August 9, 2022
More people are using voice search to find information and make purchases. Here’s what you need to know about voice SEO and how it impacts UX.
Imagine two businesses competing for the same customers.
Let’s call them Store A and Store B.
They are identical except for one thing: Store A has a location that’s easier for 7 out of 10 customers to access.
Which company will do more business?
You don’t need an MBA to figure this out – Store A offers more convenience and will therefore grab more market share.
Now, consider one convenience you can add to your website that will make a similar impact: voice search.
According to Statista, there will be 8 billion voice assistants in use worldwide by 2024.
That’s a lot of people speaking into their phones or smart speakers.
And if you’re not optimizing your web content to account for it, you’re leaving a lot of opportunities on the table.
Why are so many people using this functionality? Why is it important for search engine optimization? And more importantly, how do you claim your share?
Read on for answers to these questions and more.
How Popular Is Voice Search?
We’ve already established how many people prefer to use the voice search capabilities on their devices, but let’s look at some other relevant statistics, just to drill home the importance of taking advantage of this trend:
In 2022, 35% of Americans over 18 own a smart speaker (up from 32% in 2021).
62% of Americans over 18 use voice assistants on their devices.
One of the top three reasons consumers want a smart speaker is to ask questions without needing to type.
80% of smart speaker owners find it easier to use to discover new content and events.
57% of voice assistant users use it at least once per day.
As you can see, smart speaker and voice assistant usage is growing more popular in the competition for search traffic, and is only expected to rise.
And there are two key things that we haven’t even mentioned yet – accessibility and UX (user experience).
Voice Search Improves Accessibility
The US Department of Justice has been clear: Websites fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
And non-compliance can cost you more than potential traffic – you can be fined as much as $75,000 for a first offense.
Voice search plays a big role in ensuring your website can be accessible to everyone.
This includes those with physical limitations that restrict them from using the keyboard and mouse, those with repeated stress injuries who need to limit their time using keyboards and mouses, and people with cognitive issues who prefer to use voice search.
A lot of this functionality relies on speech recognition technology, but you may not realize the way your website is coded can also have a big impact.
According to the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative), there are several best practices your site should adhere to in order to ensure accessibility, including reading order corresponding with code order, the use of alt tags for images, and adding markup to convey meaning and context.
For a complete list of the WAI’s recommendations and information on implementing them, click here.
Voice Search UX Outcomes for Users
The link between good UX and improved search engine results has been well demonstrated. And the growth of voice search means designing your UX around voice interaction is becoming more important.
How your brand interacts with different voice search-enabled devices can significantly determine whether users have a positive or negative experience.
But before addressing this, you need to understand how people use voice search.
One of its main uses is informational.
Say you’re elbow deep in pasta dough, making tortellini while a red sauce simmers away in a pot on the stove.
You can’t remember how long the sauce is supposed to be on, so without taking the time to wash and dry your hands, you call out to your smart speaker, “Hey Google, how long should tomato sauce cook?”
Or you’re hanging out with some friends when one of your buddies refuses to believe Willie Mays ever played for the Mets.
A quick voice search can help you, once again, demonstrate your superior baseball knowledge.
In addition to settling arguments, many people also use it to check the news and weather.
Another common use is “near me” searches.
For example, you’re on a road trip in a state you’ve never been to. Your car is running on fumes, and you must find a gas station as soon as possible.
Without ever taking your eyes off the road, voice search can direct you to the nearest place to fill your tank.
And of course, there’s voice shopping, which was briefly touched on earlier.
From making shopping lists to ordering pizza to purchasing products with voice alone, more and more people are initiating and completing purchases without ever looking at a screen.
The uses for voice search are growing right alongside its increasing popularity.
So, that raises the question: how do you get in on it?
Prioritize Your Voice Search Efforts by Channel and Audience
When developing your voice SEO strategy, you must understand the capabilities and limitations of the platform you’re designing for. There are two approaches here:
Screen-first devices like smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.
Voice-first devices like smart speakers.
