Tag Archives: voice search

Optimize for voice search by keeping it short and to the point

Contributor Dave Davies explains the many layers and aspects of Google Voice Search and how to optimize your content for it.

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SearchCap: Google expands featured snippets, voice search ranking study & Rand Fishkin moves on

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

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Study: 11 voice search ranking factors analyzed

Some of the findings confirm and some upend conventional wisdom.

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How do you optimize content for a voice-first world?

Want to know how to optimize your content for voice search? Contributor Sherry Bonelli shares how to incorporate smart SEO tactics to increase the chance of being heard.

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What 3,000 voice search queries tell us about the ‘Voice Search Revolution’

Do you think voice search is the next “big thing” digital marketers need to watch for? Contributor Bryson Meunier isn’t so sure and feels there are limited marketing opportunities, based on his research.

The post What 3,000 voice search queries tell us about the ‘Voice Search…



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Survey: People becoming less inhibited about using voice search in public

Texting is the most common use case for voice, and men use voice search more than women, according to new data from Stone Temple Consulting.

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10 Google updates you may have missed

Google rarely stands still. In fact, the search giant claims to tweak its search algorithms at least 3 times per day.

Some of these updates are bigger than others, and the past month has brought an unprecedented wave of newsworthy enhancements.

Just yesterday, for example, the industry was abuzz with the news that Google would officially be using page speed as a ranking factor in its mobile search algorithm from July.

Not all of Google’s updates make a huge splash, however, and as a result some of them might have slipped under your radar. To help out, we’ve rounded up the 10 recent Google updates that are most likely to impact search marketers.

1. 16 months of Search Console data(!)

Perhaps the most common request from SEOs to Google over the past few years has been to add more historical data to Search Console. The 3-month limit has always been a hindrance to SEO performance analysis, particularly as we have come to rely on Search Console for query-level data.

After a period of beta testing, Google has now released a new version of Search Console, replete with 16 months of historical data. It will be rolled out slowly over the coming months, but many are already seeing the changes live in their dashboards. The historical data will soon be available via the Search Console API, too.

To say this has been greeted positively in the industry would be an understatement.

There is more to the new Search Console than additional data, however. The new Index Coverage report provides insight into the URLs Google has indexed from your site, along with explanations of any indexation issues. The ability to filter and segment data to a much more granular level than before will be a hugely beneficial addition.

The Issue Tracking feature will also enable users to identify any indexation problems and share action items directly with team members.

10 Google updates you may have missed

Finally, Search Console is bringing all the functionality SEOs need to analyze and impact performance.

2. Real-world data in PageSpeed Insights

Google announced last week that its PageSpeed Insights tool will now use real world data, taken from the Chrome User Experience report. This move addresses perhaps the biggest drawback with PageSpeed Insights. Although the report’s intention (to reveal how quickly a URL loads) is an important one, its execution has been lacking, as its findings do not show how quickly a page loads for actual users.

That has led many in the industry to use other resources for their page speed checks, including the Chrome User Experience report API.

Google has made clear exactly how the new PageSpeed Insights improves on older iterations:

  • The Speed score categorizes a page as being Fast, Average, or Slow. This is determined by looking at the median value of two metrics: First Contentful Paint (FCP) and DOM Content Loaded (DCL). If both metrics are in the top one-third of their category, the page is considered fast.
  • The Optimization score categorizes a page as being Good, Medium, or Low by estimating its performance headroom. The calculation assumes that a developer wants to keep the same appearance and functionality of the page.
  • The Page Load Distributions section presents how this page’s FCP and DCL events are distributed in the data set. These events are categorized as Fast (top third), Average (middle third), and Slow (bottom third) by comparing to all events in the Chrome User Experience Report.
  • The Page Stats section describes the round trips required to load the page’s render-blocking resources, the total bytes used by the page, and how it compares to the median number of round trips and bytes used in the dataset. It can indicate if the page might be faster if the developer modifies the appearance and functionality of the page.
  • Optimization Suggestions is a list of best practices that could be applied to this page. If the page is fast, these suggestions are hidden by default, as the page is already in the top third of all pages in the data set.

Given the importance of page speed for mobile users, particularly in light of Google’s upcoming Speed Update algorithm change, this update will be a very significant one.

It will also provide better awareness of the stages of URL loading, which will help SEOs to communicate their desired changes to other audiences.

