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How to Rank in Voice Search: 8 Steps You Can Take Right Now

Derek Andersen Copywriter, DialogTech

A note from DialogTech: We know COVID-19 is impacting how you market to your consumers. We will keep providing best practices you can benefit from now or later when the crisis passes. Stay safe and healthy. We’re all in this together.

Voice search is revolutionizing the customer journey. People of all ages are utilizing this technology in growing numbers to find businesses and make purchase decisions. According to BrightLocal, 58% of U.S. consumers have made a local business voice search on a smartphone. Additionally, according to BrightLocal, 76% of smart speaker users make local voice searches at least weekly.

While traditional SEO efforts are about getting on page one of the SERP, the voice search landscape is different. Competition is fierce — when a consumer places a voice search, the device only reads the first search result back to them. Unless they prompt the device otherwise, they have no visibility into the rest of the SERP — the other results are irrelevant. In the words of Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Marketers who are proactive about optimizing for voice search will gain a major advantage over their competitors. This blog provides tips to help you do just that.

1. Claim and Update Your Business Listings

46% of voice searchers look for a local business on a daily basis. Voice searches are often used to find nearby businesses because they can be performed hands-free while the searcher is getting ready to leave their home or while they’re on-the-go.

Despite the fact that voice searches are often used to find local businesses, the recent Uberall Voice Search Readiness Report found that fewer than 4% of businesses had accurate information across their online listings. This is problematic, since this information is often pulled as the top organic result for local searches.

To ensure you’re ready for voice search, you should claim your Google My Business listings for all of your locations and ensure the information is up-to-date and consistent with what is on your website. Having mismatched names, addresses, and phone numbers not only make it harder for users to connect with you — it also sends mixed signals to Google’s algorithm, making it more difficult for you to rank.

Unlike Google Assistant and Siri, which use Google’s search engine, Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant gets web search results from Bing. There are over 150 million Microsoft Cortana users across 13 countries, all of whom have the ability to place voice searches from their devices. This large cross-section of Bing voice searches cannot be ignored. To optimize for local Bing searches, marketers should also ensure their Bing Places for Business listings are up to date for all locations.

Updating listings for all of your locations across multiple search engines may sound like a long manual process. But solutions like Yext allow you to automate your efforts and update local listings across hundreds of platforms all at once.

2. Optimize Your Content for Featured Snippets

When searchers aren’t inquiring about a local business, featured snippets — or the answers to queries Google pulls directly onto the SERP page — often rank at the top of the search results. In fact, according to SEMrush, 60% of all answers returned from voice searches are featured snippets.

There are 3 types of featured snippets — paragraphs, lists, and tables. See examples of each below:

Paragraphs

Paragraph featured snippet example

Lists

List featured snippet example

Tables

Table featured snippet example

How do you rank for featured snippets? You should start by ensuring you’re adhering to all the SEO fundamentals. Your content can’t get pulled into a featured snippet unless it’s already on the first page of the search results. Some first steps to do so: ensure your website is easy to navigate and crawl, ensure that your pages are mobile friendly, target your content around user intent, refresh your content regularly, and create a solid internal linking structure.

Next, use your keyword research tool to identify search queries phrased as questions — these often generate featured snippet results. You should then update relevant pages on your website to answer those questions. If none of your pages match the question’s intent, consider creating blog content that addresses it or adding it to your FAQs page.

An additional strategy to rank for featured snippets is to investigate the “People also ask” box. This often appears underneath the featured snippet. These provide a goldmine of related questions that you can optimize your content to rank for.

People also ask example

Additionally, make sure you’re structuring your posts in a way that’s friendly for both readers and search engines. H1 tags should only be used for the main title of your post. The main subheadings of your post should be H2 tags. Any headings that fall under H2 tags should be H3s. A good practice is to make the search query you’re addressing an H2 title. Beneath it, in body text, write the answer you’re hoping to rank as a featured snippet. This formatting will be immediately recognizable to search engines.

Lastly, when you’re writing an answer you want to rank for a featured snippet, be concise. When SEMrush analyzed over 10 million keywords, they found that most featured snippets are between 40 and 50 words.

3. Optimize Your Content for Long-Tail Keywords

Due to the conversational way users address their voice-enabled devices, the average voice search query is 3 to 5 words longer than the average text query. See below.

Length of average voice search queries

This means when you write website content, you should focus it around the long-tail keywords and phrases you find with your keyword research tools. For instance, below are several long-tail keyword results for the search term “cold brew coffee.”

Find longtail keywords in a keyword tool

You can use these long-tail phrases in the page titles, headlines, and body copy of relevant pages. If no relevant page exists, write compelling blog content that aligns with the search intent of the long-tail keyword.

For now, long-tail keywords have less volume and are less competitive than traditional keywords; however, that might change as voice search continues to become more prevalent.

4. Use Schema Markup to Better Communicate to Search Engines and Voice Assistants

Schema markup, also known as structured data, is a unique language used to communicate to search engines. It can be written as HTML code or installed as a plugin.

By placing schema markup on your site, you’ll help crawlers more easily recognize critical information about your business like your hours of operation, location, phone number, reviews, upcoming events, logo, and more. This information is especially relevant for local business searches. View the full list of schema markups you can add to your business’s site on schema.org.

