5 Voice Search Optimization Strategies You Need to Know

Voice-enabled speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo have become a significant part of consumers’ everyday lives. According to research from eMarketer, almost 75 million people in the United States will use smart speakers in 2019. And, nearly three-fourths of those users will use their smart speakers to conduct general searches. This rising usage makes voice search optimization an increasingly important effort for marketers.

Smart speaker penetration and activity in the United States

Smart speaker penetration and activity in the United States

Related content: [Infographic] – Smart Speakers: The Rise of the Machines

By optimizing content for voice searches, brands can position themselves to show up in “position zero” (i.e., the only result in smart speaker searches). But smart speakers and voice search haven’t been around for long and brand marketers are still trying to figure out the best way to optimize their content.

Last year, Backlinko conducted a study to find the most important ranking factors for searches on the Google Home smart speaker. Here are five of the most critical findings from the study to help your brand amplify your voice search optimization efforts.

No. 1: Google Home favors pages with fast load times

This factor shouldn’t be too shocking since voice searchers are naturally going to value quick, accurate answers. According to Backlinko, the average voice search page loads in 4.6 seconds (roughly half the time as average webpages).

Page load time: voice search results vs. average webpage

Page load time for voice search results vs. average webpage

Remember, while mobile and desktop search results might list multiple results, smart speakers only provide one. This reality makes voice search optimization on smart speakers a zero-sum game.

Make sure to give your content a chance of reaching “position zero” by speeding up your webpages. Check out this post to learn how to identify page speed and other common SEO issues: How to Conduct a High-level SEO Audit.

No. 2: Google Home opts for more authoritative domains when delivering search results

Pages with higher domain scores (a metric for determining a webpage’s quality and authority) tend to perform much better in smart speaker searches. According to the study, the mean Ahrefs domain rating of a Google Home result is almost 77 percent.

The average domain authority of voice search result pages vs. average webpages

Average domain authority of voice search result pages vs average webpages

A comprehensive SEO program is the best way to increase your domain authority and amplify your voice search optimization efforts. To learn how to improve your SEO strategy, check out this blog post – SEO Fundamentals: What is SEO and How Does It Work? 

No. 3: More than 70 percent of Google Home results were from HTTPS (secure) webpages

If you follow Google’s webmaster guidelines, this voice search optimization finding should make a lot of sense. In July 2018, Google announced it would start marking all non-HTTPS sites on their Chrome browser as “not secure.” This change is almost guaranteed to affect search rankings.

HTTPS adoption: voice search vs. desktop search result pages

HTTPS adoption of voice search result pages


No. 4: Content that’s frequently mentioned or shared on social media tends to appear more in Google Home results

According to the study, an average voice search result has around 1,200 Facebook shares or 44 tweets. Backlinko was careful to note that Google does not include social signals in its ranking algorithm. Therefore, social media popularity is likely a case of correlation, not causation.

Average social shares of voice search result pages

Average social shares of a voice search result

Check out this blog to learn how you can get more social media exposure out of your content: How to Fuel Your Social Media Pipeline.

No. 5: Content that appears higher in desktop search results is more likely to appear in voice searches

A staggering 75 percent of voice search results from Google Home also rank in the top 3 positions in desktop searches. The most likely reason for this is that Google uses similar ranking factors to determine both voice search and desktop results.

Where voice search results tend to rank in Google desktop search results

Where voice search results tend to rank in Google desktop search results

To get a better idea of what you need to do to improve your overall search rankings, check out our recent post: 10 Reasons Why Your Brand Needs a More Competitive SEO Strategy.

These are just some of the most important voice search optimization factors. As virtual assistants and voice search increase in popularity, there will likely be more updates to the ranking factors in the future. For now, this list is a great starting point for your voice search optimization efforts. If you need additional guidance to reach consumers searching on smart speakers, contact Mindstream Media Group today, and our content and SEO experts will be happy to help.

This post was originally published in March 2018. We’ve updated the stats and information to make sure you have the latest voice search optimization tips. 