This has felt like an area in need of more technical specificity for some time, with many page speed reports spitting out little more than vague platitudes about “reducing JavaScript”. The introduction of metrics like “DOM Content Loaded” to a broader range of marketers can only be a positive development.

3. Meta description character limit increased 

The humble meta description has been given its biggest update for a considerable number of years.

Google confirmed to Search Engine Land in December that the potential snippet length has increased to 320 characters, although this does not mean that all sites will receive this extra space.

Nonetheless, there is evidence that there has been a general increase across the board in snippet length.

Rank Ranger, a tool that can track search results page features, showed a very notable rise in the average meta description length in December:

10 Google updates you may have missed

Of course, this will lead marketers to question whether they should re-write their descriptions, and what the new character limit should be.

One answer comes from Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz, who recommends a limit of 300 characters based on his recent research. That seems a useful rule of thumb, as Google has provided little insight into exactly how it decides where to truncate a snippet.

10 Google updates you may have missed

In essence, Google wants to provide meta descriptions that reflect the changed nature of search results pages, and the devices on which people access them.

The new character limit is not, in and of itself, reason to re-write descriptions across a website. It does, however, open up the possibility of some experimentation to try and gain a competitive advantage.

The fundamentals of crafting meta descriptions remain the same; we just have more space in which to apply these best practices now.

4. New custom intent audiences

Google made a host of AdWords-based announcements in the run-up to the holidays. There is rarely a shortage of new features within the AdWords environment, but the release of new custom intent audiences was of particular interest.

These audience lists allow marketers to add a much greater level of detail to their targeting of new customers via the Google Display Network (GDN), through the creation of audience segments based on topics or keywords.

Even GDN novices will be able to introduce new prospects to their brand, as Google’s machine learning technology will analyze searcher data and automatically generate lists of users that would be open to hearing about a particular brand or product.

Anthony Chavez, director of product management for AdWords, said of the new feature:

“There are two flavors of custom intent audiences. In one variation, advertisers can create their own based on topics and URLs that people who are likely to be interested in their products read about and visit. The second variation is machine-learning based and automated.”

This also chimes with the recent moves to make search advertising a more comprehensive discipline that encompasses upper funnel tactics, as well as the tried and tested lower funnel tactics that have driven its phenomenal success.

Due to the ongoing competition with Facebook (plus the emerging threat from Amazon and Pinterest) for digital ad dollars, Google is investing heavily in new ways to provide value for marketers.

5. Rich results testing tool

Search engine results pages (SERPs) have come a long way from their early, text-only iterations.

This has created opportunities for marketers to engage with their audience through a multitude of media formats in the SERPs, but it has created some confusion too.

Not only are there different ways to mark up data, there are also plentiful different types of information that can be shown in the search results. Google has moved to categorize all of these under the umbrella term ‘rich results’ and the new testing tool (currently in beta) will reveal whether a specific URL is equipped to display rich snippets.

10 Google updates you may have missed

Admittedly, Google does offer the following, comprehensive set of caveats to the tool’s current form:

10 Google updates you may have missed

The limitations are currently listed as:

This test currently supports only the following rich result types:

  • Job posting
  • Recipe
  • Course
  • Movie

Even with all of those points in mind, we should view this a step towards a much more accessible entry to rich results for all marketers.

6. Voice search raters guidelines

The Search Quality Raters Guidelines are one of the most fascinating and transparent resources if we want to understand Google’s methodology for ranking search results.

Published on the Google Research Blog, the updated guidelines now include pointers for evaluating results on what Google terms “eyes-free technology.” The core focus here is the growth in Google Assistant interactions, underpinned by a realization that this new way of searching needs a way way of assessing the relevance of results.

 

10 Google updates you may have missed

The dimensions that are considered to be of particular importance for voice results are:

  • Information satisfaction: The content of the answer should meet the information needs of the user.

  • Length: When a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little. Some of our previous work is currently in use for identifying the most relevant fragments of answers.

  • Formulation: It is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.

  • Elocution: Spoken answers must have proper pronunciation and prosody. Improvements in text-to-speech generation, such as WaveNet and Tacotron 2, are quickly reducing the gap with human performance.

As we move towards new search interfaces, whether on the go or in the home, directives from Google make for invaluable reading. The full list of guidelines can be found here.

