Speech therapy

David Fairhurst gives us a crash course in voice search engine optimisation

Back in the 1980s, I worked for an engineering company that made precision parts for trains, helicopters and all sorts of high-tech, extremely secretive military projects. All this technical wizardry was created by a CNC machining centre that was programmed using a punched paper tape machine, allied with a green screen computer system with less processing power than the average modern watch. How things have changed. Nowadays, smartphones have more processing power than the supercomputers used by NASA to land men on the moon, and the devices we use are only getting smarter every year. These are fed by enormous amounts of freely available data, AI systems and hugely powerful multi-core processors.
Now we all face a life dominated by AI-driven voice-activated search, things can never go back to what they were. If you want people to find your website using voice command search technologies, read on.

Optimising for voice search
Before the development of voice-activated search, the keyphrases we all put into search engines tended to be driven by the technologies of the time – keyboard input in most cases. This means keyphrases tended to get truncated as humans adapted to the way search engines operated. Instead of typing “where is the best place to have breakfast in Caernarfon,” we would type “breakfast Caernarfon,” purely because it worked just as well but maybe because we all secretly hate to type! For the large percentage of UK searchers using Google as their main engine, the inclusion of the Universal Search update a few years ago meant that Google would now understand the longer, more conversational search queries we use, leading to longer search queries as the norm. Now that we have voice search, normal speech is recognised to a high degree and used by search engines to return appropriate results that would have returned large amounts of junk prior to the introduction of AI systems and said voice search.
Knowing that the AI systems powering voice-activated search systems understand human speech and can even adapt to regionality tells us how to optimise for voice-activated search.
Where previously with non-voice search a small range of keyphrases would be chosen for each optimised page within a website, queries for voice search are much more semantic and will contain a broader range of phrases, following natural language patterns. For this reason, when optimising pages within websites for voice search, terms such as the following need to be included if appropriate for the page content: How, What, When, Where, Can, Why, Easy, Make, Top, Define.There are a host of other terms to include in page copy. Just think of what you would ask for when speaking to Alexa, Cortana or Google, and you should start to build a comprehensive list of things to include in page titles and page copy.

Top factors for voice search success
1). Optimised for mobile? If your site isn't built with a responsive layout or, at the very least, has a mobile friendly version, then you are most certainly going to be losing out on voice search. Google announced that it moved over to a mobile-first indexing cache for all search results in March 2018, which means that if you don't have a mobile friendly version of your website, people will go to a competitor's website that does! 

2). Use natural language and normal English sentence structure. This not only means people will be able to read your content and understand it, but it also means search engines will be able to utilise the text on your pages to return voice-activated queries.

3). Make sure your page copy and page titles answer a searcher's question – this is key to getting placed among the top results in search queries. Category and product pages on an e-commerce website may not be aligned with this sort of content, so create static pages or blog posts that do show it.

4). Go secure. Google is now heavily pushing the https protocol, and pages that don't support https are less likely to be returned in search results on voice-activated devices.

5). Use schema.org tagging. Google and others such as Facebook use this to easily index your content and pages. Tagging important parts of your pages with Schema tags means fast access for search engines to your content and, therefore, a better chance of your content being returned in real-time search.

There are many other factors to consider, but the best advice is to think logically about what you would search for when using a voice command and how this might affect the content you display on your website.

David Fairhurst is head of creative online marketing at Intelligent Retail. David has been involved with SEO and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences, including Spring Fair and SES London. Call David on +44 (0)845 680 0126 or visit www.intelligentretail.co.uk

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