Like it or not, two big changes are coming to search that will impact the ranking of every web site – voice search and Google mobile-first indexing. One is fueled by the way we search and the other is what Google will search in the near future.
What is Voice Search?
Voice search is simply using your voice to ask a search engine a question, rather than typing it. It requires a digital “assistant” like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant, or clicking the microphone next to the Google search box.
Forty percent (40%) of US adults are searching by voice at least once a day. This is due to:
- Voice recognition accuracy improvement. Just a few years ago, the error rate was 20%, today it is 8%
- More devices accepting voice input such as smart watches, Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.
- The allure of hands-free multi-tasking
Conventional search requires someone to type in a few keywords, such as “car repair NJ.” When the search is done using voice and a digital assistant, the query tends to be longer and more conversational: “Hey Siri where should I get my car fixed?”
|Figure 1 - Conventional typed search||Figure 2 - Voice search using Siri|
How to Get Started for Voice Search
Taking the time to address voice search proactively will put you in a better position in the near future. Waiting six months or so to take action, will put you in the same spot as your competition. There are several things you can do today to integrate voice into your search optimization (SEO) strategy.
- Think Mobile First - 60% of all searches are done on a mobile device . Therefore, it is very important that you deliver a high quality mobile experience. We all know the frustration of trying to use a site that is not set up for mobile! Make sure you have a terrific mobile site.
(Since most search is performed on mobile devices; it should not be a surprise that Google is moving to a mobile index. This is so important that I devoted the next section to it.)
- Understand how your users speak. To optimize for voice search, you need to consider how a user would ask a friend a question (“Hey Siri where should I get my car fixed?”). Think longer and more conversational keyword phrases vs. pure keywords.
Check out this free tool: http://answerthepublic.com. You provide a keyword and it will provide a list of the queries related to that keyword.
- Steal attention from the competition with good web site page summaries
Personal assistants want to give you the information you want as quickly as possible. In order to do this, they review the summary of a web page. The summary, or snippet, is the short paragraph that appears under the title. Take the time and steps to make sure your web page summaries have good content. A search on “payroll provider” produced this result. Note the summary.
Figure 3 - Example of a web page summary or snippet
When you see a result at the top of a search page with more information than a typical summary, this is called a featured snippet. This means that Google thinks the content is the top match to the request - and favors it. The personal assistants will favor these results too. Talk to a search engine optimization expert to see how you can take advantage of this opportunity.
Figure 4 - A featured snippet that was displayed for a search on “payroll provider”.
- Be Web Spider Friendly
Spiders, or the software programs that crawl the web (aka web crawlers or bots) from Google, Bing and other search engines, can be your friend or foe. You really want your site to be easy for the spiders to read and understand.
The structure of your site, the navigation and the words you use all contribute to spider friendliness. Talk to your web site team and get a SEO audit to make sure your site is super friendly.
- Remember to include Bing
Google is the leading search engine, so it is easy to sometimes forget about what Bing likes to see.
To help Bing rank your site, use your strongest keywords towards the top of your pages. Keeping your social media sites updated is important too as Bing places a higher value on this than Google.
Google to use Mobile Index, a.k.a “Mobile First”
With 60% of all search performed on a mobile device, it should not come as a surprise that Google will be moving to mobile-first indexing. Although Google says that it will gradually introduce the changes, now is the time to review your mobile site. Here are a couple suggestions to get started:
- Make sure your site is mobile friendly. This means either you use responsive design or build a separate mobile site.
- If the primary content and structure of your mobile and desktop sites are different, consider making changes.
- You will want to make sure your mobile site is content rich and it is easy for search engines to crawl. Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
What does it mean for my business?
Responsive design is a good solution to meet the mobile friendly/mobile-first indexing so do not think you have to start building a separate mobile site. Keep in in mind that if you do decide to build a separate mobile site, it will require managing two sites. The advantage of a responsive site is that you don’t have to make changes to separate desktop and mobile websites – you have one website that meets the needs of different devices.
In conclusion, no need to panic. Today, the majority of voice searches are basic, lifestyle commands – which means that the majority of businesses are not impacted (yet) and can continue to focus on traditional SEO. Google is not going to abandon desktop users and stated that they will “continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.” Google also stated that if you only have a desktop site, they will index your desktop site using a mobile agent.
Knowledge is power and take advantage now to prepare. Make sure you have a mobile-friendly site and understand the impact of voice search on your business. If you do, you will reap the benefits of being ahead vs. trying to catch up along with most of the world.
With Special Thanks to the Digital Brand Expressions team for their contributions to this post.
 SEO alert: Google search to rank sites according to their mobile versions https://betanews.com/2016/11/06/google-seo-mobile-search-ranking/