What is Google Voice Search?
Gone are the days when voice search belonged to the realms of Star Trek. Today, the power to get our devices – be it computers or smartphones – to respond to our commands has become an impressive reality. Once known as Voice Action, Google’s Search by Voice or Voice Search is a handy tool that allows people to speak their query into their phone or computer and immediately have Google pull up the data that they need. With just one tap of the microphone icon on the search bar, the voice search mode can be activated to handle user queries.
Google Voice search was originally called Voice Action and was designed specifically for android phones to receive voice commands. Since then, this technology has grown increasingly advanced. Once only able to accept command in US English, it had grown to recognize British and Indian English, French, German, Italian, and Filipino. At present, it can accept commands and queries in almost any language and dialect. Google Voice Search not only offers information in real-time in response to simple queries like “where is the nearest coffee shop?” but can even update your Facebook for you.
Fast and efficient, Google Voice Search allows people to multitask while using their device in a hands-free mode. Recent updates and advancements have also ensured that the conversations feel more natural and attuned to user needs and expectations.
A Brief History of Google Voice Search
From its inception in the year 2010, Google Voice Search has been the tool that has been instrumental in making strides towards achieving Google’s one goal: ubiquitous access. Basically, no matter where you are or what you may be doing, information remains at the tip of your fingers or – in this case – your tongue.
Initially, Google Labs allowed users to only speak into their phones and make a Google query. In fact, you would have to call (650)623-6706, wait for the automatic voice to tell you to go ahead with your voice search keywords, and only then be allowed to speak your query. You would then wait for Google to update the page automatically or manually click a link. To say that we have come a long, long way from there will be an understatement. In fact, Google Voice Search is no more bound to Android devices as Voice Action either. It can now work across devices, platforms, and Google applications – be it Google Maps, Google Now, or the Google Mobile App.
In late 2012, Google released the search app specifically designed for iOS. In addition, it came armed with its own swanky new Voice Search tech. This tech was all set to give iOS’ very own Siri a run for her money, quite similar to its Android Jelly Bean counterpart. Whether it has been successful in fully defeating Siri at her own game is a matter of some debate, but reviews have since pointed out that Google’s Voice Search was rather quick and relevant, sometimes even, dare we say it, surpassing Siri in its depth.
Google Voice Search and the Hummingbird Update
Hands-down the biggest search algorithm update since 2001, Google’s Hummingbird has changed the face of Voice Search tech as we knew it.
Originally designed to raise the stakes in its battle against Siri, Hummingbird is a massive step towards Google’s goal of providing ubiquitous access. The update has given Voice Search the boost it needed to become even more conversational than before. By combining its Knowledge Graph with search results, Hummingbird has created the possibility of an engine that does not just take into account keywords but entire strings of words and phrases along with the possible context. Users now encounter data that does not seem determined by a mere algorithm but by a human counterpart in a real-life conversation.
As previously mentioned, the idea is to take not just keywords or phrases of 1 or 2 words but also consider the entire query. It can then provide results based on the entire string of words. Often, it also takes into consideration the ‘context’ of the user’s query. So, if you say the word ‘cafe’, the engine will now recognize that you are probably not searching for the meaning of the word cafe but are just looking for a place to get your daily dose of caffeine. So, the results will display a list of cafes near you at the top. But since Google cannot know your meaning for sure, a Wikipedia page or an article detailing the meaning and etymology of the word will also be listed among the top results. But the topmost result pretty much shows Google’s confidence in its abilities.
For brands and content creators, this means one thing: the need for better voice search optimization of content. One way of ensuring increased and continuous traffic is obviously using relevant long-tailed keywords that fit seamlessly in the body of high-quality content. With the update in place, Google also automatically focuses on the page’s authority and the writer. Marketers and creators now have to place more importance than ever on voice search SEO.
Why is Voice Search Getting Bigger?
Almost every article on Google Voice Search – even this one, for that matter – keeps going back to the Star Trek analogy. And with good reason. Amit Singhal, in his conversation with Guy Kawasaki, had once, rather famously, declared:
“The destiny of Google’s search engine is to become that Star Trek computer, and that’s what we are building”.
