Can you remember when search engines first arrived, way back in the 90s?
Obviously, if you’re one of today’s modern millennials, this event will not even have registered on your radar – you were probably still in nappies back in the 90s.
However, for those of us who are slightly older (should we say 30-something, to be kind?), the arrival of the first search engines was an important step. For those of us who later went on to become SEOs, it was a seminal moment. Well, it would have been, if we’d been paying attention at the time.
Since the arrival of those first rudimentary methods of organising and retrieving information, the technology behind them has evolved and altered radically and, as such, the way we organise and structure the information we put out into the world has been shaped in response.
And now, in the latest stage of that evolutionary process, we have the rise of voice search, which has again changed the way we all demand information.
The statistics on this vary, but it is estimated that around 20% of all searches carried out worldwide this year were voice searches and that 50% of searches will be voice searches by 2020.
Essentially, more and more of us are now interacting with our devices by speaking to them, rather than typing in our queries, and this is set to become the norm in the future. I’m not trying to be melodramatic, but this is about how we humans interact with machines, it’s about the semantics of language, it’s about how we store and organise information, it’s about how our websites are designed and structured – in short, it’s crucially important.
Whether you’re a business owner trying to get your own website to rank or an SEO trying to get your clients’ websites to rank, the future dominance of voice search is an unavoidable fact. If you haven’t already started factoring voice search into your content strategy, then now is the time to do it.
And luckily for you, I’ve got 3 top tips that will help you write content for voice search easily and successfully, so let’s crack on.
A Brief History of Search – How Did We Get To Voice Search?
I know I’m a bit of a sad geek, but I can actually remember the first time I ever used a search engine. I was at college studying my A-Levels, and the computer room suddenly got a whole new bank of PCs that were internet enabled.
It was the first time I’d ever encountered a search engine – I believe Ask Jeeves was the most popular one we used at that point – and my friends and I all sat there blankly wondering what on earth we should ask it. Eventually, we started typing in questions. I can’t remember the exact ones – I know my memory’s good, but I’ve drank quite a lot of wine since then! – but they were things along the lines of ‘how do I become a witch?’ or ‘when are Cypress Hill next playing in Manchester?’. Come on, it was the 90s and I was quite a goth-y teenager.
Naturally, we very quickly realised that this was not the way to ask a search engine for information. They were not sophisticated enough yet, they couldn’t give us the answers we wanted from such convoluted queries. For one thing, they were automatically excluding any unnecessary words, so eventually we did too, shortening our queries to just the salient words – ‘Cypress Hill Manchester’. If we were lucky, we got results, if not, we changed our queries until we got something akin to what we were looking for.
As the internet grew and there was more information available on it, as search engines got more sophisticated and ‘intelligent’, and as we began to understand what words we needed to put in to get the information we wanted out, our queries were whittled down to just one or two words. Keywords, you could call them.
SEOs realised this and hence the whole science of keywords evolved. We loved keywords. We stuffed them into every piece of content we wrote. If it’s good that my piece of content about chocolate mentions chocolate once, then it must be ten times better if my piece of content about chocolate mentions chocolate ten times! So the theory went.
And so we put those keywords everywhere – and for a time, it worked. The algorithms agreed with us, working on the basis that ‘if this piece of content mentions chocolate ten times, then it must be a more relevant piece of content for someone looking for chocolate than this piece that only mentions chocolate once.’ But of course, that wasn’t the case. And eventually the algorithms caught up.
Naturally, I’m not going to take you through every single evolution of keywords and algorithms, but needless to say the algorithms got more sophisticated and better at retrieving the right kind of information. We humans began to realise that we could ask slightly more complex questions, maybe with more words and clauses in them. And content, in its turn, responded to this change.
We SEO Copywriters stopped overstuffing keywords into our writing and began to write more naturally. We started to go for more long-tail keywords, we could write better, slightly longer pieces of content, which were more interesting and engaging to read, rather than difficult to comprehend and repetitive. Our writing got better and, as a result, the internet got better, and the way humans interacted with the internet got better as a result of that.
And then along came voice search.
How Is Voice Search Changing SEO?
Just as we had all got used to framing our questions in a certain way and typing them into our browsers, along came voice search and turned it all on its head.
Initially available just on mobile phones, the recent arrival of smart speakers, such as Alexa and Google Home, means that people don’t even need screens any more to perform searches, they can literally just speak their questions directly into the internet.
In a way, this has taken search full circle; we are almost now right back where we started, at a point where we are simply asking our full questions instead of censoring and deleting unnecessary words. Instead of typing ‘weather Manchester’ into our browsers, we are once again asking “Alexa, what will the weather be like in Manchester today?”. We’re back to how it all began.
And, as SEO Copywriters, once again the way we write has had to adapt to this new way of searching. From single word keywords, to long tail keywords and now to full on questions; the sands upon which we structure our content have once again shifted.
Personally, I think these changes are all for the good, not only because it means that the content we write can now flow even better and read more naturally, but because it means that there is more content around and that more and more people can now write. Once upon a time, only copywriters were blogging, now every business owner who wants their website to rank is content marketing their socks off.
