Tailoring Your SEO Strategy for Different Virtual Assistants

Ever since Google’s Hummingbird update rolled out in 2013, SEO strategies have been focused on providing relevant and helpful information for web users. That’s because this new algorithm focused on search intent and context, rather than on exact match or keyword prevalence. Instead of stuffing pages with keywords, analysts had to make an effort to actually understand their audience and provide them with the knowledge they sought.

Other technologies have since used similar foundations to address user intention and to provide the best possible information. The Natural Language Processing used in voice technology-powered devices considers syntax, semantics, phonics, and reasoning to literally learn your language and speech patterns in order to give you accurate answers.

In 2018, more people are relying on voice-powered technology to conduct daily tasks--including their internet searches. That means marketers will need to switch up their strategies if they want to improve their reach and relevance among users who depend on Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana to make their lives easier. It also means these marketers will need to know the subtle nuances that set these virtual assistants apart, and how to use those differences to their advantage.

Are Users Really Utilizing Digital Assistants for Search Queries?

Google SEO Sundar Pichai revealed in 2016 that 20% of all mobile queries were voice searches, and a recent trends report estimates that there will be 200 billion voice search queries made per month by the year 2020. When you consider how many people now own smartphones and separate devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, it’s no wonder that industry experts are taking notice--and taking action.

Google research shows that people use their voice-activated digital assistants for several reasons--namely, convenience and speed. These devices and features allow users to obtain answers more quickly, to simplify their daily routine, and to multitask more effectively. It’s far faster and far easier to speak a question out loud than it is to type on a small screen, particularly when your hands are otherwise occupied.

In one 2018 survey conducted by Google, researchers found that 48% of voice-activated speaker owners wanted personalized tips and helpful information from brands, while 39% desired pertinent business information (such as operating hours or store location). Around 52% of those consumers would like information about sales and other promotions, with 42% saying they would seek info about upcoming events. Clearly, there are a lot of reasons for users to turn to their digital assistants when they need help; even clearer is the fact that marketers need to evolve in order to serve these customers and drive traffic for their businesses.

How Has Voice Search Changed SEO in General?

In order to successfully optimize for voice search, you’ll need to understand the behaviors of those who rely on conducting their queries in this way and how they differ from queries performed via typing or texting.

Generally speaking, voice search queries are typically longer. When typing in a search bar, users tend to keep things on the shorter side to save time and effort. But voice search requires interacting with a digital assistant, meaning that the searches are typically a bit more lengthy and detailed. Usually, they’re in the form of a complete sentence and are usually question phrases, rather than containing a few specific words. That’s one reason why creating voice search optimized FAQ pages are generally a good idea. Google also has a “People Also Ask” feature that can provide you with insight as to what voice search users want to know. Voice searches are also more likely to contain long tail keywords because we tend to phrase our intent differently (e.g., we’re more specific) when we speak compared to when we type.

Speaking of intent, voice search showcases that even more precisely, too. People who use voice search want to see immediate results, rather than having to scour the top links to find what they’re looking for. Most of the time, people who conduct voice queries might not even visit your website. Instead, they’ll want to see information that shows up in featured snippets or Google My Business listings. In other words, local SEO plays a huge role here. Marketers will need to focus on obtaining Google reviews, updating business listings, and more to ensure their business appears prominently in those quick answer sections.

It’s also important to realize that voice search really provides only one authoritative answer to users. That’s totally different from what users experience when they type something into their Google search bar. Ultimately, that means marketers need to make every effort to ensure their content is extremely relevant for specific search queries and that crawlers can easily access this information. That may mean taking a closer look at the backend of your website. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to create a sitemap and submit it to Google, as well as using schema markup to communicate to Google more precisely about what your site contains. And of course, your site needs to be responsive and optimized for mobile.

How Does Voice Search Optimization Differ Between Devices?

We’ve discussed how the prevalence of voice search and the behaviors of voice search users are impacting SEO in a general sense. But what makes this type of optimization even more challenging for marketers is the fact that there are several different popular devices on the market that offer the opportunity to use voice search--and they all act in slightly different ways. It’s not enough to optimize for voice search in a broad sense; you’ll also need to optimize for those individual assistants. Otherwise, you could potentially be ignoring a huge demographic.

  • Siri: A lot of customers are already very familiar with Siri, thanks to her presence on their iPhones. But industry experts note that Siri isn’t actually the best at providing the most relevant voice search results (Google tends to be lauded as the best, in that sense). Things aren’t looking great for the new Apple HomePod, as it’s more expensive and has greater limitations as compared to other options. Still, you can’t ignore Siri, as she helps countless iPhone users find what they need. Siri will typically localize business searches, even without being told to do so, which means you’ll definitely need to prioritize local search listings on Google, Yelp, and other platforms.
  • Alexa: In 2017, Amazon controlled 70% of the digital assistant device market. Most marketers tend to forget about non-Google search engines, but Alexa actually uses Bing to find results. Since the Amazon Echo is actually more popular than the Google Home, you’ll need to optimize your business for Bing, too. It’s also essential to note that Alexa tends to dominate when it comes to e-commerce voice searches and other transaction-related queries, which is no surprise considering that it’s made by the undisputed King of Online Retail. Consumers tend to turn to Alexa when they want to buy something, which is helpful information for marketers who want to drive traffic to product pages.
  • Google Assistant: Google devices may not be as popular as Amazon’s offerings, but they’re generally thought to be more precise when it comes to voice search. Last summer, one study found that Google Assistant answered 85.5% of queries correctly, while Siri, Alexa, and Cortana lagged behind. Simply put, Google Home has access to the most advanced algorithm and can, therefore, answer more complex questions than other options on the market. Be sure to take advantage of the speakable markup (structured data) to optimize content specifically for Google Assistant.
  • Cortana: This device tends to come in last on the list since it’s not actually a device. Rather, it’s a service that you can use on your Windows computer or have as an app on your Android or iPhone. It is available on a smart speaker called Invoke, which is far from the most popular choice on the market. Cortana also uses Bing to conduct voice searches, since it’s a Microsoft-powered product, which isn’t a great selling point for brands or for consumers. Cortana is certainly more limited than the aforementioned assistants. However, she is featured in Microsoft’s new “Windows in the car” concept, which would allow motorists to make restaurant reservations on their windshield. While Cortana is mainly used to set reminders, find computer files, or check the weather, don’t forget that this assistant is also being used to find factual information and may even make personal recommendations based on previous user behaviors.

If your aim is to optimize your business for voice search, you’ll now have a better understanding of what these consumers are seeking and how to provide the best possible information for them. There’s still a lot we don’t yet know about the long-term effects of voice search on SEO, as it’s a growing field. But if you keep this information in mind, you should be able to address these users and learn how to speak their language.

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