The way we interact with the internet is going through a revolution. Traditionally, we’ve used a mix of keyboards, trackpads, and touchscreens to interface with the digital world. However, the emergence of voice-activated devices like smartphones, smart speakers, and virtual assistants in the last few years points to the growing importance of voice search.
Voice search is already widespread. Statistics suggest that 50% of US citizens use voice search every day. That number gets higher for 25 to 34-year-olds at 58%.
Conversation as the new interface
A big part of the rise of Large Language Models like ChatGPT and Bard centers around changing how we engage with technology. Mustafa Suleyman (ex-Deepmind founder, now CEO of $4bn-valued Inflection AI) says, “I’ve bet for a long time that conversation is the future interface. You know, instead of just clicking on buttons and typing, you’re going to talk to your AI.”
Furthermore, in an excellent Vulture Beat article by Vishal Sharma, the VP of Amazon Alexa AI Information, he outlines how the future of search will be less about speech and more about give-and-take conversations. He also talks about the concept of “ambient intelligence,” an AI that exists everywhere: across our houses, in our cars, on our devices, ready to answer questions.
For search engine marketing teams, it should be clear which way the wind is blowing. For now, voice search will continue to grow before eventually shifting into the conversational interfaces that Suleyman and Sharma predict.
So, there is a clear trajectory here. But what does it all mean for Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?
How to optimize for voice search?
Meeting the trend for voice search requires some adjustment. While there is plenty of crossover with traditional text search, taking advantage of voice search involves modulating your strategy.
#1. Get conversational
Voice searches are naturally more conversational than text searches. Text searches are typically more like “Sushi bar near me,” while voice searches tend to be longer phrases like “What is the best sushi restaurant near me?”
Search engines like Google understand the differences between text and voice search. As a result, they’ve invested a lot of time and money into language processing models that look for the meaning behind the words.
While search engines are closing the gap, you should still optimize for voice search by using keyword research. Find long tail keywords and terms that use more conversational or natural language content. What’s more, you should gear your content around answering the big questions your target audience is interested in.
#2. Think about user behavior
Optimizing for voice search is not just about researching keywords for how people talk. It’s also about considering where people use voice search. On a simple level, that means accommodating “near me” type searches by using place names and areas in your content. However, it’s also about thinking about the type of content people need when they’re on the move.
For now, users are more likely to use voice search when they are walking or traveling. So, ensure your voice search targeted content is punchy and easy to digest, even for someone walking on a busy street.
Another thing to consider is user intent. Target questions that start with “what,” “who,” “why,” “when,” and “how.”
#3. Technical SEO
Page speed is a big part of voice search. Again, it’s focused toward people on the go or users who need quick answers to questions. Research shows that voice search results pages load about twice as fast as normal pages. At a minimum, that means ensuring your website is mobile-friendly by using structured data to make your pages easier to crawl.
#4. Target featured snippets
Featured snippets are the Holy Grail of search engine marketing. They provide a huge boost to visibility and increased traffic. They’re also quite often the result that Google delivers for voice queries. The only way to grab these coveted spots is by providing high-quality, concise answers to questions.
#5. Leverage AI
As we mentioned above, AI will drive the conversational future of search. But for now, it can also help you take your voice search marketing to the next level. Here are a few areas where AI can boost your SEM.
(i) Voice search analysis: Use machine language (ML) tools to analyze your voice search data and find the underlying patterns like user intent and behavior. With enough data, you can generate the insights you need to optimize your content schedule.
(ii) Content generation: Natural language processing (NLP) tools, such as large language models (LLM), can help you produce content that targets voice search.
(iii) Text-to-voice: Last year, Spotify paid almost €100m for Sonantic, an AI text-to-voice startup. These tools have reached the level where the audio they generate is natural and hyper-realistic. Consider incorporating some of these applications into your content marketing strategy to bump start your move toward a more conversational type of search.
#6. Add an FAQ section
This simple but effective trick is a great way to satisfy an endless amount of voice queries on one page. Researching what questions to answer involves using a mix of your own website search data and sites like People Also Asked. What’s more, you can trawl social media and internet forums like Quora and Reddit and find questions that people need answers to.
Voice search is growing all the time. However, it’s on the cusp of morphing into something far more conversational. SEM teams need to stay on top of this trend and find ways to accommodate voice search within their overall strategies.
A few years ago, voice search couldn’t answer 35% of questions. Now, that number stands at just 6%. As the technology improves, adoption will increase. Don’t get left behind.