Content for Voice Search

The term “voice search” stands for search queries using spoken language, such as those possible with Apple’s Siri. These queries pose new challenges for content providers, because both the processing and the response here are different from regular search queries. Voice control of devices has been on the rise for several years. Attempts at this technology have been around since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the release of the iPhone 4 that any company dared to introduce voice control on a large scale.

Since then, Microsoft, Google and Amazon have followed suit, and experts assume that the technology will increasingly replace the familiar keyboard input. For mobile devices in particular, operation by voice command is simply much more convenient, and voice control is also gaining in importance for search queries. In 2016, around 20 percent of queries were already made via Siri, Cortana & Co.

This development poses a problem for content providers, because both the queries and the answers differ significantly from what was previously common. “What will the weather be like tomorrow in Munich?” or “From when to when did Shakespeare live?” – surely no one would type such long sentences into the search line on Google. “Weather Munich tomorrow” or “Shakespeare’s life” would be much more likely. In this way, the user practically already specifies which keywords are important for his query.

If, on the other hand, the user formulates complete sentences, it is much more difficult to filter out the information that is crucial for the search query. The question about the weather alone can be asked in numerous different ways: “What will the weather be like tomorrow in Munich?”, “How warm will it be tomorrow in Munich?” or even “Will it rain tomorrow in Munich?” Of course, search engine operators took this into account when developing the software for speech recognition and adapted the search algorithms accordingly. For content providers, however, this means that their previous optimization no longer works, or at least not as well as it used to.

Previously, websites were optimized primarily on the basis of individual keywords. With voice search, however, specific groups of words or related elements – so-called long-tail keywords – are more likely to be used to process the query.

Another problem for content providers is that with voice search, the answers have to be prepared differently. For example, if a customer has a problem with a product and needs help, it is usually sufficient for a normal search query to land on the company’s FAQ page. There he can pick out the relevant question and (hopefully) find a suitable answer. With voice search, it’s different, because here the answers have to be concise and, above all, very precise. The content must therefore be prepared differently, at least in part, so that it can serve as an answer for voice search queries.

How can content be optimized for voice search?

To make content findable for voice searches, long-tail keywords are the appropriate tool. By combining several thematically related terms, the search engine can better match the content of the page with corresponding search queries. This increases the chance that your own page will be selected as the answer for a corresponding query.

However, the use of long-tail terms for optimization can only be a first step, because voice search involves concrete questions to which users also expect a concrete answer. As a content provider, you should therefore consider for which types of queries your own page should serve as an answer. Among other things, a conversation with the customer service department can be very helpful here, because the employees there know the most common customer problems and how to solve them. In this way, questions and answers can be formulated – for example, as part of an FAQ page – which can then be used by search engines as a direct response to queries. A look at forums or social media sites can also be helpful to identify frequently asked questions that you want to answer with your own page.

In addition, it makes sense to pay attention to the flow of language and the wording of questions before optimizing for voice search. As mentioned at the beginning, there are countless ways to ask a question about a particular topic. If you want to cover a large part of these possibilities with your own page, you must, for example, adopt formulations that customers use when talking to support. Of course, it is not possible to cover all linguistic variants on a particular topic, but providers with a limited product range can cover a large part of the inquiries very effectively this way.

By the way, a natural flow of speech is also important for the answers, because they are read out to the user by the device. Lists and tables, such as those used for the Google Knowledge Graph, are therefore rather inappropriate for voice searches – who likes to have a table or a list read out to them? However, it is also worth taking a closer look at continuous text. After all, voice control is supposed to suggest to the user that he is talking to a person and not to some sophisticated algorithms hidden under the display of his smartphone or tablet. So when they ask a question like “Do I need to wash silk on the delicate cycle?”, they expect an answer that at least comes close to sounding like it was given by a human. If content is to be optimized for voice search, some colloquial phrases and expressions are permitted.

Particularly frequently searched for: results from the surrounding area

Voice searches are primarily started via mobile devices – and those who search for something on the go are often looking for results in their surroundings. According to the Internet Trends Report 2016, a good 20 percent of queries via voice search are about local businesses or information. Small businesses in particular can take advantage of this and set themselves apart from the competition. For an Italian restaurant, for example, it is hardly worthwhile to optimize its own site for global queries – who would be interested in an Italian from Cologne if they live in Berlin, Hamburg or Munich? Voice searches for “Italian” that are made in Cologne, on the other hand, would be very interesting for such a restaurant, because there is a real chance of gaining customers here.

Voice control and voice search will increasingly replace the keyboard and normal search queries. However, since the technology is still in its infancy, content providers now have the opportunity to take a pioneering role and thus consolidate their own position in the future. Already, around 60 percent of all search queries come from mobile devices – and voice control is increasingly becoming the standard for these devices. So if you optimize your content for voice search today, you can not only win new customers, but also gain valuable experience. And this will pay off when the search line on Google has become lonely and Cortana, Siri and Co. have become everyday companions.

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