
This is often, but not always, used with an intermediary, and a “wake” call, such as the ever-popular Siri, Alexa, or “Hey Google!”, aka, the Google Assistant. So far, only Alexa has offered the ability to change its name or “wake” call.
By the means of complex processing, and sometimes, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), these voice patterns are converted, analyzed, and understood by computers as text searches, and then fed into the search engine. Thus giving almost instant results. Accuracy is still albeit contestable.
And as mentioned in our intro, the use of these virtual assistants has only grown since given the plethora of devices that have them built-in, including phones, speakers, laptops, tablets, TVs, and even Refrigerators, of all things.
With that in mind, web developers, web owners, and even aspiring “tech gurus” try to learn as much of the pattern as possible to optimize their websites for it. To make sure that their content is the one spewed out when you say “Hey Google.”
And this trend continues to grow since according to research published by Adobe, by this time, it is estimated that 48% of “general web searches” online are via voice searches.
Such virtual assistants and voice searches have always been a dream for many tech enthusiasts since the dawn of the internet, and more so at the start of this century.
A Brief History of Voice Search
Like with anything Google has released, voice searches started out at Google Labs. Kind of like a fun playground and testing ground for most of Google’s features.
Since its introduction in 2010, what was formerly known as Google Voice Search or Search by Voice, it’s grown quite a bit in terms of usability and how it can be accessed.
Back in the days, Google initially required it’s users to call a phone number from their mobile device, and they were prompted by “Say Your Search Keywords”. The caller would then say whatever it is they wish to search, and would get a reply to a search engine results page link.
Quite the task right? But it only got better from there.
Although not the easiest of tasks to accomplish for the end-user, Google was surely looking ahead. And a bright future it was. This paved the way for some important and radical changes and updates towards voice recognition, and then Natural Language Processing.
From then on, Google has integrated this feature in almost all of its products from Maps, Youtube, Google Play, Google Now, and even to the core of its search engine page.
Hello! My name is Sujay and I’m CEO of Astra.
We’re on a mission to help small businesses grow online with affordable software products and the education you need to succeed.
How Does Google and Other Search Engines Do This?
Seems like magic, doesn’t it? Well to most of us, we can just leave it at that. The big brains at Google have got it all figured out anyway.
To those who stayed, since the aforementioned dial a number to get results era, Google has had a substantial update to the way it processes voice search results, notably, “The Hummingbird Update”.
The Hummingbird Update
To most of the tech enthusiasts and Google fans out there more or less know what this is about. In 2013, Google had a major update to their search algorithms, the Google Hummingbird.
While it used to be that the searches based on keywords were quite literal and often inaccurate. (Honestly, at the time, it could have just saved you more time to type it.) The Hummingbird Update started “learning”, in a way, and considered the user intent and context of the queries. Much like how humans process questions.
This gave way to a huge shift of web developers and marketers, mostly in the grey area, who stuffed keywords in their content and articles like it was nobody’s business mostly to bolster their pages to their target audience.
The update relies on the aforementioned concept of Natural Language processing, where not only the keywords are interpreted in their most literal meaning, to take into account the voice texture, interests, and behavior of voice.
Aside from the usual syntax parsing, it used context and contextual reasoning to give it’s responses.
Much like when you’re asked, “Can you get me a glass of water?” Instead of responding to the literal “Yes.” and doing absolutely nothing. You would instead proceed to execute the action, i.e., getting that person a glass of water, contextually understanding it as a command instead of a simple question. Rhetorical questions partially included, with Google, at least.
All of this is somehow personalized and stored in Google’s “brain” and “learns” your language, accent, and speech patterns with time. (Terms in quotes are way too complicated to explain simply.) Focusing more on semantics and with contextual relevance in the future.
Sequential Semantic Search
Another great addition to the update, and is constantly updating with news of upgraded, almost life-like assistants, is what’s called as Sequential Semantic Search.
