[Guest Post] OK, Google: Optimizing Your Website for Voice Search

[Guest Post] OK, Google: Optimizing Your Website for Voice Search


Recently we talked about the most powerful e-commerce trends we expect to hear more about throughout 2019, voice search included. Today we are bringing in a guest writer, John Krane, who will talk more about the ways in which you can optimize your website or e-commerce site for voice search. John Krane is a content writer, SEO consultant, and founder of Relay Content Creation. He has nearly two decades of SEO experience and works closely with Blue Stingray to manage search engine optimization campaigns for businesses in various industries, specializing in industrial manufacturing and technology.

“Alexa, why should I optimize my website for voice search?”

By some estimates, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. About 40 percent of adults use voice search at least once per day, usually via their smartphones, but also via external devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

If you want people to find your website, you need to realize that a sizable portion of your audience isn’t sitting down to type on a keyboard. They’re pulling out their phones, hitting a button, and saying what they want—and search engines like Google don’t treat voice searches the same as other types of searches.

Here’s how to improve voice search rankings.

Before we delve into the factors that seem to influence voice search, an important caveat: Consider these points as part of a larger SEO strategy, not as an end-all approach to optimization.

We’ll explain why in a moment, but for the time being, here’s why you clicked on this article to read:

1. Make sure your website’s fast. Pagespeed seems to be a more important factor for voice search. Use tools like PageSpeed Insights to make sure you’re not missing easy opportunities for optimization. Run the tool on different types of pages to make sure that they’re all fairly fast.

If you’re not sure what phrases like “Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content” mean, contact Blue Stingray and they’ll guide you through it. This should go without saying, but you should also make sure your site’s properly optimized for mobile devices; if you’re scoring at less than a 90/100 on the aforementioned Pagespeed Insights, you’ve got some work to do.

2. Keep your website secure. Voice search seems to prefer https:// sites, so make sure you’re not still using http://. Check that you’ve got a valid security certificate, and while making the switch, be sure to update your Google Search Console and Analytics accounts so that you’re tracking traffic accurately.

3. Write simply, using natural language. When you’re writing a response to a question, try to answer the question in the first paragraph. Keep sentence lengths short, vary your sentence structures, and write naturally (or hire us to do it for you).

Simple language—written concisely, without a lot of fluff—will also improve your site’s chances of becoming a Featured Snippet, which, in turn, greatly improves your chances of connecting with a voice search user. It’s better for your audience, so it’s a smart practice.

You can use tools like Yoast to evaluate the readability of your content, but take those readability rankings with a grain of salt; if your site uses a lot of specialized language geared towards a specific audience, your readability ranking might be artificially low.

For instance, industrial websites will rarely score well with the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be simplified. It just means you’re writing to a specialized audience, and that’s perfectly fine.

4. Develop your website as an authority. More authoritative websites do better on voice search; no surprise there.

We’re not huge fans of obsessing over backlinks, but if you’ve never tried to build your backlink profile, now’s a good time to start. If you’re an authority in your field, you can use sites like helpareporter.com to gain high-quality links and brand mentions in major publications. It takes a while, but it’s worth it; one of our clients recently received a mention in The Washington Post, which led to a short-term influx of business and a better ranking across the board.

If you’re in a niche industry, building links is more difficult. Whatever you do, never pay for links—not only is it against Google’s rules, it’s not very effective, and it could eventually crash your site’s authority.

A better method for gradually building authority is to regularly produce high-quality content that’s directly related to your area of expertise. Write something at least once per week (or, if you don’t have time, hire someone to do it for you).

5. Don’t worry about creating unique pages for every possible search term. People search differently with voice search; they’re more likely to use long tail keywords, so they might say “How do I open a can of tuna?” rather than “open tuna can.”

But voice search also seems to rely less on exact keyword strings, and we try not to overemphasize the importance of factors like keyword density in the first place. Again: Write naturally. Don’t drastically alter your content strategy to target the voice search audience. Write for your target user.

What you can do is create more short content geared towards answering quick queries. If you’ve got a great 800-word piece about opening different types of cans, maybe add shorter blogs that tell visitors how to open a tuna can, how to open a chili can, and how to open a can of tomato sauce (okay, we probably could have picked a better example, but you get the gist).

Simple, right? Well, that largely depends on your website, but most webmasters should be able to easily grasp the basics. With that said, let’s explore that caveat a little further…

Don’t look at voice search in a vacuum.

Voice search is important, but before you start digging through old posts to try to optimize them for Alexa, it’s important to remember the goal of any halfway decent search engine: to present users with an appropriate response to their query.

That might sound obvious, but it’s something that many of our clients forget—search engines constantly change their rules to match their users’ intent. If you optimize for one specific type of user, you run the risk of making your site less authoritative.

Recently, Google and the other search engines have become adept at providing semantic search results, targeted to users’ individual preferences. That sounds complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward. Back in 1998, you might have to type “dog AND food AND Purina AND organic” to find Purina’s organic dog food page (although we doubt that organic dog food was really a thing back in 1998).

In 2018, you could type “dog food,” and the search engine will note that you’ve previously expressed a preference for organic dog food from Purina; it’ll use that information to present you with the appropriate page. It’ll also identify synonyms for words in your search string, then interpret those synonyms in the context of your search—so typing “dog sustenance” won’t necessarily return an entirely different set of results.

The purpose of these changes is to provide searchers with a better overall experience, and behind the scenes, there are dozens of algorithms working to decode the searcher’s intent. That means that if you’re just starting on an SEO strategy, it’s far more important to understand things like semantic search and user-specific search results than to optimize solely around voice search.

For an effective SEO strategy, never forget your real audience.

When we’re discussing trends like voice search, we’re looking at users in the aggregate, but trends can vary depending on your audience. If you’re running a large industrial website, your audience is very different from Purina’s, and they probably search in a very different way.

Therefore, before you start focusing on voice search (or anything else), make sure you understand your audience. Make sure that you’ve got a good reason to optimize, and resist the urge to change older content to adapt to new trends. A good piece of content is a good piece of content—contrary to what you might have heard, you don’t need to obsess over title tags and keyword density to get it to rank.

Most SEO advice boils down to “make a better website,” and that’s really the point of this piece. For a free top-level analysis of your site, contact Blue Stingray or send an email at info@bluestingray.com.

“Blue Stingray’s ability to quickly react has helped us reach timelines and milestones that, prior to them, we didn’t feel confident in. After our site relaunched, we received 25 percent more traffic to the site, and the ease of use was increased immensely.”

— Angela Sandler, CEO, xplor
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