Do you perform Internet searches by speaking to your PC or mobile device? If so, you’re part of a large and growing crowd. Voice search is the fastest growing type of search, according to a keynote address given by Behshad Behzadi, Principal Engineer at Google Zurich in 2016.
Currently, 41% of adults and 55% of teens conduct voice searches daily. Voice searching is convenient because it’s hands-free, it’s faster than typing, and it allows for multitasking (like while you’re in the car). Older adults also like it because it makes them feel tech-savvy, while for teens and millennials it’s considered cool.
Voice search is gaining popularity because voice recognition is becoming increasing reliable. Just a few years ago, the speech recognition word error rate was above 20%, but the current error rate can be as low as 8%. This is a remarkable technological leap and makes voice searches practical for the majority of people.
Major Search Engines Support Voice Searches
Google began preparing for the proliferation of voice-ready devices back in 2010 with the roll out of Google Voice Search, which enables users to use the Google search engine through verbal interaction instead of typing.
Google Voice Search is available today for both desktops and mobile devices. To start the search, users must either speak an alert phrase (“OK Google”) or tap or click on the microphone icon on the right of the Google search box to notify Google to begin the search.
Other than how users activate and use voice search commands, there’s very little difference between a spoken voice search and a typed search query. The results are listed on a search engine results page, whether the user spoke their query or typed it. In general, voice queries return similar or identical results as typed queries.
Bing is also heavily involved in voice search technology, and may even be used more than Google, considering that three of the four leading commercial virtual assistants, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa, use Bing as their search engine.
The fourth virtual assistant system, Google Assistant, has used Google Voice Search for years. Some studies find Google’s tool to be significantly more accurate than Siri, Cortana, or Alexa, because of the combination of Google’s powerful search algorithms and its sophisticated natural language processing technology.
According to the 2016 Internet Trends Report, voice search is continuing to gain market share. Google Trends data indicates that use of Voice Search ramped up sevenfold between 2010 and 2016.
In September 2014, 10% of search engine queries on Baidu were done by voice. By May 2016, 25% of Bing searches were by voice, and by 2020 at least 50% of Internet searches are expected to be done by voice or image, according to Baidu’s chief scientist, Andrew Ng.
Clearly, voice search is the wave of the future. How can you prepare your business for this emerging trend? Here are some suggestions.
Focus on Longer Tail Keywords
When typing a search into a search box, people tend to use shorter keywords. When speaking a search, they typically use longer search terms and more natural speech patterns.
For example, when typing a search, someone might enter “campsites Mount Rushmore”, whereas when using a verbal search, they might say, “Where are some camping sites near Mount Rushmore?”
This means that text searches are most often 2 to 3 words, while spoken searches are most often 3 to 4 words long, and are predominant in the long-tail keyword ranges of 5 to 6 words or more.
This means your website should be optimized for some longer term keywords, especially those that are similar to the way people talk, according to SEMRush. Whereas previously, website owners focused on optimizing for the keyphrase “computer repair Huntsville”, now they should also be optimizing for “find a computer repair store in Huntsville”.
Long-tail keywords are often much cheaper to place ads for, and have much higher click-through rates than shorter queries. They often have less competition, so you have a better chance of ranking highly for these keywords in the search engine results pages.
You can examine the analytics tools in your website to see what search terms people are using to come to your site, and consider optimizing on the most popular terms. SEMRush also suggests using keyword suggestion tools like answerthepublic.com to see what queries people are entering, and optimizing on some of those.
Answer Questions That People Are Asking
A good way to focus on natural-sounding search terms on your website is with a FAQ page. After you’ve determined some of the terms that people are using to reach your website, and thought of (or asked your email subscribers) some other questions that visitors and prospective customers might have when browsing your website, you can create a FAQ page that answers these questions.
Besides answering questions that visitors might have, your FAQ page will also make your site relevant for long-tail keywords that voice search users might be using to find businesses like yours.
To make your FAQ page easier to use, SearchEngineLand suggests grouping common questions on the same page.
You can also create several pages so that the voice search tools have a better chance of retrieving information from your site. The point is to think of natural-sounding questions, instead of the shorter search keywords you may have used in the past.
Also, SearchEngineLand says to expect more specific questions from searchers. Instead of searching for “best digital camera”, searchers in the near future will ask, “What is the best waterproof camera that also takes high-speed video?” Sites which offer concise answers to questions that voice searchers are asking will gain popularity.
Make Sure Your Business Information is in Business Databases
Currently, the most popular use of verbal searches among adults is to ask for local directions. Google Voice Search supports location-based searching.
So if you’re at the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and you ask, “What are some Bed and Breakfasts near Fisherman’s Wharf?”, the search engine will know that you’re referring to your present location at the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf.
The search engine then uses its database and other databases to find local businesses. If your business isn’t listed in the databases, it won’t appear on the results page.
So consider making sure your business information is up to date in Google+ Local, Yelp, Yahoo, Yellow Pages, and other local business databases. That way, when a user asks their mobile device, “Where can I buy a pair of walking shoes nearby?”, or “What is a good Vietnamese restaurant in this area?”, your correct business listing will appear.
While you’re at it, you’ll also want to ensure your business contact information is up to date on your business website. Placing this information conspicuously on your site so people can easily find it, and in plain HTML so search engines can easily find it, will help prospective customers to find your business.
Use Schema Metadata
Schema is a markup language that allows you as the site owner to provide the search engines with more complete information about the information on your site.
This computer-readable structured data tags the information on HTML documents so that voice-based search engines can better understand what a page is about and which questions it answers.
Use structured data markup to give voice search devices even more information about your site and content. Structured data markup is crucial for your site, as it makes it easier for search engines to accurately parse your content and understand its context.
This metadata, or data about the data on your site can increase its visibility. Not many website owners use this data markup, so including it can put you ahead. The Schema.org website provides tutorials and examples.
Expect Voice Search to Become Ever More Customer-Specific
As technology advances, Google aims to make Internet browsing even more user-centric. Google will learn to recognize your voice, your online browsing and shopping habits, and even understand the intent behind your search queries. This will make voice-based searching more useful for consumers, and provide new opportunities for online marketers.
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