7. New rules for review extensions in AdWords

Google has been trying to find the right balance with its reviews in both paid and organic listings. Although genuine customer reviews are helpful for consumers, some third-party platforms can be filtered by brands to highlight only the positive scores in search results.

A lengthy list of restrictions has been published and Google made the following announcement:

Review extensions will no longer show with ads starting January 2018.
In February 2018, review extensions will be deleted along with their performance data. To save this data, download an extensions report by going to Extensions on the Ads & extensions page in AdWords. If you’d like to continue showing more information with your ads, we recommend using sitelinkscallouts and structured snippets extensions.
This is likely to affect the majority of paid search marketers and it follows the search giant’s attempts to clean up reviews in organic listings. The onus is on brands to provide a more transparent reflection of customer feedback if they want reviews to return to their PPC ads.

8. Google My Business allows video uploads

Google My Business now allows both merchants and customers to add videos of up to 30 seconds in length. Importantly, business owners can also flag videos that they deem to be irrelevant or unhelpful.

10 Google updates you may have missed

How it works:

  • Videos will appear in the overview tab of the Google My Business Dashboard
  • Customer uploaded videos can be found in the ‘customer’ tab
  • Merchant uploaded videos can be found in the ‘by owner’ tab
  • All videos can be viewed together in the ‘videos’ tab
  • After upload it could take up to 24 hours for the videos to appear. Once live, they will display where local photos do.

Google has also stated that native mobile support for this feature will follow in the near future.

9. Webmaster videos return

After a lengthy hiatus of about 3 years, Google has brought back its Webmaster Video series – now called ‘SEO Snippets’.

These short videos, hosted on YouTube, will tackle the most common questions from the Webmaster Forums. Within the last month, the series has already tackled topics including the eternal ‘sub-domain or sub-folder’ question, dealing with multiple H1 tags, and the impact of fixed penalties on SEO performance.

10. Google to vet premium YouTube content

Google has been under significant pressure to ensure that YouTube ads appear alongside relevant content over the last year. The controversy that followed the story of major brands’ ads appearing alongside extremist content damaged Google’s revenues and reputation, albeit not irreparably so.

Facebook has faced a similar struggle and it is one with no easy resolution. Monitoring the quantities of content uploaded to these sites every second is an uphill task, but Google is betting on the combination of people and technology to rebuild trust in YouTube ads.

All content that is promoted via the premium ‘Google Preferred’ advertising channel will be reviewed by a team of over 10,000 moderators and AI-driven technology that helps to root out inappropriate content.

There is a significant distance to travel before major brands trust YouTube to the same extent that they trust TV, but Google is taking measures to ensure that its highest-paying customers have some level of reassurance.

10 Google updates you may have missed

Although many of these headlines have made waves in the industry, even the most vigilant search professional would be forgiven for missing a few during such an increased period of activity.

Moving into 2018, the rate of progress in our industry is accelerating and marketers have more tools at their disposal than ever before to improve search performance.

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How Google Rates Voice Search Results by @MattGSouthern

Google has published a set of guidelines for its quality raters to follow when evaluating voice search results.

The post How Google Rates Voice Search Results by @MattGSouthern appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Google Answers How to Optimize Content for Voice Search by @martinibuster

In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller answers what steps publishers should take to optimize content for voice search and for Google Assistant. He also cautions against certain practices that may be seen as spam.

The post Google Answers How to Optimize Content for Voice Search by @martinibuster appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

How to get mobile SEO for voice search right

Voice search and mobile usage are both on the rise and look set to shape the SEO industry for some time to come. Nonetheless, 62% of marketers have no specific plans for voice search in 2018.

How can marketers take action today to tap into two of the most important trends in the industry?

As mobile usage continues to grow, more and more users are comfortable with speaking to their devices rather than typing their queries.

Of equal importance are the advances in speech recognition technology that have allowed the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple to offer a satisfying voice search experience.

There is plentiful context to make marketers aware of these emerging trends, with both mobile and voice search set to shape the future of the industry:

  • Voice-enabled personal assistants are installed by default on all smartphones
  • Google has revealed that more than 20% of searches on an Android device are voice searches
  • The Amazon Alexa app recently topped the app store charts. The Google Home app occupied second position
  • The Amazon Echo was once again the best-selling item on Amazon this holiday season
  • Speech recognition accuracy is now north of 95% for all of the major technology providers
  • Google’s mobile-first index is rolling out and will soon be applied to all sites
  • comScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be by voice in 2020.