I’m not saying there’s not some awful content out there – there is, I see it every day – but on the whole I’m just happy that people are writing, plus it keeps me in a job!
How Do I Write Content For Voice Search?
But whether you love it or hate it, we have now reached a point in the evolution of search where content, content and more content is the order of the day. Billions of people are asking questions of their search engines every single day, and the search engines want to be able to return awesome websites that answer all of those questions. If they can give the searcher a website that is likely to answer all of the questions in one go, then that’s even better.
So you need lots of content on your website that answers all the questions anyone looking for your product or service might potentially ask. Easy, right?!
And, as we’ve already mentioned, more than 50% of search engine users will be asking their questions directly into their search engine by 2020 – which is only a year away now – so you need to make sure your content is ready to answer those questions pretty darn sharpish.
So how do you do that? Well, there are 3 simple steps you can follow, which should help you optimise your content for voice search;
1.Use Natural Phrases And Longtail Keywords In Your Content
As I’ve already mentioned above, the key now to writing good SEO web copy for voice search, is to be natural in your writing.
So many people make the mistake of being too formal in their onsite web copy, but there’s simply no need for it. Take blogging, for example; a blog should be a conversation between you and your customers, it should be an informal chat. This is a blog, hence it’s me speaking to you directly, in a conversational, chatty tone. Yes, a blog should impart knowledge – (I’m trying to teach you something here!) – but it is not an academic paper, it’s not an e-book, it’s not a technical knowledge bank article; it’s just a blog. It should be informal and read naturally.
In fact, modern web standards dictate that most of your web content, in whatever form it’s in, should be fairly informal and natural. There is a place for highly technical or academic writing, but it’s not likely to be on your website.
The benefit of writing more naturally is not simply a case of making copywriting more accessible or websites easier to interact with- although these are great plus points. No, the biggest bonus to writing in the same tone and style as human speech is that your copy is therefore much more likely to exactly match the questions searchers are asking.
For example, it’s not likely that people are going to frame their questions to Alexa in the form of an academic query; instead of “Alexa, what is the probability that the barometric pressure in the atmosphere will result in precipitation this rotation of the earth?”, people are more likely to say “Alexa, is it going to rain today?”.
Hence, if your copywriting style is as similar to speech as it can get, you’re much more likely to asking and then answering questions that people might ask in real life, and thus your content is more likely to be returned in the SERPs.
Also, the more natural your writing is, the more likely you are to hit those important long tail keywords as well as getting more, and better, keyword variations in there.
Because, of course, don’t let me mislead you here; keywords still are (and probably will always be) fundamental to your SEO copywriting strategy. Your onsite content still needs to contain the keyword you are trying to rank it for, but it just doesn’t need to contain the same one over and over again. It also doesn’t need to contain every single possible keyword variation that you can possibly think of, as the search engines now interpret those for themselves.
Hence, for every new piece of web copy you write, make sure you outline the following information before you begin writing;
- Your primary keyword – this is the main keyword or phrase you are trying to get your content to rank for. This is the one that will be used to optimise your page of content for voice search.
- Your secondary or semantic keywords – these are the other keywords that you would like your content to rank for, but which will not be the main focus of your campaign. These could be different keywords, related keywords or variations of the primary keyword.
- Likely questions about the subject – these are the questions that a searcher is likely to be asking if they are interested in what your piece of content is about. You can use a website such as Answer The Public to find out what these are likely to be.
Once you have gathered this information, you can then start to build your content up around them. And what you will end up with (hopefully!) is an article that answers some of the questions your potential customers are going to be asking.
2. Make Sure Your Content Speaks To Your Customers
Yes, the users of voice search will be speaking into their devices – speaking to your content – but it is important that your content speaks back to them. And here, I am talking both literally and metaphorically.
First up, let’s take literally. It’s key to remember that voice search devices don’t just work one way; these devices actually speak back to the user. When you ask Alexa a question, Alexa will speak her answers to you, in her slightly disturbing ‘Stepford Wives’ android tone of voice.
Hence, any content you put online might well be read out loud by a smart device and it therefore needs to make sense when it’s read aloud. This comes back to the point we made above, however; if your content is written in a natural conversational style, then it will absolutely make sense when read aloud.
If in doubt, it’s easy to check; simply read your content out loud – to yourself, the dog or to someone else (the latter is better for an impartial opinion) – before you upload it to your website. If it reads terribly, go back and rework it.
The second point is that your content needs to speak to your customers metaphorically. What are they looking for when they are coming to your website and is your content providing that? If you sell a product, for example, at what point in the purchasing process are visitors hitting your website? Is your content addressing the pain points your customers might be experiencing?
Let’s imagine you’re a retailer who sells garden sheds. It’s a big purchase; your customers are going to need to shell out a few hundred quid, so you’re rarely going to be an impulse buy for someone. Before they make that final decision and buy one of your garden sheds, they’re going to have a few questions they need to ask, such as ‘do I need planning permission?’, ‘how much room will it take up in my garden?’ and ‘what kind of tools will I need to erect the shed?’. Maybe your customer is slightly further along the buying process and they are at the stage of asking ‘how does this shed compare to the one that’s £100 cheaper on Amazon?’. Maybe they’ve already bought one of your sheds and they now want to know ‘what is the best product to use to preserve the wood?’ or ‘how do I re-felt the roof?’.
