How voice search is changing SEO and paid search

Voice search has seen huge growth in the three years since the launch of Amazon’s Alexa intelligent personal assistant. In 2015, the proportion of searches made via voice stood at a statistical zero. Now, Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai says a fifth of all queries made through its mobile app are voice searches. Yet we’re only just scratching the surface. According to comScore, by 2020 half of all searches will be through voice.

With consumer search behaviour shifting and the likes of Google joining the digital voice assistant market, what do brands need to consider in order to stay ahead of the search game? What are the key considerations for paid search, and what is the impact on SEO? Read on to find out more…

Why you can’t afford to ignore voice search any longer

Still, haven’t started getting your digital house in order when it comes to optimising your website and PPC campaigns for voice search? You really should.

More than 60 million people in the US currently use digital assistants, while Kantar Worldpanel has revealed that 2.7 million UK households are actively using an Amazon Echo or Google Home device. Furthermore, over a fifth of Brits are using Siri or another virtual assistant on their smartphone.

In short, it’s clear that consumer appetite for voice search exists on both sides of the Atlantic – and that this appetite is unlikely to be sated any time soon.

How voice search is changing the search landscape

The growth of voice search is an extension of Google’s ongoing push to bring the user to the fore. Keyword-stuffed landing pages should already be a thing of the past, but for those that still exist, voice search represents the final nail in the coffin – because natural language is all-important here.

With the rise of search engines, internet users have gotten used to adapting their queries for maximum efficiency. Just a few years ago, you’d never have dreamed of typing a search like “what trainers are the most popular?” because it’s too wordy; instead you’d opt for something punchier and more specific like “best-selling trainers UK”.

Since the rollout of the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, Google has placed ever-greater focus on semantic search, taking into account the intent behind the search and the contextual meaning of different terms.

Locational searches provide a pretty good example of how search has changed in that time. Let’s imagine that I fancy eating a pizza (it’s not that much of a leap tbh). Now, a search for the word “pizza” brings up the following results:

What we see here is a map listing that highlights my nearest pizza-based eateries, alongside some more generic information about nutritional value on the right-hand side (as if that’s going to put me off).

So what does this tell us? From my one-word search, Google has assumed that I really want to eat a doughy, topping-covered disc of deliciousness. In other words, it has understood me perfectly, based on what it’s learned from millions of similar searches.

Google’s understanding of users has never been better, and it’s improving all the time. This is important for voice search, because the way we speak is often far more complex and nuanced than the way we type.

Despite these challenges, Google is increasingly able to process a natural, “human-sounding” query and serve up the perfect result. But if you’re going to appear in those results, you need to give some serious thought to the way your content is structured.

Why featured snippets hold the key to voice search

Google leans heavily on featured snippets – concise chunks of information designed to answer (or partially answer) an informational-type query – to generate results for voice searches. You’ll have to pay them some serious attention if you want to perform well in voice search.

Want an example? Here’s a faintly dystopian featured snippet for the oddly popular search term “what is your name”:

This featured snippet provides a (weird) answer through text alone, but these results can be returned in a variety of ways. When choosing a featured snippet, Google searches for the page with the best-structured content, enabling it to provide the most concise answer possible. With a few exceptions, snippets take the form of:

  • A couple of sentences of copy
  • An ordered or unordered list
  • A table of data

While Google has released precious little insight into how to capture featured snippets for yourself, research from ahrefs discovered the most popular search terms for generating featured snippets:

As the somewhat eclectic nature of the words on this list suggests, featured snippets can be generated by pretty much any query displaying informational intent.

Sadly for lazy SEOs, there are no short-cuts to capturing these snippets: it’s all about creating high-quality content that answers common questions and presents information in a well-structured way, so that it can be easily identified by Google.

Naturally, this process takes time, and requires a lot of research and tracking to identify relevant terms. But with the growth of voice search showing no signs of slowing down, it’s an opportunity you can’t afford to miss out on.

So, what does this mean for PPC?

When we think of voice talk, we primarily think about talking to Siri or Cortana. AI, machine learning and natural language processing are all going to rewrite consumer experiences. In 2015, more searches were done on phones and tablets compared to a desktop, therefore it’s important for us to be mobile-friendly and an absolute necessity to thinking ahead of a consumer’s needs to deliver personal results.

For us PPC folk, voice search will transform paid search from being a reactive service requiring specific data inputs to becoming a predictive service. Here are our top four tips on actioning your PPC campaigns towards voice search.

  1. Start With Keywords

As you’re aware, text searches are focused around one to three words whereas voice searches are longer and often contain eight or more words. One of the best optimisation strategies for voice search is to target long-string keywords. You will be more successful matching search queries if you target phrases that are conversational and imitate the way we speak on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, long-string keywords are cheaper and tend to generate a higher click-through rate compared to short-string keywords.

As voice search continues to grow, businesses will need to be smarter about question keywords; using tools such as SEMRush will allow you to research a handful of valuable conversational language phrases and questions, which you can test within your campaigns.

  1. Mobile Mobile Mobile

Mobile voice search is three times more likely to be local-based than text search. On your phone, you would get recommendations for restaurants around you, whereas on a desktop you wouldn’t experience that. If you’re on your phone, the assumption is you’re always on the go or will soon be on the go, so don’t forget to include Call Extensions and Location Extensions to your campaigns.

  1. Search Term Data

 Analyse your search terms report and scan through the long-string search queries triggering your ads. To examine how your ads are performing for voice search, you’ll want to consider the consumer’s intent behind those searches. For example: Is their intention to learn or are they looking to buy? Additionally, you should bid higher on keywords that are generating conversions and bid lower or even negative keywords that generate a high volume of clicks and/or impressions but are not converting.

  1. From Interest To Action

 If a user was to search ‘android phones’, you’d have no idea whether they want to purchase one, need it repaired, or are just simply browsing for Android phones. This is where conversational language phrases change everything – the type of question asked can reveal the degree of intent. If we had to analyse all conversational language queries, we could easily identify which ones had lower or higher purchase intent – we would either negative the queries or increase our bids and create ads for them. With the right intent-driven ads or even ad extensions, voice searchers would be more likely to convert, since they have a clear path to the action they were looking to take.

Voice search is coming folks. It’s not quite like Game of Thrones, but it is certainly coming and developing fast. Get ready for marketing efforts to do the same!

Worried about falling behind your competition? Need some support with optimising your site for voice search? We’re here for you! Get in touch today to find out how we can help.

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