There is a lot of talk these days about voice search and how voice is changing our world. It's easy to miss the fact that there remains work to be done if you hope to reach the utopian dream of perfect consumer engagements via voice. And with so many people discussing this topic, its very easy to miss the reality of where we stand today.
It's great to think of your business's holistic voice strategy, but step one is simply becoming a participant in voice.
To achieve this, you should target featured snippets — those answer boxes shown at the top of search results. Getting your content selected as a featured snippet is great for a business on many levels, so it's likely already a goal you're working on, but it's absolutely critical for voice search (featured snippets are the answers that voice assistants speak in response to your question).
Let's take a look at what it takes to be spoken out loud by these systems today. Each has slightly differing requirements, but these are basics to get you started.
Write like people talk.
Adopt a long tail, conversational phrase approach to targeting what to produce content around. Keep the actual answers relatively short and to the point. This is a bit tricky since you should dive deep enough to provide a thorough answer in each case. A solid approach here would be a combination that provides the question with an in-depth longer answer, but with a summary near the top which is much shorter. Let's look at an example: how to tie a tie.
This is what the snippet looks like when you ask Google. Note the simple list, the graphic for visualization and the fact that the first organic answer (visible at the very bottom), is the source for the listed information.
When you click through to the source page for this information, you see a video demonstrating the process, followed by a paragraph explaining properties of "The Simple Knot," then an index of difficulty/symmetry/size, the graphic image, the listed instructions, and an index of other knots the visitor may want to try. This exemplifies one ideal layout and approach to landing in that featured snippet location, and being the result spoken out loud.
When your content is complete, it should read like a conversation where you are asked a question, answer in a more simplified manner, then dive deep with more information as the asker of the question indicates they want to know more.
Be useful and thoughtful.
Build out answers to common (and even uncommon) questions related to your products and services. Think of your customer's journey as they try to solve whatever problem they have that makes them seek a product or service.
How does your product or service fit into their life?
What benefits do they recieve?
What other things should they be aware of?
When you think about the path that leads to your product or service, and the path a consumer will follow when they have your product or service, you'll see a lot of opportunities to be more useful and helpful. Fill in those blanks better than your competition and you'll look like a more authoritative resource to the engines.
Structured data is critical.
Implementing structured data (www.schema.org) is no longer an option. If you want to be included as voice grows, this won't be something you can skip. While it is possible to be the spoken answer without it, your chances of being included rise when structured data is in the mix.
And we're starting to see Google build Actions for Google Assistant directly from marked up content. So if you skip this step, you'll never see that benefit. The bottom line is structured data helps build trust in content, and you definitely want to grow that trust with the engines.
Speed and security matter.
We're living in a mobile-first world, and how fast content loads on a mobile device is a critical element in ranking these days. It's important that Google includes it as an actual ranking factor. Therefore, it's foundational that your site be mobile-friendly — and an important factor when it comes to being mobile-friendly is page speed. Google openly talks about this, offers a tool to help you see results, and gives clear guidance on work items that can help increase speeds.
While speed is important, security matters as well. The effort to get websites to switch from HTTP to HTTPS has been underway for several years, though the work it requires is technical and detailed (Google offers a solid starting point). Despite the challenges, more and more sites are going secure, and as that continues to ramp up, those not going secure will stand out — and be left behind. If the information on two sites is more or less equal in quality, search engines and digital assistants will prioritize the secure site over the unsecure site, so if you want your content to have a good chance of surfacing in voice search, your website needs to be secure.
Manage your footprint.
Think of this as your technical housekeeping. This is where all the other elements that make your site trustworthy and authoritative matter. These are elements like basic SEO, internal link structure, and managing things like 404 pages. When Googlebot comes to your home, you want the place looking good and in good order. You don't want a messy kitchen, a disorganized closet, or broken windows on display.
And once you have your house in order, don't forget external influences like social media. You want to connect the dots between the site and official social media accounts. And you need to use those accounts to engage with people in a meaningful way.
If you're still just treating social like it's a podium, you're failing. Social media is more of a picnic table where you wait for people to come visit you and have a conversation. Those conversations are seen and monitored by the engines, so making them count is important. Engage and be authentic.
If that doesn't convince you…
Voice is the biggest change to the search industry since mobile came on to the scene. It's bound to take people a while to wrap their heads around its impact and the changes it will bring. Luckily, a lot of the work we need to do is well known. And we're starting to see studies like this one from Backlinko.com that dive deeper into data, behavior, and apparent factors.
If you're still not convinced that you need to focus on voice and start working on your position now, here are two things to consider.
You have a small window of time. Every business is on a curve when it comes to adapting to changes in technology and most today are still at the beginning of that curve. To a business, this means your competition isn't too far ahead yet.
The second consideration is one that will become apparent as you see your metrics change and business begins to slow. That moment won't be too far off, and it will be a sober reminder that you should have started figuring out voice search earlier.