OK Google - What's the best way to...

Siri - Where do I find...

Alexa - Order me new...

Voice search is here. Are you ready for it?

Google is continually refining its search algorithm to serve users the highest quality content possible, and the user experience is constantly becoming more natural. We've really seen three main phases of search input evolve over the years, too.

First, the only option available in the Internet's infancy was typing on a desktop computer.

Secondly, years later, the mobile revolution began and people weren't tethered to their homes or offices anymore.

Today, the latest trend is voice search. Early voice recognition technology wasn't refined or sophisticated, and frequently failed to capture the speaker's words. But now the technology has been refined to such a degree that it is commonplace, especially among a diverse line of mass-market consumer goods.

Voice search tools like Siri, Cortana, the “OK Google..” feature, Amazon Alexa and other similar features are sold as stand-alone devices or incorporated into our smartphones.

Almost anyone with a mobile device has voice search features, which accounts for a staggering portion of the population. According to PewResearch.org, almost 77% of Americans possessed smartphones as of 2016, a figure which is expected to have risen. As a greater percentage of the population acquires smartphones and voice technologies continue to be easily accessible, voice search frequency is expected to rise dramatically in the near future.

As such, optimizing your marketing strategy and website for voice search has now reached Mission Critical.

Expected Growth of Voice Search

A new technology trend is always revolutionizing the old way of doing things. Previously, we all saw mobile search traffic and Google overtake traditional desktop searches. This change had a massive impact on how people used Google, and led to more local searches for businesses and information related to the user's immediate vicinity.

The next transition is the rise in voice search. Believe it or not, Google projects that as many as 75% of households in the US will have smart speakers by 2020.

Currently, approximately 20% of mobile queries are voice searches, and a variety of sources estimate that by 2020 anywhere between 30% to 50% of mobile queries will be voice searches. Note that these figures only account for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, and exclude smart speaker products.

To put it bluntly, voice searches are incredibly popular and look like they're going to grow significantly in the long term. So let's take a closer look at how you can make your site more voice-search friendly.

Voice Search Statistics

In the past decade, it was possible to get away with ignoring optimization for voice search – but no longer. Just as mobile searches overtook desktop queries on Google, voice search is
the latest trend. It is likely that voice search will overtake mobile and desktop searches in the not-so-distant future. Believe it or not, according to 99Firms.com, a whopping 20 percent of all Google searches are voice.

Not only is there a convenient trend of querying Google through smartphones via voice, but also through other mediums such as televisions, remotes, gaming consoles, and search assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. According to Brafton.com, more than 66 million Americans own a smart speaker for simplified search queries. Clearly, voice search optimization is a staple of modern SEO, which is expected to become even more popular.

But what should you do to accommodate potential leads who make queries through voice search?

1. Add Textual Microdata to Your Site

To be fair, we still don't know the full capabilities and weighted metrics of the Google algorithm because it is closed source code. Having said that, we do have a fairly clear understanding of how the algorithm operates due to Google update announcements, Google webmaster guidelines, real world testing and other factors.

And one thing we do know is that Google is highly adept at combing through textual content and data to evaluate and rank a page's quality. As such, you need to make sure your site is loaded with microdata (operating hours, phone number and contact information, menus, pricing, promotional data, address, etc.) in a textual format as opposed to an image.

Putting it in text format optimizes it for Google's web bots, and makes it a lot easier to find.

However, one key influencer of the availability of these types of microdata is having a sitemap.

You do have a sitemap, don't you?

2. Craft Keywords in the Form of a Question

When someone is looking for information, it is human nature to structure a query in the form of a question. To better illustrate that point, let’s take a moment to compare typed searches versus voice searches. If a user were sitting down on a laptop, for example, to find the nearest auto shop, they might type “nearest auto mechanic.” Voice search, however, is a slightly different animal.

When speaking a query, it’s more likely the user would ask their keywords in a full sentence, such as, “Where is the nearest auto mechanic?”

