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Optimizing Sites for Voice Technology

     
11:56 am on Sep 26, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I was listening to the response to a voice search the other day and it occurred to me that it was awful. Not the voice, or the quality of the reading, but the quality of the content being read out.

Shouldn't we be thinking about better content for a voice assistant? It comes back to using natural language, of course, but there are other things to think of, too.

It also reminds me that there's a whole new set of challenges as users get used to using voice technology responses. Not just Google, Amazon, Siri and Cortana.

Some of the things that spring to mind include:-
How can we best optimize the content?
How can we make sure it's the best content for natural language?
How can we move from a simple informational response but to ensure we turn it into a profit for the site owner?
2:16 pm on Sept 26, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I am looking at it from two very different perspectives.

#1 - How to optimize my content for voice search
#2 - How to protect my content from voice search

The rate of adoption is growing very fast and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up having a faster rate than smart phones did. So I suspect there are going to be a significant growing volume of people using voice search. The worrisome aspect is that voice search basically strips out your branding & profit opportunities. Even if you are the lucky #1 result (because remember voice search is not displaying the top 10 results in the serps) the value of that user is much less than a person browsing your site on their screen. On a computer screen you can drop in ads, upsell products, plug affiliate links, etc. which gives you a much greater chance of turning a profit. Voice search gives away your content in a seconds long response without the user ever seeing your site. The user no longer gets the answer from within my site and I have no chance to monetize that visit which is why I am also looking at how best to protect my site from voice search.

I expect my voice search strategy to greatly evolve this year as I gain more data each month. Currently my strategy is to utilize voice search for brand awareness. Entice the user to come inside the site for detailed answers that can't be summarized by Google's AI into a 3 second voice answer or a 2 sentence direct answer in the serps.
2:51 pm on Sept 26, 2017 (gmt 0)

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You're right about protecting your content from voice search, too. Most of us want to be #1, but if that provides zero benefit to the site, it's of no value.

It's early days, but i think we need to get on with it.
6:18 am on Sept 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Each of these technology steps increasingly seem intent to divorce the creator from the content for the sake of the user (on a specific search platform which includes all the above mentioned). At some point the creators will rebel or perish. At present the search engines have no impediments to acquiring content and that will remain so as long as the creators get something back for allowing the indexing/aggregation. When that ceases (as it will with only one slot for reply and all others ignored) the outcry will be immense. Then again, by that time all the data will have been collected and stored in data centers here, there, and everywhere.

OR, available only to a trusted few (who probably will have to pony up so dough) for a "brand" response. Most likely MSM sites or partnered conglomerates.

DATA, after all, cannot be copyrighted.
9:55 am on Sept 27, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Ever since I installed Google Home, I've been experimenting with voice search. Funny, I never saw the application well suited for the mobile phone, but a silly black cylinder seems just right for that task.

The first thing I noticed was that voice search was really set up for answering questions, but my pages were built on the old approach of the DOM.

So over the next couple months I started remodeling my site by moving away from keyword structured pages to answer based content.

The last Google update gave me a huge boost in SERP inclusion. Same ranking, but my pages were present in search results 43% more often, which of course translates into more traffic. Bing is also way up.

My content also sounds a lot better when I ask Google questions. And now that SIRI is using Google for search results, I need to find an iPhone to test voice with.
11:20 am on Oct 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The challenge is also to monetize it, and that could be a new thread.

Thanks for that tip about answer-based content: I'll investigate that.

Would a simple Q&A be the answer?
7:23 pm on Oct 3, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I have a Q&A for a section of my site, and seemingly that would work for answering voice input, however I haven't seen that specific page being accessed very much.

My current approach is more linear, phrasing content in a more definitive style. Explaining why widgets work, instead of just describing them. Giving historical background, using citations when applicable. Adding explanations to charts & graphs.

Still experimenting with this. Not all pages can use this approach. Info pages seem better suited than eCom, but even there this approach can be worked in.
3:47 pm on Oct 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Monetization only comes the way of unionization. I've actually never considered looking at optimizing (time spent) on something that cannot be monetized. Or am I confused. Voice technology, are we talking about the talking boxes that find "answers"? That's what I'm answering to (no pun intended).
9:00 am on Oct 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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VSO is fairly similar to optimising for answer boxes - in fact, I would think that answer boxes are a technological precursor to voice search in many ways.

People search via voice differently and are much more likely to use natural language & location relative queries ("the best restaurants near me"), compared to text searches ("London restaurants").

I think that traditionally SEO has been too focused on rigid keywords, because if we want to rank for BLUE WIDGETS we must write BLUE WIDGETS and talk about only BLUE WIDGETS. The nature of how SEO is delivered as a service, it becomes a very mechanical process that has led to dull websites and the introduction of over optimisation counter-algorithms, etc.

(a side note, but I'm sure many of you have moved away from this rigid approach of "optimisation" many years ago, but it still seems to be prevalent and a go-to approach for some - probably because it's easy to train new staff to do this and scale it as a service)

As we can't optimise for "near me" type queries (via regular SEO), other signals must also be in play - location markup, citations, local listings.

With this in mind, VSO becomes a mash up of local optimisation, traditional on page optimisation (we still need to communicate the subject of the page) and answer box optimisation (to accommodate Q&A / natural language queries).

Whether or not you want to optimise for voice search is another matter. It's very industry specific right now, but the technology is relatively new and it's likely the breadth of things people will search for will increase as we all become more comfortable with the tech.

For businesses that are likely to be searched for via voice, it's probably worth considering how the results are communicated back to searchers. Results with answer boxes often have lists in them, but these don't read back to users very well via voice and this could present a challenge. A quick win is to craft the answer text to include solid, branded copy with a call to action.

Google is no longer a signpost outside your business - they're your automated customer service response and first point of contact with new customers. I'd say the opportunity with VSO is to be able to control the message they deliver, but it's certainly challenging and at the moment, a blunt instrument.