Practically any smartphone user can ask their phone a question, or set a task through Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana; and this has now extended to the home, with Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple’s HomePod a presence in millions of homes worldwide.
How can brands best position themselves to be present in those moments when consumers turn to their voice assistants with a crucial question or search for a local business on the go – as well as for any future opportunities that might arise as more and more voice devices make it to market?
Here are five tips for optimising your content for voice in 2019 and beyond.
1. Answer customer questions with featured snippets
Also referred to as “position zero” due to its prominent location at the top of the SERP, a featured snippet is essentially an extract from a web page that Google has determined best answers the user’s query. Most commonly, it takes the form of a bullet point list, a short paragraph of text, or a table of information.
According to the Voice Search Ranking Report by digital agency ROAST, up to 80% of answers on Google Home devices are drawn from these snippets in response to voice queries.
The opportunity is clear: as a brand, you need to understand the questions that your customers will ask, so that voice assistants – and search engines – will return your answers.
There are several ways you can generate and optimise your copy to best get it positioned in the elusive “position zero”:
Identify and answer relevant questions
Tools like Answer the Public enable you to type in a keyword and be shown the most popular questions that relate to that. Using this tool is a great way to shape your content generation, which will in turn answer customer queries.
Don’t ramble: make your answers clear and concise.
It’s important to remember that voice search queries are naturally more conversational than written queries, because the user is asking their question out loud. Therefore, you should ensure the content you create has a conversational tone.
Answer the question early
Google advises that the best way to become position zero is to answer the question early in a document, paragraph, or sentence.
2. Structured data: “How to” and speakable schema
“How to” questions were the most commonly asked questions by users on their voice assistants in 2017.
Brands and businesses therefore need to create “how to” content in a format that search engines understand, and that’s done through schema markup.
Schema markup is essentially a piece of code that you include in your website content. It contains specifically structured vocabulary that adds additional meaning to the content.
By marking up your website content with HowTo schema, you’re providing search engines and virtual assistants with clear instructions to “how” queries; and pages with this type of markup are more likely to be returned for these queries than pages that aren’t.
Speakable schema is currently pending, but it’s hoped that once launched, it will mark up “speakable” areas of a web page, which will give them a higher chance of being returned in a voice search. So, SEO experts should keep a close eye on this element of schema over the next couple of years.
Structured data makes it so much easier for Google (and other search engines) to understand your website content. This makes it a fundamental tactic not just for voice search visibility, but for SEO more broadly.
An introduction to schema.org markup for voice
3. Update your local SEO
According to BrightLocal’s Voice Search for Local Business Study 2018, 58% of consumers have used voice search to find local business information in the last 12 months, while 46% of voice search users search for a local business on a daily business.
Therefore, you really can’t afford not to keep your local SEO listings up to date, and this includes the information you’ll have included in your Google My Business directory listing.
Accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date information is key to being visible in local searches, so you should audit how your business name, address, and phone number appear in listings across the web.
If you have different NAP (name, address, phone) data listed in different places, then Google will have less confidence in your business, and you won’t rank as well locally or in Google’s local pack (giving you less of a chance of being used in voice results).
Whilst there are many elements that are important for local SEO, we would recommend starting with your Google My Business listing data, and local citations, to ensure consistency for your brand across the internet.
4. Improve your page speed on mobile
In spite of the explosion in popularity and availability of smart speaker devices that has made voice a hot topic once more, smart speakers still can’t compete with smartphones for sheer ubiquity and convenience.
Consumers using voice search on the go (for example, looking up local business information) are more than likely speaking into their smartphones and as such, no voice strategy would be complete without considering mobile SEO.
Speed is paramount on mobile, something which was underscored by Google’s recent Speed Update for mobile search, which promised to penalise the slowest websites. Ensuring that your site loads quickly will provide a much smoother experience from voice query to site visit, and benefit your ranking and visibility in mobile search.
Travel and telco the worst performing industries for UX ahead of Google’s mobile update
To see if your site is speedy enough, run it through Google’s Mobile Friendly Test and Google’s PageSpeed Insights. You’ll receive a list of recommendations on how to increase your mobile site speed, and once implemented, you’ll stand a better chance of being returned for voice search queries.
5. Prepare for new voice ads
There’s been talk of Amazon approaching brands about implementing ads on their Echo device, which leads us to question whether there will soon be paid media opportunities for voice in the future.
Whilst Google doesn’t currently offer this for the Google Assistant, a company spokesperson recently stated they are “looking at ways to create a business model that will provide a great user experience.”
If we take the term “brand voice” literally, then one change that could be seen over the next few years is brands creating recognisable “voices” which will be heard on voice assistant devices.
In order to get a head start, Alexa’s Skills and Google’s Actions (apps for Google Home and Alexa) currently provide brands with an opportunity to explore the space, so they can be better prepared for when voice marketing starts expanding further over the coming years.
The other thing that’s worth noting is that the future of shopping (and voice advertising) won’t be completely blind. Amazon recently debuted its Echo Show—an Alexa-powered 7-inch screen—while Google has recently released its own competitive product, Google Smart Display.
To conclude: whether it’s through voice search, brand presence on voice devices, or voice advertising, voice looks set to grow as a marketing channel in the future.
These five tips should provide a solid starting point for building a presence on voice channels – share any others you have in the comments section.
Now read our long-form blog series on voice search: The state of voice search in 2018