Though the two are not perfectly aligned, there is a clear correlation between the growth of voice search and the ongoing rise of mobile.

As the Internet of Things takes off, voice will be one of the most important unifying factors across all hardware. Whether at home, in the car, or at work, there will always be a voice-enabled device close to hand.

And yet, a recent study by BrightEdge reported that 62% of marketers are unlikely to implement a specific strategy for voice search over the next 12 months.

This is not due to a lack of awareness of the trend, but rather a lack of direction when it comes to preparing for its implications.

In a clear indication of how significant the shift to voice-based searches will be, Google recently released a new set of Search Quality Rating Guidelines for the Google Assistant.

Though specific to the Google Assistant, we can safely assume that the same rules and objectives underpin the functioning of other digital assistants too.

As such, this document can prove both illuminating and instructive as we look to move beyond the hype that voice search brings and arrive at some tips to direct our mobile SEO efforts.

The findings in Google’s official guidelines for voice search evaluation, along with the best practices we already have for mobile SEO, can help us create a hybrid set of tips to improve any site’s chances of ranking in this new landscape.

This begins with some technical considerations, then moves on to a more nuanced understanding of how consumers are using voice to interact with their devices. Finally, we must create the right content to fit our target contexts, and find a way to measure our progress.

Technical SEO for mobile devices

As with so many aspects of SEO, crawlability is the foundation upon which a mobile SEO strategy for voice search must be built.

Put simply, if a search engine cannot access and understand your content, your chances of appearing in search results are slim. This has always been important, but it takes on a new level of significance when viewed through the lens of voice search.

Often, voice search removes the traditional search engine results page (SERP) and instead aims to provide one answer in response to a query. This is a search engine’s first port of call; it is only when one answer cannot conclusively answer the query that a more traditional list of results will be displayed.

Fortunately, there are some guidelines we can follow to increase the likelihood of our content ranking via voice search:

  • Schema markup: By adding schema markup, we can help to add structure to our website’s data. For example, we can alert search engines to elements that relate to events, prices, and people – among many others. When a search engine is trying to locate a response to a voice search, this extra information can prove invaluable.
  • XML sitemaps: Having a clearly structure sitemap that can be navigated easily both by people and by search engines will increase the likelihood that your information can be sourced quickly in response to a query.
  • Site structure: The structure of a website should mirror the journeys that users typically take when considering and making a purchase. For example, faceted navigation on an ecommerce site should aim to match common query strings.
  • Carry out a mobile SEO audit: Before embarking on any of the more innovative aspects of voice search, conduct a full mobile SEO site audit to ensure that you are in a solid position.
  • It is also worth reviewing the basics of mobile SEO to keep in mind the distinctions that set it apart from traditional SEO.

Understanding context 

All language is contextual. The exact same query, at surface level, can in fact mean many different things based on how, when, where, and by whom it is said.

This is not a new discovery, but it is only recently that search engines have been able to understand the context of a query.

In part, this has been due to more sophisticated algorithms like Google’s Hummingbird update, which brought the concept of semantic search to life.

However, the biggest source of contextual information is the smartphone. Our phones are constantly sending and receiving data, all of which can be processed to comprehend our past, present, and even our future behaviors.

Now, when a user searches for a term like [canon cameras], a search engine can use smartphone data to understand the implied intent of the query:

cameras

This implicit intent, now known to a search engine, can help to shape and personalize the results that the user sees.

There are other effects of this deeper understanding.

Varied queries can ultimately express the same underlying intent. For example:

sunny

The expression of the response may differ, but all variations are ultimately answering the same question. The user wants to know what the weather will be like tomorrow.

This is helpful, as it allows us to see that we don’t need to answer every single possible query that is out there. Many guides on voice SEO suggest creating FAQ pages as a way to grow traffic, but this seems a stop-gap solution when we can do better. SEO needs to move away from creating “SEO pages” on websites that serve no real purpose other than to attract organic search clicks.

Thus far, our industry has focused mainly on what has been said by searchers. We pull a list of keywords with search volumes, difficulty scores and so on, and we map those to our pages. Where a page does not exist for a group of keywords, we create one.

A further level of nuance can be added by segmenting the keywords by purchase stage: informational, navigational or transactional, for example. These can also be categorized as ‘Know’, ‘Go’, and ‘Do’ moments.

