There are some pretty grand predictions about the ways in which voice assistants will shape the future of search engine marketing. Some seem outlandish, while others appear to be foregone conclusions.
What we know for sure is that the use of voice search is becoming ubiquitous and increasingly shaping our daily lives. Because of that, any businesses with a current voice search marketing strategy is set to gain a competitive advantage over those who haven’t bothered to craft one.
It's time to make sure you don't get left behind!
Let's get to know what voice search is, how it works, and how your business can use it to drive more qualified traffic to your site.
How Voice Search Works
A voice search is when someone verbally ask a search engine for answers instead of typing in their questions. This type of search is more convenient for users who don’t have (or want to spare) time to sit down and type questions into a device. Speaking a question is especially convenient for those with smartphones because those devices are less conducive to speedy typing and often causes frustration due to auto-correct and “fat finger.”
During a voice search, a user’s voice commands the search to begin — whether searching the entire internet, within a particular website, or through an app. As for the technology behind voice search, people typically use a voice assistant like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant on a voice-enabled device or smart speaker to conduct these searches.
Google’s Knowledge Graph and rich results power the most common forms of voice search and are usually responsible for providing answers to voice assistants. These answers are pulled straight from content on the websites Google knows about and has already cataloged in its index.
When it comes to what voice search is used for, what we are seeing is mostly informational queries including who, what, when, where, why, and how. With that said, the commercial capabilities of voice search are rapidly improving. Just look at the success of Alexa and Amazon’s Echo.
Use of Voice Search Today and Tomorrow
Comscore is predicting that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be completed using voice assistants. That means that 30% of all website sessions will take place without a screen. Complex layouts and fancy imagery will become less and less important, while content and context become not just priorities, but essential building blocks.
Mobile devices have long been the dominant technology used to conduct these voice searches. However, as smart speakers grow in popularity, that dominance is eroding. An estimated 56 million smart speakers were sold in 2018, making it the fastest growing consumer technology out there. OC&C Strategy Consultants predicts that by 2022, 55% of households will own a smart speaker. Statista predicts that 66.3 million of those smart speakers will reside in the US.
There’s no doubt that the growth of voice search will continue for the foreseeable future. Let’s explore what goes into crafting a voice search marketing strategy so that you can start making it work for you and your business.
Voice Search and Position Zero
To further understand how voice search works, you first need to know what position zero is.
Position zero is the SEO industry’s term for the featured snippets, answer boxes, or SERP features that appear in Google search engine results above the rest of traditional organic search results.
Above, you see a position zero answer box result in the form of a list. There are multiple other position zero answer box formats, including paragraphs, tables, charts, embedded images, videos and more. On average, these answer boxes contain between 50-60 characters.
Position zero results are the top organic position on any search engine results page (SERP). More importantly, the content in them is primarily what voice assistants are pulling their answers from. According to a January 2018 Search Engine Land article, 80% of results from Google Home queries are taken from these position zero results. And it’s not just Google Home that relies on them; most other voice assistants lean heavily on position zero for their answers, as well.
According to Moz, in August and September 2017, these position zero featured snippets appeared in roughly 40% of all searches. As voice search continues to grow and Google tries to keep people on the SERP longer (instead of immediately directing them to external sites), you can be assured the number of position zero results on the page will continue to grow.
One important caveat is that in order for Google to select and display your content as a position zero result, the page that content comes from needs to be showing up on the first page of search results, or be properly marked up with structured data. Ahrefs found that 99.58% of featured snippets come from pages that already rank in the top 10 search results in Google for any given query.
The Impact of Position Zero Results
As you can tell, voice search and position zero are inextricably connected. That’s because voice assistants rely heavily on position zero results (plus the top few organic search results) to determine the most relevant answers. You can’t expect to perform well in voice search without owning the position zero spot and/or one of the top ranking pages in the SERP.
Owning position zero results contributes to far more than just your ability to perform in voice search. It also impacts your overall ability to rank well and perform in Google search results. According to HubSpot, having a position zero result makes it 114% more likely that users will click through to your site from the SERP when doing a traditional search.
If you don’t have position zero results, but are still high up on the page with a position one, two, or three result, you might still see less traffic, since potential visitors will be clicking through to the position zero result instead of yours. Position zero is, after all, more prominent, and has also been chosen by Google as the most relevant result.
The bottom line: When you optimize the pages on your site to appear in position zero, you are setting yourself up for not just voice search relevance, but also overall SEO success.
How to Create Content for Voice Search & Position Zero
1. Start with Audience Research
Start by conducting research to identify what your audience is already searching for in your keyword space.
