Have you ever seen someone speaking to his phone rather than typing in search terms? If so, you have observed that person using what is known in our industry as ‘voice search’. This method of searching is becoming increasingly more common in today’s mobile world. Google knows that, and they have taken a couple of important steps in recent years to make sure they are maximising its potential.
As a website owner, it is in your best interests to understand voice search so that you can use it to your own advantage. Thinking in terms of voice search can help you improve SEO performance across all of your chosen keywords and phrases. On the other hand, ignoring the voice search puts your website at risk of falling behind.
This post will discuss how to use voice search to your SEO advantage. It is based on two fundamental steps taken by Google: developing a mobile-first search engine and developing the BERT algorithm.
The Mobile-First Search Engine
Google announced back in 2018 their intent to produce a mobile-first search engine. For the record, they never had any plans to scrap their current search engine in favour of something new. Rather, they enhanced what they already offer by implementing mobile-first indexing.
Mobile-first indexing is essentially the practice of first looking at websites to determine whether or not there are both mobile and desktop versions. If both exist, the mobile version is indexed first and ranked higher. Sites with only desktop versions are ranked lower for lack of mobility.
How does this relate to voice search? Well, think about how voice searches are conducted. While it is true that you can voice search with a smart speaker like Google Home or Amazon Alexa, the vast majority of mobile searches are conducted using smartphones.
Think About How People Speak
When you think in terms of speaking to a smartphone rather than typing, it changes the dynamic. Just think about how people normally speak. If you wanted to know what tomorrow’s weather forecast is, how would you get that information from a meteorologist you were having lunch with? You would ask a question.
More often than not, that’s how mobile searches work. People ask questions. They don’t do the same thing when they type. Rather, typed searches tend to be single keywords, long tail keywords, or short phrases. It is an entirely different way of searching.
You can use voice search to your SEO advantage by setting aside those individual keywords and thinking in terms of the kinds of questions people ask. Once you figure out some of the questions that are pertinent to your website, you can begin refining your SEO and content creation strategies accordingly.
The BERT Algorithm
Google implemented its mobile-first indexing back in July 2019. It was shortly thereafter that they announced ongoing development of their BERT algorithm. What is BERT? It is a set of algorithms that look to leverage the power of natural language processing (NLP) to improve online searches.
NLP is essentially the ability of a computerised system to understand human language as spoken naturally. Making it work requires multiple artificially intelligent algorithms that have to be able to analyse words and phrases in both directions.
In the absence of BERT, Google search algorithms can only analyse individual words and apply them to understand context by analysing how frequently they occur in a given text, and in relation to other associated words. BERT algorithms go one step further by analysing each word in the context of the words that appear both before and after.
BERT makes it possible for the Google search engine to better ‘understand’ context to figure out what users actually want to know. The algorithms work well enough that prepositions and other previously meaningless words are no longer ignored. That makes a significant difference in understanding voice search input.
What It All Means
Combining mobile-first indexing with BERT changes the SEO game dramatically. Once BERT is perfected, it could very well represent the most fundamental and disruptive change to online searches since Google first came on the scene. Yes, it is that important.
What it means to you is this: you need to change the way you think about Google searches. Mobile-first indexing and BERT dictate that SEO efforts now be tailored around how people naturally speak. The same words and phrases they use during conversations with other humans are used to conduct voice searches.
With that understanding, you can use voice search to your advantage by tailoring your content around natural language. Practically speaking, that means a couple of things. First, forget industry buzzwords and complicated jargon. People do not speak that way in the real world; such lingo is not going to help SEO results.
Second, it means creating content that speaks directly to readers as though you were having a conversation with them. Content should be relatable. It should be personable. It should be easy to find simply by pulling out your phone and asking a question. Master this concept and you will be way ahead in the SEO game.
Managing Director of Connotations
From humble beginnings as a freelance writer back in 2008 to setting up what is today known as Connotations, our managing director Anthony Carter stayed true to his principles to grow the business into what it is today. A tiny list of a couple of clients grew to become an international portfolio that includes agencies, government entities, charities, and other organisations.