That is useful, but it is overly simplistic. What we often end up with is a comforting illusion; a spreadsheet that smooths over the rough edges to provide a digestible view of what people search for, cell by cell.

Reality does not fit so readily into neat compartments.

In a presentation given last year, Tom Anthony of Distilled mapped out what the new ecosystem looks like, based on the huge amount of data a smartphone both sends and receives:

tom_anthony

Even this is a reduction, but it does at least provide insight into the broader picture.

What this means is that when working on a mobile SEO strategy, we should identify the contexts in which our content could rank.

These contexts can be strung together to create a map of the typical user journey.

This can be informed by demographic data, as there are telling differences between the generations. In particular, we should note that younger generations are more comfortable with voice search and use it in very different situations to their older counterparts.

voice_search_today

Stone Temple Consulting produced an excellent, in-depth study that goes further still to segment this data by income. In the chart below, all figures are in US Dollars:

voice search seo incomeSource: Stone Temple Consulting

What we find through this report is that there are notable variations at every level of analysis. By location, gender, device, income level, and age, we find that people use voice search differently.

Marketers would do well to perform research of their own to pinpoint the right contexts for their business to target, through qualitative research and quantitative analysis.

Creating the right content at the right time

Once we have plotted out the potential contexts in which we could communicate with our audience, we need to create the content that will hopefully help us rank via voice search.

Though this is a nascent field, there are already some useful studies that can guide us in this process.

Voice queries tend to be longer, due to their closer relationship to natural speech patterns. This provides a significant amount of data for us to analyze, compared with the shorter queries we have grown accustomed to.

Where once he had to infer a consumer’s intent based on feedback signals (click-through rate, bounce rate, conversion rate), we can now start this process much earlier.

We should also bear in mind the anticipated input-output relationship between the consumer and the device. For example, a spoken query that prompts a spoken response will need to be fed by content that is clear, concise, and conclusive.

Google’s Research Blog offers the following areas for assessment when it comes to this kind of voice search:

  • Information Satisfaction: the content of the answer should meet the information needs of the user.
  • Length: when a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little. Some of our previous work is currently in use for identifying the most relevant fragments of answers.
  • Formulation: it is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.
  • Elocution: spoken answers must have proper pronunciation and prosody. Improvements in text-to-speech generation, such as WaveNet and Tacotron 2, are quickly reducing the gap with human performance.

This insight should flow directly into the site experience. If we know which task our consumer is trying to complete, we can make this process and seamless and as painless as possible.

There are some points that apply to any site aiming to create content for voice search:

  • Remember that a voice search is only the start of the user journey. If your mobile site experience does not match the user’s intent, they will complete the journey elsewhere. Use a user-agent switcher or a site like http://mobiletest.me/ to see how your mobile experience matches up.
  • Create content that responds to the most common conversational queries. Provide clear information that can easily be picked up by a search engine as it tries to provide one, true answer for each voice query. Tools like Answer the Public are useful for this task, but try to assimilate this information naturally into your content rather than creating a host of FAQ pages.
  • Map this content to a logical site hierarchy that is crawlable for search engines and useful for consumers.

Local SEO

Given that voice searches on a mobile device are frequently completed on the go, it should not be surprising that users often want help with navigation.

Interestingly, the growth in the number of ‘near me’ searches has slowed as people have come to expect Google to understand this implied intent.

Google uses its own Maps product to respond to these queries, so we can optimize our own Maps listings to help search engines and people to navigate better. There are a few tips to keep in mind when working on a voice search strategy for local SEO:

  • Ensure that names, addresses and phone numbers are accurate across all locations.
  • Consider using a specialist platform to manage your local listings and monitor your local search performance. There is a growing range of mobile SEO tools that can help with these tasks.
  • Make it easy for consumers to act on their intentions. This means adding in clear calls to action and directions to further information.

What’s next for search?

It is important to understand Google’s vision for the future of search.

The technology has improved dramatically, but it is still some distance from fulfilling the ambitions of Google and Amazon. When this technology reaches its potential, there may be no need for a query at all, as the digital assistant will be able to pre-empt our actions.

For now, marketers need to assist the assistants in the manner outlined above.

In essence, technology is enabling behaviors that have their basis in pre-existing states of intent. The industry is growing in complexity, but simultaneously it is developing into a more realistic representation of how people want to search.

Through better understanding of both people and technology, marketers can create a voice search strategy that will stand the test of time.