How? Using a tool like answerthepublic.com is a great place to begin. This will reveal the questions people are asking about different topics which you can potentially address with position-zero-worthy content.
From there, create a comprehensive list of all the questions that people seem to be asking about your products, services, or area of expertise.
You can use the “People Also Ask” box and additional suggested searches to take your research even deeper. Note that informational searches starting with any of the following are the most likely candidates to have position zero results:
Completing this audience research step will give you a long list of questions your audience is already asking.
2. Identify Pages Returning Answer Boxes
Now, cross-reference your list of questions against actual search results to find out which of those questions are already returning position zero results. To do this, type in each question, hit enter/reutrn, and see if a position zero result shows up in the SERP.
When you see position zero results returned for a particular question, note it on your list. Read the content in position zero. Then, figure out how you can create a piece of content that provides a better answer to that question. After all, that's what SEO is about; providing the best possible answers to people's queries.
Keep going through all of the questions on your list from Step 1 and noting which return position zero results. You can disregard those that don't return position zero results, or maybe consider them as other content opportunities.
Your final product should be a list of queries you can answer by creating amazing, position-zero-worthy content. Once you have a list of topics that have position zero results, prioritize your content based on which queries your business wants to own.
Needless to say, this can be quite an undertaking. However, the end product can help guide your content strategy in a way that sets you up for voice search success in the long run.
3. Create Content with Position-Zero-Worthy Answers
Once you know what content you need to create, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start building it. Craft content to provide the best possible answers to all the queries you identified.
You can write one piece of content for each question, or you can combine multiple related questions into a long-form piece of content. When you do, it makes your content even more comprehensive and valuable. Both your readers and Google will appreciate that!
No matter which approach you take, remember that your objective is to provide a better answer than the content that currently owns the answer box.
To do that, your content needs to be comprehensive. Don't be afraid to go deep and explore the nuance of the topic in question.
Use “snippet bait” formatting to tee up your content for Google:
- Headers should include the questions you are trying to answer.
- The answer to each question should appear immediately after.
- Answers can come in the form of a short paragraph, a list, bullets, etc.
An example of content formatted as “snippet bait” would be:
How do you Write a Great Blog Post?
Use these strategies to write a great blog post:
- Know your audience.
- Know what questions they have about the topic.
- Answer all of those questions in a concise, organized way.
- Make it easy to read.
- Use header tags and bullet points.
- Include imagery and media.
How do you know which answer format is best? Paragraphs are the best for standard answers, while bullet lists are great for providing multiple answers at once. Go back and look at what's already ranking to see what Google likes.
To help Google identify your answers as easily digestible, try leading with “priming phrases,” such as:
- Begin with...
- Here are,...
- This list...
Ideally, this “snippet bait” should come at the top of an article and be followed by high quality supporting content. You can use this inverse pyramid to structure your voice-search-optimized content.
Lead with Valuable “Snippet-Worthy” Q&A
Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?
Explain the most helpful and relevant details.
Flesh out your topic even further.
Although Google typically pulls from the top of your content to populate its answer boxes, it will also pull information from further down in your content. As a result, it’s worth including multiple paragraphs of content formatted as suggested above i.e. use queries as headers, directly followed by position-zero-friendly answers.
Because your content needs to be ranking at the top of page one in search results in order to be returned in voice searches, make sure you don't forget your on-site optimization.
Turning Voice Search Tactics into Strategy
Now that you know how voice search works and how you can start creating content that will appear in position zero, it's time to bake those tactics into a strategy.
Identify the most important queries returning position zero results that your business wants to own. Pick the top ten and start working on the corresponding content that needs to be created. If you have existing content that can easily be repurposed, that's a great place to start.
Once you've prioritized the content you need to create, start working it into your content calendar and content workflow. You surely don't need to create all ten at once. Instead, stagger them out to make creating them more managable. Check back on your published content regularly to make sure it's performing at the top of search results. If it insn't you might need to circle back and improve it.
Continue this process until you start seeing your content appearing in position zero, or in the top few search results.
Remember that optimizing for voice search is just one part of a holistic content startegy. Don't neglect to create content just because it doesn't return a position zero result. Plenty of your audience is still searching the traditional way and you still need to be speaking to them.
Overwhelmed by SEO? Try a guided approach.
Erik loves breaking down complex SEO topics into understandable instructions anyone can follow. In his role as an SEO coach, he guides Pathfinder SEO customers through the SEO process on a daily basis, giving them helpful tips, instruction, and advice along the way.