And one must say that the concept does not quite seem like a fever dream anymore. Currently, there is a lot more to Google’s voice search than just convenience. And, boy, is it convenient. The Hummingbird update has been especially instrumental in offering seamless, efficient access to data to users.
But it is not just Google’s Voice Search that is currently on the cusp of greatness. Homes all over the world have turned smarter with the introduction of Alexa devices. Siri, of course, deserves recognition for not just serving as Google Voice Search’s archnemesis, but for the ease of access (and the wry sense of humour) she offers iOS users by the platterful. As such, voice search has generally been turning bigger and better. The basic reasons are simple:
- We speak faster than we write. On average, we may type about 40 words a minute. But we could speak over a whopping 150 words each minute. This makes Voice Search the faster option, especially compared to manual searching.
- It is more convenient. Whether you are driving your car, working out, or have your hands deep in a bowlful of dough, Voice Search has got your back. It offers you easy, hands-free access to information even while you multitask. You can look up recipes while you cook or directions while you drive without once having to take your eyes off the task at hand.
- Voice search options are especially perfect for mobile devices. Users have been with tinier, slimmer smartphone devices that, while power-packed, can be difficult to type on, especially when on the go or when manoeuvring through crowds and tricky territories. Voice search makes the entire process simpler, safer, and more efficient.
- Another primary reason for the growing popularity of voice search is obviously the integrations and collaborations with emerging tech. Smart home devices (like the Alexa units) are the epitome of convenience. From pulling up world news, offering easy access to Spotify playlists, to dimming the lights to suit the mood – these devices are the perfect companion to the ever alienated modern man.
How is Voice Search Different from Traditional Search
Voice search does not work the same way that traditional, manual search does. This is basically because we do not talk the same way we type. Voice search keywords are, thus, longer and more conversational. Google takes into account a string of phrases instead of the first few keywords along with the context and intent of the user while drawing up the results.
Since people tend to use voice search primarily to find places, Google places a ton of importance on local listings. Voice search also focuses on succinctness. Fast and efficient are the keywords of the day when people are using voice queries. This makes Google rely on rich snippets and knowledge graphs to draw up immediate results, just how a person would answer queries in real-time.
This means that, for creators, the priorities shift massively when focusing on their voice search SEO. At the same time, optimizing content for voice search, the rules of keyword research change too. Creators should remember to:
- Target question keywords, i.e. ones that start with question words – how, when, what, why, and where
- Use long-tail keywords. Voice query keywords tend to be longer as compared to typed keywords.
- Include filler words. Filler words make conversations human. Google, thus, takes the filler words of queries into account, too, while offering up answers.
What are People Using Voice Search For?
Voice search is slowly, but surely, taking over the world. But not all users use it the same. Research indicates that how people use voice search depends on quite a bit on their age. While we are sure that other factors, like location, profession, and people’s unique personalities, also come into play here, age is a good indicator for the kind of use one gets out of their devices with voice search capabilities.
More often than not, adults tend to use voice search to get directions. This is what it was initially designed for – to provide people with an alternative to physical maps and manual searching, both of which can prove unsafe while driving.
For the younglings, though, media and communication seem to take precedence over voice search. While it may seem like the data serves next to no commercial intent, millions of voice search enabled devices have been shipped across the world in just the last three years. Voice Labs refers to this as the ‘total device footprint’, and we see an expected and continuous search in voice search use in the recent past and near future. People are warming up to voice search faster than ever before, with data indicating that a huge percentage of now regular users had started using it as recently as late 2019.
People are using voice search, and they are using it now. For marketers, content creators, and brand builders, this is an immediate game-changer. It is now not enough to optimize content for a physical search. It is the era of voice search SEO. And creators must keep up or be left behind.
Strategies to Optimize Your Content for Voice Search
The article has established the sheer importance of keeping up with the changing world of voice search SEO. But perhaps it is easier said than done. Creators must now implement sparkly new strategies to keep up with the demand. With the Google Hummingbird update placing tons of importance on semiotic search, marketers might want to use certain strategies to help them stay ahead of the game.
Optimize for Rich Answers
In its quest towards a more efficient, semiotic search, Google has placed a lot of emphasis on rich answers. Therefore, content creators should aim towards optimizing their voice search SEO to earn the featured snippet spot in this case. The featured snippet holds the hallowed space of ‘position zero,’ i.e. the topmost result that appears even before the sponsored ads and the first few results that follow. Top performers tend to:
- Create scannable content: With multiple header and subheaders. This enhances usability, especially on mobile devices.
