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An Authoritative Voice: How to Rank Well for Voice Search

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

Voice searches are simply searches for information or instructions that are spoken to an information appliance, like Alexa or a car navigation system. The search query is delivered by speaking instead of by typing words into a computer.

Voice search is thus the real-world version of asking the computer in Star Trek aloud for information. You can’t tell the information appliance to transport you to another planet, but it can order a delivery meal to your home, answer some questions, and even control devices in your home via a home automation system. This interface is changing search engine optimization in a number of ways.

How to Rank Well for Conversational Searches

Why does Amazon sell the Alexa at such a low price? Because when you buy an Alexa, it will recommend products and content sold through Amazon first and foremost, if these results are strongly related to your query. Google’s products typically give priority to Google’s intellectual property, whether YouTube videos or Google books, unless something else is a far higher-ranking search result.

Another issue is that these devices may actively penalize certain types of content. Google’s censorship of content affects search results in a number of ways. Want to hear the latest Dennis Prager video? You may have to sign in and prove you’re over 18 via an internet search, or set up your information appliance as an "adult" account rather than with a "family" setting. No, he’s not controversial, but his pro-Israel videos were flagged as hate speech by some and thus put behind the interstitial. Google restricts businesses trying to sell what Google doesn't like, such as YouTube marketing videos promoting adult products, weight loss drugs, or payday lending.

One solution for small businesses is selling on the sites that information appliances refer to and creating conversational content there. This is why FAQ sections are popping up on so many Amazon product pages and why the site itself is asking customers to answer other customers’ questions—to capture voice search traffic.

Another habit of information appliances is defaulting to trusted sites like Wikipedia, WebMD, and newspapers. Thus you shouldn’t create content trying to rival Wikipedia’s entry unless you are offering a unique twist on the topic that consumers are actually interested in. Definitions of words, the times when certain events occur, explanations of abbreviations: questions like this will go to these high-authority sources unless there is literally no one else with an answer.

Featured snippets will show up first and foremost in conversational search queries, even snippets not from those high-domain authority sites. Everyone else can rank in conversational queries if they tailor their SEO to questions not answered by those sources.

In short, if you want to rank well for conversational searches, put your content on well-trafficked sites so that it has a decent chance of showing up. The alternative is relying on content marketing through social media and email marketing.

Product pages on high-traffic sites are a perfect place for voice search optimized content.

Product pages on high-traffic sites are a perfect place for voice search optimized content.

Conversational Search Engine Optimization

Conversational queries are the questions people will ask in normal conversation. Instead of “pizza local,” they will ask the device, “X appliance, what are some good pizza places around here?” Instead of using the search query “how to X,” they will ask the device “How do I X on ABC product?” Successful search engine optimization for these queries focuses on using the full text of the question people ask in your content, ideally as the title of the content, though a heading is almost as good.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

You do need to avoid search term stuffing in your content. If keyword stuffing is bad—repeating the key search term every few words and in every single sentence—repeating key phrases is worse. No one wants to listen to a device ramble off five variations of the same question before getting to the answer. In fact, they don’t even want to listen to an answer that is five sentences long unless the first sentence answers the question at the most basic level before expounding on it in the next few sentences.

Avoid Phrases That Sound Like Device Commands

You also need to avoid relying on key search phrases that are too close to the commands that the device will try to translate into device-specific help or commands. For example, don’t create an article called, “OK, Google, let’s talk about your monopoly” or “Google set an alarm, the logic behind the command.” If someone asks the device “How are you doing?” or “What are you doing?" the device is likely to refer to a database of conversational answers. Yes, you can ask your information appliance what it thinks of you and what it is doing.

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Write Out Your Answer and Create a List

Moz Blog found that "how," "how to" and "what" queries dominate voice searches, the questions we ask in the search for information. The same site found that the answers preferred by information appliances are texts or lists. Tables and videos rarely ever come up in response to conversational queries, unless someone is asking the device to play someone’s latest video blog.

This means that if you want to rank well for conversational queries, write out your answer, or create a list (not a table). If the result that comes up is a video, you probably want it to be on YouTube, because, again, that’s one of Google’s default sources.

Local Search Engine Optimization

Voice searches are often local searches, especially when someone is asking questions of the infotainment center in their car. When they are asking where something is, they want an address that is reinforced by repetition across many different business directories. Businesses need to take care to use the exact same business name, address, phone number and website for each business location.

And you should use a different business identifier for each location, so that businesses’ location information isn’t confused (and devalued in local searches) because a device can't tell if the main office and suburban office are one and the same. This is why large restaurant chains have a franchise number or neighborhood identifier for each location. You’ll thus hear that Restaurant A Location A is three miles to the north while Restaurant A Location B is two miles west.

You can improve the local SEO and value to the would-be customer by putting conversational driving information on the webpage, such as “We’re located at 123 Main Street in X City, right next to the Y landmark. We’re on the northeast corner of the intersection of J and K.” Remember that information about parking locations and exits to take from the main thoroughfare increases both your local SEO and value to listeners.

Another factor to consider is whether or not the information appliance can actually read and repeat your information. You cannot assume that a graphic containing your phone number will be understood by the searcher. An information appliance won’t be able to read everything a human looking at the webpage sees, and a mobile searcher may have trouble reading the graphic, assuming it translates to the small screen at all.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Tamara Wilhite


Tamara Wilhite (author) from Fort Worth, Texas on December 09, 2017:

Thank you Glenn Stok. I think we're hitting the reality that was part of science fiction television like Star Trek where most of the characters spoke with the computer instead of reading text unless in a public setting. And SEO is adapting to fit natural human language.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on December 09, 2017:

This is a very useful discussion, Tamara. You gave a lot of new understanding to the methods of creating titles and subtitles.

I always knew they should be more like the search expressions people use, but I never thought about the fact that more people are doing voice search now, with tools such as Alexa. So the way people express themselves when asking questions aloud needs to be considered in order to match as closely as possible to what they are seeking.

That’s what I got out of your article. Well done.

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