Simply speaking, sequential semantic search (let’s call it SSS for short) is the action of voice search assistants to follow through with the set of questions and conversations from previous queries.
Asking Google: “Who is the current President of the United States?”
Would return a response of “Donald J. Trump”
Then asking it again, “What year was he born?”
With a response of “, Donald J. Trump was born on June 14, 1946.”
That is the magic of SSS. Using semantics, and other complicated patterns that it learned over time, it is able to follow through the conversation with a certain degree of acceptable accuracy. As opposed to giving out just a random birthday when asked an incomplete question.
All this paved the way for our newest and improved Google Now, Google Home, and similarly with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and presumably Microsoft’s Cortana and Samsung’s Bixby.
Why Is This Relevant to Me as a Website Owner
A couple of things. First, you want that search engine to be putting out information from your rest.
Second, you’d want your products, articles, etc., be the one suggested in the search results whenever it’s asked for one.
Third, and most importantly, you’d want your website to be understood by Google and other search engines, not just for Voice. Having your website optimized for Voice Search, although it doesn’t make it as the top response, can still bolster your way to page one of the search results pages.
It’s not a losing battle, it’s a win-win scenario either way.
In addition to that, if you are advertising locally, you’d want your local users and patrons to be able to find you on Maps, your content on YouTube, and your listing on Google Business Listings, not your competitors, even if you have an identifiable name.
Characteristics of Voice Searches
Voce searches, in particular, have a very specific set of criteria that they follow in delivering search results. Aside from the most benign things that we disregard when making keyword searches or actual thought out questions, the processing of these voice searches have specific characteristics that filter out their results in some form or another.
It’s prudent to learn these characteristics as much as possible in order to understand how to leverage your content and your website to better suit the growing trend.
Let’s dig in:
1. Voice Search Users Tend to Want Immediate Results
The first, and arguably most important thing on this list is that voice searches tend to look for websites and sources that can provide the most important, yet accurate information that it has crawled and can find.
This is widely regarded as an extension of it’s AI-like, or personal assistant characteristics.
Google Voice Search would most likely give you information that is one or two sentences rather than read you a whole paragraph’s worth of information to give you answers.
Most teens and adults that are using voice searches tend to use them when asking for simple factoids, asking for directions, asking to text or call someone, or look up someone’s phone number, birthday, address, or most any number of random information.
Google’s Voice Search algorithms tend to return search results that are concise and direct to the point.
Leveraging this characteristic is key in optimizing your website for voice searches.
2. Uses Conversational Words
With the Humminbird update, as mentioned above, Google no longer uses just keywords to give results or answers.
Following, still, the personal assistant trend, they now use a more conversational approach to giving search results.
What does this translate to when optimizing your website? Simple. Long-tail keywords on both short and long-form content.
Simple keywords are okay for to some degree, however, for voice searches, long-tail keywords are much more important. Mostly because these keywords are what gives Google the context that it needs to process and give the information in a conversational manner.
In addition, a part of this Natural Language Processing system that Google uses is the ability to connect words together to form context. That’s just how your voice searches are processed.
In effect, using long-tail keywords for your voice searches, alongside actually focused cornerstone keywords, will eventually improve your chances of being spewed out by Google Voice.
3. Local Content Is Preferred.
As mentioned above, most voice searches tend to be focused on simple tasks such as asking for directions to the nearest restaurant, or salon. Asking for the hours of business, etc.
What all of these means is that the majority of Google Voice Search results actually give out local search results more than it does other results.
The Internet Trends Report of 2016 published that 22% of people use voice search for finding local information. Most likely on their mobile devices, and even perhaps in their car.
What this means for you, and we will expand this further below, is that you need to update your information and metadata, especially your location, hours, contact number, addresses, etc.
In addition to that, you also would have to update your business listings in prominent platforms such as Google My Business Listing and Yelp.
How Can I Optimize My Website for Voice Search?
Now for the actual juicy part.
After talking about the history, the process, the benefits, and most other important pre-text, we now come to discussing the actual “How’s” of optimizing your website for Voice Search.
