How to Optimise for Voice Search

Voice search isn’t exactly a new feature, however with the rise in popularity of smart home devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, voice search is quickly becoming an aspect of marketing that can’t go ignored if you want to have an edge over your competitors (or keep up with them!).

But even at this moment in time, there is no clear guidelines from Google themselves about optimising for voice search. That’s when the keen, smarty-pants SEO experts step in to be ahead of the curve.

Who is using voice search?

Understanding the demographic behind voice search usage is the very first step. Luckily, Stone Temple Consulting have released their findings after surveying 1,000 people about their use of voice commands:

  • People are becoming more comfortable using voice search in public.
  • The 35-to-44 age group is the largest segment using voice search.
  • The 25-to-34 age group is most comfortable using voice search in public.
  • The heaviest users of voice search have an income above $50,000 per year.

Remember Alexa and Google Home? Well, if you take a look at Gartner’s research below, it has predicted that by the year 2020, 75% of homes in the US will have a smart speaker. We can assume that this trend will be very similar over here in the UK, too:

Voice search ranking factor

It’s difficult to predict exactly how users will be interacting with their devices when it comes to voice search, and it may largely differ between those devices.

A study by Backlinko, based on 10,000 Google Home search results, has some very interesting findings:

  • Answers are 29 words on average. When you’re structuring the data you want to become a voice “answer,” make sure it’s short and to the point. This means formatting the page so an answer can be easily drawn from it and understood to be a complete answer to the question.
  • The average writing level of a result was targeted to the ninth-grade reading level, so keep it simple.
  • Presently, voice search results seem to serve a more generic audience. I don’t expect this to last long; ranking for the present requires writing to the masses.
  • Google may eventually cater the reading level to the individual searching and implied education level of the query.
  • The average word count of pages used to draw voice search results was 2,312 words. This suggests Google wants to draw results from authoritative pages.

So it’s important to note that when creating content, we need to bear in mind the entity being discussed and the intent we need to satisfy when optimising for both voice and general search.

What’s an Entity?

To put it simply, an entity is a noun connected by relationships. When somebody makes a search, Google looks up their database of entities and tries to determine the most relevant answer to the searcher’s intent, whilst comparing it with other entities to determine various traits. For example, when searching a particular celebrity’s name, this entity could be linked to multiple other entities by way of family relationships, but also the particular celebrity’s birthday or any work they have been involved in (such as particular movies, bands, albums etc).

But this is when, for example, searching for somebody who has the same name as a celebrity, the result with more prominence will be served – most likely the celebrity in this instance – particularly when there is a relevant Wikipedia page available.

For example, If I were to say “Ok Google, who is David Foster?”, I’d be presented with a result from the Canadian musician’s Wikipedia page as opposed to my profile here on Soar Online. This is simply because the Wikipedia article will have sufficient content on the musician’s page itself as well as supporting articles linked to that entity such as associated acts, albums, nominations etc.

So understanding how entities relate to each other and giving concise and easily digested information, on as many related topics as possible, will ensure that Google sees us as the authoritative answer.

User Intents

So far it’s safe to say that optimising for as many related entities, questions and related content as possible is a critical factor when trying to rank for voice search. When Google determines which entity to serve to the user, it largely comes down to the user’s intent, which is based on a combination of related factors from previous queries. It also uses a system of metrics related to authority and relevance to determine which would win in a generic environment.

If we assume that Google uses their patent of “Ranking Search Results Based On Entity Metrics”, we can determine that Google uses these 4 metrics to determine the strength of an entity:

  • Relatedness. As Google sees relationships or entities appear relatedly on the web, they will connect these entities.
  • Notability. This relates to notability in the field. Basically, it takes into account the popularity of the entity in question and also the popularity of the field as a whole.
  • Contribution. Google will weight entities by reviews, fame rankings and similar information
  • Prizes. More weight will be added to an entity or aspect of that entity based on prizes and awards. This isn’t referring to a lotto but rather something like a Grammy.

The next step in ranking on voice search is to isolate which entities will have these metrics and cover them by writing targeted content well.

Cover the core answer, but also consider all the various entities connected to that answer to reinforce that you’re referring to the same entity and also have the authority and information to give the best answer.

Summary

To put it simply, if you want to optimise and rank well for voice search, it boils down to having these three things:

  • A strong domain
  • Strong content
  • Content divided into logical and easily digested segments