“Hey Alexa, how late is Target open?”
“Ok, Google, set a timer for 30 minutes.”
“Siri, how old is Queen Elizabeth?”
With 118 million smart speakers in the US and approximately 100 million Americans using an iPhone, those commands probably sound familiar to you.
Smart speakers and virtual assistants are changing the way we live and the way we search for information online. In fact, it is predicted that this year, over half of all searches will be done via voice.
For the layperson, searching has become more convenient than ever. For digital marketers, Siri, Alexa, and Google Home are changing the way we approach SEO.
(Note: Microsoft Cortana is another virtual assistant but we chose not to mention because of its low usage.)
How Smart Speakers Search
Before understanding how smart speakers rank content, we have to know how these speakers find the information you ask for. Google Home obviously uses Google to perform their searches. So does Siri. Amazon Echo devices use Bing…sort of. (We’ll get back to this in just a minute.)
With that in mind, how do Siri, Alexa, and Google choose which answer gets read?
Google Home & Siri
In the case of Google and Siri, they typically read the featured snippet, or “position zero.” This is the organic search result that shows up in a box at the top of the SERP.
Amazon Echo Devices & Alexa
In the case of Echo devices, the answer is a little trickier. We don’t really know exactly how Alexa chooses the “right” answer. Amazon’s VP of Alexa Information, Bill Barton, stated that the Echo only uses Bing for “supplemental items such as search links in the Alexa mobile app.”
In the same interview, he stated that Amazon licenses information from a variety of sources, but didn’t elaborate. And in the fall of 2019, Amazon debuted Alexa Answers. This allows Amazon users to answer questions that Alexa doesn’t already have answers to. (We already know what you’re thinking and Amazon says they have precautions in place to prevent misuse.)
So does SEO factor into the Alexa experience at all?
We honestly don’t know. It doesn’t seem like it, but we also don’t know where Amazon is licensing their information from, so it could be influenced by rankings.
So even though Amazon, the biggest player in the smart speaker game, doesn’t seem to rely on SERPs for Alexa, Google and Siri are still changing the way marketers approach SEO.
The Featured Snippet and Voice Search
Since Google and Siri read the featured snippet, it has become even more coveted. Although in early 2020, Google dropped a bombshell that had people rethinking their featured snippet strategy: if you have the featured snippet, you will no longer appear in the organic results. Previously, it was possible to have the featured snippet and appear in the organic search results, essentially allowing you to appear on page one of SERPs twice. But this is a topic for another day!
In general, you shouldn’t worry about not having the featured snippet or being in “position zero” if you’re getting the traffic and conversions you need.
But for those of you that do want to be in position zero and hope to hear their content read by their smart speaker, here are three tips to optimize for voice search.
Top Three Voice Search SEO Tips
These tips apply to Siri and Google Home, based on what we know about the way Google ranks content and chooses the featured snippet. These are good SEO best practices in general, but they’re especially important for voice search.
1. Use Natural Language & Long-Tail+ Keywords
Again, this is important for SEO in general, but even more so for anyone trying to take advantage of voice search.
Since people actually speak their searches instead of typing them, they follow more natural speech patterns. Voice searches are more conversational because, well, you’re having a conversation with Alexa, Siri, or Google.
Voice searches are also more likely to be questions. While you might type, “barbecue ribs recipe” into Google, you’d probably ask Alexa or Siri, “How do I make barbecue ribs?”
This is where long-tail+ keywords come in. Long-tail keywords are 3-5 word long, conversational phrases or questions people use to search. Using these keywords in your content will better serve your readers and increases your chances of capturing the featured snippet and therefore the voice search result.
2. Keep it Local
Mobile voice searches are 3X more likely to be local searches. You’ve probably been out and about and asked Siri where to get lunch or where the nearest parking deck is. Even voice searches that aren’t mobile (meaning they’re performed on a smart speaker instead of a smartphone) are more likely to be local.
And while we don’t have the data to drill down exact numbers, that’s a lot of local voice searches.
If you’re a local business, you can optimize your content for local voice searches by answering as many of the 5 Ws as possible: who, what, when, where, why. Put this information front and center.
- You’re a plumber in Boston who provides 24/7 emergency service.
- You’re a residential electrician in Durham who services all of Orange county.
- You’re a Cuban restaurant in Tampa that is open from noon-2AM.
- You’re a 24-hour diner in Jersey City.
You get the picture.
Make your business’s basic information as easy to access as possible. You should also make sure your Google My Business Listing is complete because Google Home may read it.
3. Give a Concise Answer
When someone asks Google or Siri a question, they’re looking for a specific answer.
If a user says, “Hey Google, what is the birthstone for April?” They expect to hear something like, “April’s birthstone is diamond.” Including a concise answer like this at the beginning of your content makes it easy for Google to find and read.