1. Make Sure Your Intent Is Clear
This is basically a good rule of thumb, whether it be for voice or just casual text-based searches. Clear intent.
If you’ve ever come near a content or marketing department yell “Have a clear search intent.” Then you’ll know why.
If not, let’s discuss it.
Basically, in the olden days of Baby and toddler Google, the search engine mostly based its results on keywords and backlinking more than actual content and, (spoiler alert) structured data and metadata.
But it has since learned that black hats of the internet have taken advantage of this and made a profit from ads using these methods.
That’s not to say that doesn’t happen nowadays, but admittedly it’s less often, but let’s digress.
In today’s grown-up (maybe) Google, it focuses more on intent. Search intent, content clarity, context, meta descriptions, and alt tags, and structured data.
Optimizing your content to fit the search intent of your possible audience or topic is the key to having it most likely displayed on search engines and voice results.
Don’t have a website about computers, but put content about anime. (As an extreme example.) Or do not deceptively title a post or page about tech and gadgets, while the content mainly sells these products and not offer real value.
Quality is the key.
Other key factors include:
- Make sure the tone of your content is conversational.
- Do not hide information in images, put them in plain text or HTML in your website somewhere.
- Do not post misleading information.
Doing any of the following might earn you a demerit from Google. And you wouldn’t want that.
2. Optimize for Other Search Engines?
Should you? I mean Google is the reigning king when it comes to search engines.
The bottom line is that it’s not as necessary as you might think.
Giving time to optimizing your websites for other search engines just doubles the work for you in the long run. Most of these search engines do have the same metrics (or at least that’s the word around the watercooler).
One main factor to consider, however, is the type of content that you are offering. If you are primarily offering services for a specific subset of users who are on that search engine, then go ahead, including geography.
If not, you’re probably just okay with optimizing for Google and having the other search engines follow suit. Unless there is a big shift in the market somewhere, which is undoubtedly unlikely.
3. Use Schema or Structured Data
Beyond the heavy correlation with page speed, Backlinko also found “that 36.4% of voice search result pages used Schema markup (vs. 31.3% for the average page on the internet)”:
While the Backlinko team did point out that the difference is not large enough to be significant, there is still an increase there.
And, given all the other benefits of schema markup, it’s more data pointing towards the importance of using schema markup on your site.
To use schema on WordPress, Schema Pro can help you automatically add proper JSON-LD schema markup to all the content on your site.
Schema, in general, or structured data, as it’s referred to, is the context for your website. It provides Google the information between the difference of a set of numbers at random and a phone number.
It’s basically like a nametag for your content.
We have a lot of resources available about schema including, when to put them and where, and what it is and how it can help you boost your SEO score.
We even have a skillet course for it. Try it. It’s easy to follow, and won’t take an hour of your time.
4. A Quick-Loading Theme Can Set You up for Success in Voice Search
Brian Dean and Backlinko recently analyzed over 10,000 Google Home voice search results and found this:
The average voice search result page loads 52% faster than the overall average page.
In Brian’s own words: “PageSpeed appears to play a major role in voice search SEO”.
Beyond Backlinko’s research, Google also recently started using page speed in its mobile index in January 2018, which is where most voice search is happening.
It follows therefore that if you want your WordPress site to rank higher in voice search, you need it to load fast.
While there are all kinds of performance optimizations you can tweak on your WordPress site, your site’s speed is always going to be limited by its foundation.
In WordPress, that foundation is your theme and your plugins.
In fact, the base Astra theme will load in under 0.5 seconds with default WordPress data, giving your site a great chance to tick Google’s boxes when it comes to voice search:
5. Short and Easy to Read Is the Name of the Game
Beyond the technical aspects of page speed and schema markup, another way to help your content rank in voice search is to just plain make it easy to read.
Backlinko found two data points that tie to readability:
First, the average voice search result is just 29 words, which means that Google is looking for short, concise answers rather than a lengthy explanation. This makes sense – no one wants to sit around while their device reads out the entirety of War and Peace.