Whatever product you sell or service you provide, it’s likely that a large proportion of your customers and potential customers are going to have a hundred questions they could ask you about it and the search engines know this. If your website can answer all the questions your customers are likely to ask – regardless of which stage of the buying process they’re at – then said customer will get all the answers they need on one website, without having to click on multiple websites and the search engine will have delivered the correct website for the searcher the first time around. Happy search engine, happy customer, happy you.
If you can structure the content on your website around the buying journey of your potential customer, then that’s even better. Visitors are more likely to convert into leads/sales because you’re providing the right content at the point they need it, your business grows as a result because you make more sales, search engines will rank you more in return because you have happy, satisfied visitors.
More customers equals more rankings equals more customers. It’s all one giant happy circle of online growth!
The final point to consider here is that your content needs to be structured for voice search, physically speaking. Again, the purpose of your content is to ask and then answer questions, so make sure it does this literally. Use your heading and sub-headings (your H1, H2 and H3 tags) to ask questions, then answer them in the paragraph below. If you follow this format, you can usually get three or four questions asked and answered in each piece of content, plus you might even get the rich snippet if you do it properly!
3. Optimise Your Content for Voice Search
So now, the last stage of making sure your web content is ready for voice search, is to optimise your web pages for voice search. You’ve targeted your content for voice search, you’ve written your content for voice search, now you just need to make sure your online content can be found by voice search.
On the whole, optimising your content for voice search works in pretty much the same way as optimising your content for any other type of search (I’m not going to go through the entirety of how to optimise web pages for search engines here; if you don’t at least know the basics of this, then you’re reading the wrong blog!).
For one thing, you need to start at the beginning, so make sure you have inputted the correct and relevant tags, meta description, alt text etc. etc. Most platforms make this easy for you so it’s simply a case of filling in the correct boxes, such as if you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin with WordPress.
Remember – and I know I’m repeating myself here but it’s vitally important you get this! – that the key is always to ask and then answer questions, so make sure you’re doing this right down to your meta descriptions. There has been some to-ing and fro-ing recently in the SEO world about exactly how many characters you have for your meta description, although the shorter 160 character limit is the generally accepted one for today, at least.
Hence you don’t have a lot of room to play, but there’s still sufficient room to ask and then answer a short question. For e.g. the meta description for this blog post could be “How do I optimise my web content for voice search? We give you 3 top tips to help you make sure your content can be found by voice search”.
Another thing to bear in mind with voice search is that the majority of people asking questions of their search engines are doing so on the go, into their mobile phones. This means two things.
The first, is that your content needs to be optimised for mobiles, which obviously means that your whole website needs to be optimised for mobiles too. Of course, as mobile-first indexing has been a thing for over two years now, your website is already going to be geared up for this (or if it isn’t, it should be!). However, if you’re in doubt, a good place to start would be to run a quick SEO deep crawl of your website to check, then either you or your web developer can rectify any issues that might be hindering your website’s performance on mobile devices.
The second is that local search has become so much more important as a result of this; people are now looking for a business local to them whilst they’re out and about, possibly even near to your premises. Hence you need to make sure your content is optimised for local search. Search Engine Journal wrote a great article last year highlighting the main ways you can ensure your content is optimised for local search, however the key thing to remember is that you need to firmly locate your business in your physical geographical location, even though you’re operating in a virtual world online. So, claim your Google My Business card, get yourself on local business listings and directories, and make use of reviews and ratings by your local customers.
Moreover, if local search is going to be the key to your online growth success story, then make sure you bolster your chances of ranking locally by choosing to write content about and relevant to your local area. For e.g., if you have a physical shop located on a street, write some content about the local people you get in your shop, maybe by including some reviews from them too (this will simultaneously help you build trust, another key watchword for 2019!). Maybe you could get involved in local events and write some content about that too? Basically, write about anything that can root your business firmly in your locality and the search engine algorithms will do the rest.
In short, if you want to make sure your SEO copywriting is ready for voice search, you just need to write plenty of content about who you are, where you are and what you do, then publish it regularly on your website. It ain’t rocket science!
Want To Find Out More About How To Optimise Your Content For Voice Search?
It’s 2019 and voice search is becoming more and more popular; by next year, more than half of all searches carried out will be done by voice. No longer will we type our queries into our browsers, like we did way back in the 90s; from now on, we’ll simply ask them.
So how do you optimise your web content for voice search? Easy, you just follow these three steps;
- Use natural phrases and longtail keywords in your content
- Make sure your content speaks to your customers
- Optimise your content for voice search.
If you can write, organise and then optimise your content for voice search, you’ll be ready for what’s coming down the line – whatever that may be.
If you’d like to find out more about how to optimise your website’s content for voice search, or about SEO in general, then you can contact me, Rachel Weinhold, directly by calling 0161 706 0012 or emailing me at email@example.com.