How voice search will affect SEO in 2020

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Do you know I find the idea of voice search fascinating. I’ve had an interesting ‘relationship’ with voice assistants.

I’ll never forget the time I walked down the stairs in my house, only to be greeted by Alexa singing happy birthday to me.

I was alone, I hadn’t uttered a word and it wasn’t my birthday. It was a surreal and slightly creepy moment that made me question the presence of this digital helper in my home.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I use Alexa regularly. Granted, it’s usually to find out if [insert name of celebrity here] has died yet, but the mere fact I’m asking a circular device in the living room rather than picking up my phone is the reason I’m writing this blog post.

Experts believe 2020 will be the year when 30% of all website sessions will be conducted without a screen. How is that possible? Because of voice search.

Voice to text technology

What is voice search?

The same research I referred to above also predicts that 50% of all web searches will be conducted by voice this year. But what does that mean, exactly?

Voice search is ‘simply’ the process of asking a piece of technology to find something for you on the internet. That might be Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, but whatever your preferred digital assistant, the level of expectancy to deliver the right results will be the same.

This isn’t a particularly new technology; voice-to-text has been around for quite a while. Things have simply advanced significantly thanks to the continued development of artificial intelligence and machine learning; two aspects of modern technology that enable devices like Amazon’s Echo to interpret natural language.

The result is the absence of any requirement to speak like a robot yourself when issuing commands to these devices. Not that long ago, you’d have to say something like “best restaurants Northampton” in order to receive meaningful results. Now, you can ask Siri “where should we eat tonight in Northampton?” and it will (hopefully) deliver a relevant result.

So, how will voice impact SEO this year?

Voice search question phrasing

The impact of voice on SEO

Spoken language is considerably harder to parse than typed search queries because we all talk so differently. The way you ask a question might be considerably different to the way I would, even if we’re after the same answer.

This is having a big impact on SEO in the following areas:

  • Local search. It’s fair to assume that people will become more accustomed to asking their device when they want to conduct a local search, therefore SEO in 2020 needs to focus on locality and ‘near me’ queries.
  • Question words. ‘How’, ‘where’, ‘what’ and ‘who’ are just some examples of question words which are used most frequently during voice searches. They’re usually omitted from written searches and often require more comprehensive answers, as a result. Content will need to deliver those answers by distinguishing between simple and more complex queries.
  • SERPs. Search engine results pages (SERPs) are more likely to include voice search results within the top three positions. Playing for these positions as part of your SEO strategy will therefore be an important tactic this year.
  • eCommerce. Most SEO experts will agree that eCommerce is impacted most wholesomely by voice search. And that’s a good thing if you’re in one of those sectors, because consumers will increasingly look to make purchases by using their voice. If you’re a digital retailer, now is the time to start optimising for digital assistants.

I’ve only scratched the surface above, and, as always, I’d recommend having a good chat with your SEO company of choice to find out how your business is likely to be impacted by voice search this year.

One thing remains true, though: it will be impacted. No matter your industry or audience. Therefore, now is the time to get cracking with any website or marketing strategy changes.

Featured snippets in voice search

How to optimise your website for voice search

Tuning your website for voice search isn’t quite as tricky as you might think. Effectively, it just requires a different approach to some common strategies.

1. Make sure your website is super-fast

Slow websites are likely to be ignored when a digital assistant attempts to find results.

This makes sense. If you ask for something, you expect it to be delivered quickly. Therefore, the websites providing the answers for digital assistants need to be lightning fast.

Is yours?

2. Write conversationally

If you regularly create new content for your website, writing the way you speak should be your mantra from now on.

The good news? The more you do this, the more you’ll naturally optimise your website for voice search.

Whenever you’re writing a new product page or blog post, think along the lines of question/answer. Pretend you’re having a one-to-one conversation with a potential customer, and the copy that transpires should be ideally suited to voice searches.

3. Add summary answers (i.e. featured snippets)

I mentioned them earlier, but it’s hard to underestimate the importance of featured snippets in voice search.

These are used by Google to provide quick answers to common questions. Obtaining a position in one isn’t easy and there’s no guaranteed method, but if you include a summary answer within your content (above the fold and as concisely as possible), you’ll stand a good chance of being featured by Google.

4. Use phrases like “near me”

As noted earlier, local search is vital if you want to be found within voice search results.

It’s thought that 22% of voice queries are looking for location-based content or answers. To help those assistants find you, make sure phrases such as “near me” and “in my area” are used consistently within your copy.

Wrapping up

One thing is for certain: voice search isn’t a flash-in-the-pan; it’s here to stay, and if you don’t invest in it as part of your marketing strategy this year, you might miss out on a significant number of potential new customers.

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