Note that, while the actual answers should be short, the overall page can be quite lengthy. The average overall page length in Backlinko’s study was over 2,000 words.
Beyond length, you also want to keep it easy to read. The average voice search result is written at just a 9th-grade level.
This data jives with Google’s official Evaluation of Search Speech Guidelines, where they’re looking for good:
To check your content for its reading level and style, you can use the free Hemingway Editor tool:
6. Featured Snippets Give You a Good Shot at Voice Search
Another interesting connection that Backlinko found is a strong correlation between the voice search result and the Featured Snippet for that same query.
In Backlinko’s data set, 40.7% of all the voice search results were pulled from a Featured Snippet:
While there’s no surefire way to get your content in a Featured Snippet, the way that you write and format your content can boost your chances:
- Focus on question keywords in your content (and answering those questions)
- Check out the People also ask box in Google search results for good Featured Snippet keyword ideas
- Keep your answers short (again – notice the tie to voice search?)
- Use formatting that’s conducive to the question – like a list for questions about instructions for how to do something
This Search Engine Journal article has a deeper look at how to boost your site’s chances of getting Featured Snippets.
Even if you don’t get the Featured Snippet, formatting your content in this way is still optimizing it for voice search. For instance, FAQ-style pages often do well with respect to both Featured Snippets and voice search.
7. Update Your Business Listings and Ad Campaigns
As mentioned above, Google voice searches are mostly for simple questions like asking for directions and local businesses.
As such, it’s a great idea to go and update your website content and information to include more local content.
Also, update your contact page and correctly tag your contact information, address, hours of operation, etc.
One other thing that you can do is update your Google Business Listings so that it can show whoever is doing the “near me” searches your business name and directions to it.
If you haven’t done it yet, you can claim your Google Business Listing instead.
Ensure that your details are correct, including your phone number, ideally with area code.
It’s also recommended to use your business domain instead of just any Gmail or email account.
Also, make sure to correctly represent and identify your business. As shown in the example:
Not only does this widely improve your SEO on a global level, but your local SEO as well. As a result, you might see some improved customer visits, or orders if you’re that type of business.
In addition to that, it’s best to update your Google Ads, if you have them running, to utilize your AdWords’ Location Extensions and Google Maps Local Search Ads.
This way you ensure that your ads are displayed only to those that have the strong intent to shop and visit a business like yours.
8. Other Notable, Yet Highly Important Mentions
As common as the sun rises in the east, we’ve compiled this final item to be the be-all and end-all list of “others” that you might want to make sure to ensure that your website is optimized for Google Voice Search.
Even though these things are the last ones here, it doesn’t mean that they are the least important. It only means that these things should already be working well on your site for overall SEO but are important nonetheless.
- Make sure your website is secure with SSL and HTTPS.
- Your website should be mobile-friendly, without sacrifice for SEO and Speed
- Have an FAQ page and complete page structure or sitemap
- Optimize your website content for both long and short-form content
- Have enough content that’s frequently updated and/or corrected
- Be active on other platforms including social media.
The last one might feel out of place, but if the reason you put your website online is to reach people, that certainly would check that box. Being more visible on other social media platforms would make your overall web presence more desirable to other creators and in turn, Google.
So have at it.
Start Getting More Traffic From Voice Search Today
If you want your WordPress site to rank higher in voice search, one of the best things that you can do is choose a theme that loads fast and then optimize the rest of your site to keep things loading quickly.
- Consider adding schema markup to your content, even if the effect on voice search isn’t massive.
- Keep your answers short and easy to read. Remember – around 30 words and 9th-grade reading level. Nothing super complex.
- Try to optimize your content for Featured Snippets – not only is it already a good SEO practice, but it will also do double-duty for voice search.
Now get out there and optimize your WordPress site for voice search! And try this: “Hey Google, What’s the Astra theme known for?” Tell us what comes up in the comments below.