At the end of 2017 Google published some specific instructions relating to 'eyes-free' technology (such as voice assistants) in its Search Quality Rating Guidelines.

You can read the guidelines and Google's accompanying blog post, but what I took from it was pretty simple:

  1. More than ever marketers and content creators need to be thinking about meeting the needs of searchers.
  2. If you are still including reams of waffle on your landing pages, you need to be slapped with a fish.

Here's a brief explanation of why, for search novices (like me) who perhaps haven't time to read through the Rating Guidelines.

Why are Search Quality Rating Guidelines important?

These guidelines are referred to by real-life human beings whose jobs are to keep an eye on search results and, hence, Google's algorithm (either before a release or to test effectiveness). As such, the guidelines give a good insight into what Google wants to see on the search engine results page (SERP) and, now, what it wants to hear from voice assistants using Google search.

What stands out in these voice assistant guidelines?

The guidelines list a series of example queries alongside the response given by Google search and some analysis of whether this response meets the searcher's needs.

Speech Quality Rating always looks at the following two factors (NB. I've abridged them slightly from Google's doc):

  • Length:​ Was the response of an appropriate length matching the complexity of its content?
  • Formulation:​ Was it grammatical? Was the response formulated in a way you would expect a native speaker to formulate it? As opposed to a machine or someone not fully fluent in the language.

Obviously the content of the answer is assessed, too, to see if it meets "the information needs of user", but that's common to all Google Rating Guidelines.

Interestingly, though the guidelines say that a search response can be too brief or too detailed, the examples given (to my mind) show that longer answers with poor grammar deliver the worst user experience.

Indeed, Google's blog post may hint that overly long answers are more problematic than brief ones – its comment on response length begins "when a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible."

So, in a nutshell – meet your searcher's need, don't get too frothy or too waffly, and make sure your house style doesn't produce sentences that look okay on the page but don't sound right (loads of parentheses may be a bad thing, for example).

Think of voice as 'Featured Snippets Plus'

These voice assistant guidelines aren't too different from guidelines produced in 2015 to assist with quality ratings for new mobile search content - such as 'Special Content Results Blocks' (aka knowledge graph cards).

You should already be thinking about the 'Needs Met Rating' in terms of how helpful and satisfying your content is in search for the mobile user. The jump from succinct mobile content to content delivered without a screen may not be a big one. Marketers need to think about helping users, rather than garnering page views.

Featured snippets, too, rely on a similar content philosophy.

Jeniffer Slegg writing for The SEM Post points out that "in the case of voice search, Google is selecting one and only one result from the potential 10 or so results of the page. And a site owner has less control over which site Google is choosing for the answer and how well that answer fits with the specific query. But it does come down to featured snippets...

"If you can steal the featured snippet away from a competitor, then yours will be the answer that is read out by Google. You can then try and tailor that answer so that it would be rated higher..."

Slegg also remarks that some fluctuations in search positions over the past month may be directly related to featured snippets being adjusted based on user feedback.

Answer questions directly and cut the waffle 

Voice search strategy could resonably follow featured snippets strategy.

Search Engine Land lays out the following process:

  • Identify a common, simple question related to your market area.
  • Provide a clear and direct answer to the question.
  • Offer value added info beyond the direct answer.
  • Make it easy for users (and Google) to find on your page. (i.e. mark-up) 

And don't forget hygiene factors

Remember, your content will be problematic if it's noticeably out of date. And, of course, it doesn't matter whether your content meets the needs of users if your content does not demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT).

EAT may take into account many factors, such as intrusive advertising or lack of authority or author information.

Ironic conclusion

This article probably doesn't get to the point quick enough.

There's still room for long content though, obviously, as long it meets user needs. Here were talking about sneaking into the voice assistant repertoire – don't go deleting the rest of your valuable content.

But those of you who waffle on your landing pages – B2B marketers, I'm looking at you – wake up and smell the Quality Rating Guidelines.

Ben Davis

Published 11 January, 2018 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)

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Business Quotes, Marketer at www.businessquotes.co.uk

Interesting article and raises the conundrum of optimising for organic search (still much more volume than voice) or optimising for for voice, possibly the future but in reality still small beer for a lot of verticals and used quite heavily at the moment as a novelty. Could we see the rise of the super FAQs page? maybe. This also raises the question of dumbing down good content to fit a voice response that users can digest - not unlike social media.

5 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Darren Good points. FAQs that answer common search queries sound like a good idea.

5 months ago

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Business Quotes, Marketer at www.businessquotes.co.uk

Just very hard to know if Google can extract voice results (which appear to be linked with knowledge box in most cases at the moment) from a long list of FAQ's ( to be known from this point at SUPERFAQs page !) or FAQs pages on a single topic - more testing!

5 months ago

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Megan Sullivan, Content Strategist at Expedia

What is 'waffle'?

5 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Megan I've been writing on this blog for a number of years, and I still make the mistake of using particularly British words in headlines.

5 months ago

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