Schema markups can improve your search rankings and help you acquire rich snippets on SERP pages. Rich snippets differ from featured snippets, in that they contain deeper information than just text. For instance, they may contain reviews, prices, dates, images, social profiles, and more. These add-ons increase engagement, driving higher click-through rates. Below is an example:

Rich snippets example

Your business information may already be entered in your Google My Business or Bing Places for Business Listings, so make sure your schema markups are displaying the same information — otherwise you may be penalized. Additionally, ensure that you’re only using this tool to provide information that is relevant to your audience. You can be penalized for spamming search engines with unnecessary schema markups.

In addition, you should be mindful of speakable schema markups. These allow you to tell voice assistants what you want them to say on a particular content page. Without them, voice assistants will read long blocks of content verbatim and have trouble gleaning information from your webpages. This poor user experience will hinder your conversion rates and voice search rankings.

Though speakable schema are currently available only for publishers, expect them to expand in the near future, as voice searches continue to increase.

5. Optimize Your Website for Mobile

Optimizing your website for mobile is a must, since many voice searches are placed on mobile devices. In addition, mobile friendliness is a key ranking factor for search engines. In 2015, Google first announced that it would be using mobile friendliness as a ranking signal. This triggered the infamous “Mobilegeddon,” as brands scrambled to optimize the mobile versions of their sites. Since then, Google has been gradually increasing the importance of mobile friendliness in its rankings — in a more recent announcement, it said it will index the entire web with a mobile-first model by September 2020.

Below are some tips to optimize your website for mobile:

  • Test your site using Google’s mobile-friendly tool
  • Design for touch — fingers come in all sizes and can easily make incorrect taps
  • Make your CTA buttons accessible to mobile users
  • Redesign your pop-ups for mobile devices
  • Enable Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
  • Implement caching
  • Compress your images to improve loading time
  • Minimize your code to increase efficiency
  • Reduce the number of redirects you use
  • Use heat maps and mouse tracking tools to understand how people user your website on mobile and make optimizations accordingly

6. Ensure Your Site Loads Quickly

Website loading speed is a critical factor for search engine ranking. And, for voice search ranking, this factor may be even more important. The average voice search result loads in 4.6 seconds — this is 52% faster than the average website page.

Below are some steps you can take to improve your website’s loading speed. (A few of these overlap with what we covered in the last section, as site speed is an important factor for mobile friendliness.)

  • Minimize HTTP requests
  • Use asynchronous loading for CSS and JavaScript files
  • Reduce server response time
  • Leverage browser caching
  • Enable gzip compression
  • Use a content delivery network
  • Reduce the number of redirects you use
  • Eliminate 404 errors and bad requests
  • Reduce DNS lookups
  • Reduce the number of plugins you use
  • Reduce external scripts
  • Monitor your site speed over time and make adjustments

7. Optimize Your Content Based on Questions Consumers Frequently Ask About Your Brand

In addition to long-tail keywords, voice searches also tend to contain more question-oriented words like “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” “how,” “can,” “top” and “best.” To rank in voice search, you should create content that addresses the most common questions consumers ask about your brand.

Common question words in voice searches

The first step is to identify these common questions. One way to do this is with a keyword research tool. Another method is to use a call tracking and analytics platform.

These platforms use artificial intelligence to analyze inbound phone calls at scale, capturing insights from the conversations that then get connected back to the caller ID and the marketing interaction (such as the channel, campaign, ad, keyword, and webpage) that drove the call. These insights can then be passed into your digital ad platforms like Google Ads and Facebook Ads Manager, martech stack, and CRM to be actioned upon.

What’s more, the right call tracking and analytics platform records and transcribes the phone conversations when consumers call your business or healthcare practice. You can then run your own analytics to find every call where questions or keywords are spoken and drill into those recordings and transcriptions to see the context in which they were spoken, the answer your business provided, and how it impacted the outcome of the call.

DialogTech automatically generates searchable transcriptions of your inbound phone calls

With call tracking and analytics, you are quite literally harnessing “the voice of the consumer.” Most consumers speak the same way on phone calls as they do when making voice searches. By understanding common questions they’re asking — and how they’re phrasing them — you can create content that is tailored to the nuances of how they actually speak.

As a note, using trackable phone numbers in your different marketing sources, such as organic listings, webpages, and paid search ads, does not violate Google’s NAP (name, address, phone number) consistency. Our dynamic number insertion (DNI) technology ensures that you get all the benefits of tracking calls without any negative impact on SEO ranking. You can also use DialogTech call tracking numbers in your Google My Business listings to get attribution and analytics on calls without impact NAP. Here is an article from our support site that explains how.

8. Continually Monitor Your Results and Adjust

SEO optimization is a continual process that takes constant refinement, especially since your results aren’t immediately visible — it takes time for search engines to crawl your site and for your content to accrue authority. But, as you make optimizations for voice search, ensure you’re constantly reviewing your metrics to see what’s working and applying those learnings across your website.

To learn more about how to prepare for the voice search revolution, download our ebook, The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Voice Search.

To learn more about how to prepare for the voice search revolution, download our ebook, The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Voice Search.

Download the eBook