Each of these offers different strengths.
Screen-first devices (when the screen is being utilized) offer an efficient output for information.
Visual scanning is faster than listening and can be used to convey more info in less time. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Voice-first devices, on the other hand, provide an efficient input.
Users can give commands quickly and easily on their own terms.
Of course, this relies on the device understanding natural language, a technology that has vastly improved since voice commands were in their infancy.
Depending on your website’s content, your user demographics, and a host of other factors, your users may be more inclined to prefer one type of device over the other.
You also need to understand at which stage of the buyer journey voice search is used.
More people are using voice assistants to research products than buy them, with 44.4% of U.S. consumers using them to browse new products, but only 24.2% using them to complete a purchase.
Most of these purchases are small items that don’t require being looked at, such as toilet paper or dog food.
Take all these factors into account, then tailor your voice strategy to your specific audience and channel.
Once you have that done, it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of optimizing your content.
Optimizing Your Content for Voice Search
If you don’t have much experience designing vocal user experiences or VUI (vocal user interfaces), don’t worry – this is fairly new ground.
While these are different from GUIs (graphical user interfaces), the UX/UI principles still apply, as does the effect user experience has on your search ranking.
Here are some important elements to consider when designing your VUI or converting over existing content to optimize it for voice search:
Start With a Plan
Rather than tackling your VUI and/or voice search optimization piecemeal, you should spend time developing a flowchart explaining how voice search users will navigate through your site.
Doing some upfront planning will save you lots of headaches, hassle, and duplicate work on the backside.
Make Interaction Natural
Voice searchers use natural language to find things, often using more words.
Whereas a desktop searcher might type [Chinese delivery nearby], someone using voice search is more likely to say, “Where’s a good Chinese delivery place near me?”
The same long-tail keywords used for ordinary SEO purposes will come into play in voice search.
Try to use full phrases and queries, which are even better than long-tail keywords. And make sure you’re always thinking about user intent.
Design For Flow
Earlier, we mentioned how your HTML, CSS, and other code should be structured the same way a person would read your site so it tells the same story in voice search.
You also need to take this sequential approach to structure your content.
Make sure the content follows a logical course.
Create verbal tags that can be easily navigated by voice alone (e.g., “select option #2″).
Improve Your Domain Authority
Here’s where your regular SEO efforts can pay dividends for voice SEO.
Voice search almost always selects the first search result to answer a query.
That makes it crucial to have your site fully optimized for ordinary search.
Check your backlinks, maximize your keywords, boost your local search, and do all the other tasks that come with SEO, and it will also reap rewards in voice search.
Grab Featured Snippets
Featured snippets aren’t just great for mobile and desktop search – they’re also used to answer voice search results.
In fact, 60% of all voice search answers come from featured snippets.
So, if your content claims this valuable real estate for a query, you will get the lion’s share of voice traffic.
Because so many voice searchers are looking for local answers, your content needs to be optimized for it.
If you’re not already, get listed in Google’s local rankings.
If you’re already there, work to improve your results.
The goal is to be the answer when someone searches Google to answer queries like, [Where can I get a dress altered near me?]
Voice Search Is Only Going to Grow
Some technologies burn bright for a few years and then completely fade away – remember HD DVD?
Voice search is unlikely to be one of them.
Instead, it’s finding new uses and an even larger niche as technology becomes more advanced.
If anything, it’s the keyboard and mouse model we’ve grown to know and love that is more likely to become obsolete, especially should Elon Musk’s futuristic Neuralink catch on.
The most important thing in this sci-fi-come-to-life world will be user experience.
It’s not farfetched to imagine AI-powered search learning our likes and dislikes and providing answers customized to our unique intent.
The best way to ensure you’re prepared for this brave new world is to harness the existing cutting-edge technologies to ensure you’ve future-proofed your position as much as possible.
And that means leveraging the power of voice search.
It’s the foundation upon which much of the future of search will be built, which makes it crucial that you get on board.
Your targets are speaking. Make sure your website is listening.
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