- Use secure HTTPS: Top-ranking sites seem to be continuously leaning towards adopting HTTPS.
- Use strong visuals: People need a break from walls of text. Visual aids help break them up into tinier, less intimidating pieces.
- Give source data: Users like proof, and data with proof sells. Top content creators constantly make use of external links and citations to back up claims.
That’s all well and good. But how does one even begin to do this kind of optimization? Given below are some tips for voice search SEO that may just be of help in this regard:
Re-Imagine and Restructure Your Content
The typical answers to voice search queries are no longer than 41 words in length. This means that the need for crisp, succinct content is now. On the other hand, Google likes short answers and to the point. So, content creators need to revisit their content and design the layout accordingly.
One fantastic way of going about this is by including a list of FAQs on your blogs. These include keyword questions and shorter, to-the-point answers. The Frequently Asked Questions section makes it terribly easy for Google to pull up data directly from your blog, thus, increasing the likeliness of your article getting featured in the rich text snippet section.
Use Conversational Language for Content
Expert copy-creators often advise you to “write like you speak.” Now we know why. Google’s focus on conversational semiotic search means that content creators can achieve amazing results by just using more natural language. Using robotic, bombastic words in our content distances it from the user, especially those using voice search. People ask simple questions. Your content needs to match that simplicity.
One needs to consider the user intent, i.e. what are they asking, how are they asking it, what keywords are they using, and how do they like getting answered. Once you pinpoint this data, you can design your content to suit its needs accordingly.
Target Long-Tail Keyword Phrases
Once upon a time, editors would thoroughly advise you against using filler words and long, winding phrases. But perhaps that time is now past. We know that Google loves long-form content. We also know that people do not usually speak as directly as they type. This means that the voice search keywords become longer and more detailed. Creators can now design their long-form content to include long-tail keywords that appear to be part of vocal queries.
Improve Loading Time of Your Website for better voice search optimization
This one should be obvious but is somehow often ignored. Voice search aims to be conversational and efficient. In a real-life conversation, no one waits for answers to load for long. The greater the loading time, the more the bounce. Google emphasized the importance of fast loading times with its Speed Update. This means, no matter how spectacular your content might be, if it does not load fast, Google will move on.
Some pointers that can help improve loading time to optimize the website for voice search:
- The use of compressed visual data, i.e. images and videos
- Using HTML5 and CSS3 frameworks
- Making use of CDN or Content Delivery Network
- Reducing HTTP requests, redirects, and plugins
Pay Attention to Mobile
Smartphones are the present and the future of search. In the last few years, all of the big Google announcements and updates involved improving the experience of mobile users.
Since people are constantly on the move, smartphones are invariably what they depend on while performing their day-to-day search activities. So, voice queries are aimed at mobile devices most of the time. This makes it utterly important for creators to pay attention to whether their content and website are both mobile-friendly or not. Thus, one should build a website that’s optimized for mobile-friendly and create a content layout that is easily crawlable for increased visibility.
Leverage Google My Business Listings
Google’s Hummingbird update focuses a lot on context. This context is often location-based. This means, if you say“restaurant” into your phone, Google will first pull up a list of restaurants near you, followed by articles on meaning, etymology, and recent news. So, it is the perfect time to leverage Google Business Listing to give your business a boost. The first order of business is to list the name, address, phone number, and area code of your business properly. Consistent posts and updates about your business can help it stand out in Google’s eyes. Another trick is to make proper use of local keywords. This can significantly increase the chances of your listing getting pulled up when someone uses the near me function when in your locality.
Even as we speak, tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are getting ready to battle it out in the voice search arena. Smart devices are getting smarter, with intuitive voice search tools being built into them. People are growing more and more comfortable with speaking their queries than dealing with the hassle of manually typing questions to find relevant results. Google’s Voice Search options are already making strides towards the realization of a more semiotic web. The future of voice search is, thus, bright. And while we may not feel quite like Captain Kirk while asking Alexa to play our favourite playlist but, with Google’s help, the Star Trek computer may not just limit itself to the world of sci-fi for much longer.
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