3. Incorporate FAQ Sections Where Appropriate

You will frequently come across keywords that don’t lend themselves well to being packaged into a question format. In addition, trying to insert question-formatted keywords organically into written content is extremely challenging. Some people choose to place question- formatted keywords in headers, which is better than awkwardly placing them within the body of the content. Awkwardly placed keywords make content confusing and difficult to read, but there is an easier solution.

By incorporating a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section into your content, you can optimize for voice search in a more organic manner. For example, you could include a section of 10 keyword-optimized questions and make each question an H3 header, followed by the answer as paragraph text. Try to anticipate how your audience will voice their questions and mirror that supposition with the way you structure each element of your FAQ section.

4. Avoid Long Words in Search Terms

People want answers to their questions as fast as possible and tend to avoid long and wordy queries. There is undoubtedly some merit to long-tail keywords given their precision and lack of competition when compared to highly sought-after and concise keywords. Nevertheless, you should strive to use succinct keyword phrases that eliminate uncommon words and cryptic jargon.

Try to keep things as colloquial and conversational as possible. When possible, use keyword combinations that are simple enough for someone to understand at the middle-school level. Otherwise, you risk alienating people who either don’t understand the language in your keywords or don’t have the patience to initiate a voice search with higher-level vocabulary.

5. Append ‘Near Me,’ City, State, and Geographic Words to Key Search Terms

WebFX.com purports that up to 46 percent of Google searches are local queries, which is good news for small businesses who primarily serve customers in the immediate area. This is one reason why it’s imperative to have a polished Google My Business listing to make brick and mortar locations easier to find. But you also need to craft local search terms to cater to voice users.

You can append the keywords “near me” to keywords you are already targeting in an effort to create an exact match for a voice query. For instance, instead of targeting only the keywords “party supply store,” you could also use the keywords “party supply store near me.”

Furthermore, you can add geographic search terms as well. Adding city, state, and other geographic terms will help target voice search leads in your neck of the woods.

6. Mobile Optimization & Friendliness

Remember that the percentage of mobile Google queries via voice search are continuing to rise. Naturally, because so many mobile users activate voice features, it only makes sense to make your site mobile friendly. In my honest opinion, all actively maintained websites should have been catering to mobile users for the last four or five years at the very least – perhaps even longer.

And now that rumors about the possibility AMP's (Accellerated Mobile Pages) will become a ranking signal are cropping up, it's even more important to optimize your site. After all, what good would the results of a voice search be if the search results weren't formatted for a mobile device?

Craft Long Tail Keywords for Voice Search

There's still a lot of debate over the future of keywords. They're certainly not as heavily weighted as they once were, and many professionals engaging in content marketing forgo keywords completely (including us), especially when distributing content through social media channels. But it's still a good idea to brainstorm some long tail keywords that align with prior keyword research.

The idea here is to repackage old keywords into a voice search format.

For instance, on a mobile phone I might type out the following query: auto repair st louis.

Human beings generally keep mobile searches short, because most of us hate impatiently typing out long queries.

However, if I submitted the same query with voice search, I would say something more colloquial, such as, “Where is the nearest auto repair shop?

The real difficulty with these types of keywords is trying to make them sound organic. But it is possible to insert a little blurb near your address, location, or map page with something along the lines of, “Were you wondering, 'Where is the nearest auto repair shop?' Use the map tool to find our nearest location.”

Voice Search is No Fad

Between voice search optimization and traditional SEO efforts, small business owners often find that they don’t have the time required to competently optimize their websites, which causes masses of missed leads and opportunities. If you don’t have enough time to devote to your digital marketing strategy, reach out for the help of a professional today to help reach your audience and grow your bottom line.

Often people conflate the definitions of 'trend' and 'fad.' Fads come and go, but trends can grow for decades. In fact, the definition of trend is: n. the general direction in which something tends to move.

And right now, it's clear that things are moving in the direction of increased voice searches.

The only question is... are you ready?