Technical SEO Strategies to Boost Your Ranking in Smart Speaker Searches

This is the third post in our series detailing how brands can connect with smart speaker users. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 of the series for an introduction to smart speakers and voice search, and Part 2 to learn how brands can use content marketing to reach voice searchers.

Voice search results, especially those conducted on smart speakers, are extremely competitive. Unlike mobile or desktop results, voice searches on smart speakers only serve up one result – i.e., “Position Zero.” To paraphrase the great Ricky Bobby: for smart speaker searches, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”

In this winner-takes-all playing field, your brand needs to be on top of your SEO game if you want to reach smart speaker users. It’s not enough to be good, your site’s SEO and content have to be the best.

Luckily, if you’ve already started implementing desktop and mobile SEO best practices, you’re off to a great start. According to a study from Backlinko on Google Home search ranking factors, three-fourths of voice search results ranked in the top three positions in desktop searches. This correlation suggests optimizing your site for voice search doesn’t require a completely new SEO strategy; it just means taking your existing one to a new level.

Related: Ranking Factors in Google Home Results

To help you in this endeavor, here are five technical SEO strategies you can implement (or improve upon) to increase your website’s ranking in voice search results on smart speakers.

No. 1: Improve your backlink profile

The quality and quantity of a site’s backlinks (incoming links from other sites) are major ranking factors for Google’s desktop and mobile search results. To evaluate the strength of backlink profiles, Ahrefs developed the Domain Authority metric to determine the likelihood of a website ranking well in search results based on links.

Backlinko looked at the domain authority of sites appearing in Google Home results and “discovered that the average Domain Authority of a voice search result was 76.8. Needless to say to anyone that works in the SEO industry, this is a considerably high DR.”

Average Domain Authority of Google Home search results

Average domain rating of voice search result page

What you can do to improve your backlink profile

Here’s the good news: there’s no shortage of ways to increase the quality and quantity of backlinks to your site. The bad news: the most effective ways are all time-consuming. Since backlinks are such an important ranking factor across search results, it’s not something you can ignore.

Here are some tips to start improving your backlink profile:

  • Publish great content that other sites find valuable and want to link to. This could include guides, infographics, information-rich blog posts, etc.
  • Create content for other sites that link back to your site. There are a lot of reputable publishers with high authority domains that allow blog contributors. Identify these sites and start reaching out to see if they’ll let you contribute. Make sure to link back to your site but don’t force it, these should be natural links the site’s readers find valuable.
  • Clean up your existing links. Low-quality or spammy links do more damage than good for your site. These could include links from website comment sections, links with over-optimized anchor text, links from countries that are outside your audience base, etc.
  • Hire a pro. If you don’t have the time or someone with a strong SEO background on your team, it may be best to outsource this work (especially the backlink cleanup).

No. 2: Increase your website’s page speed

Search engines have long stressed the importance of page speed and Google has used it to determine desktop search rankings for a while. Earlier this year, Google announced that starting in July 2018 page speed will be also be ranking factor for mobile searches.

It makes sense that Google would carry this commitment to speed over to voice search. For Google Home searches, Backlinko discovered that the average voice search result page loads much faster than the average webpage.

For Google Home search result pages:

  • The average Time to First Byte (TTFB) of a voice search result was .54 seconds (vs. the worldwide average of 2.1 seconds).
  • The time it took for a search result page to load completely (4.6 seconds) was significantly faster than most pages (8.8 seconds).

Average page load times – Google Home results vs. average webpages

Page load time - voice search results vs average webpage

What you can do to improve page speed

The first step is to find out how your website’s current page speed score. Run your URL through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. This will give you speed and optimization scores for both the mobile and desktop version of your site.

Sometimes the tool isn’t able to return a page speed score. In this case, you can run a synthetic performance audit to estimate page speed. To access this report, open Chrome Developer tools by clicking the three dots in the upper right-hand corner > More tools > Developer tools (or you can save some time by just selecting Control/Command+Shift+I).

How to open developer tools in Google Chrome

These tools will not only give you an idea of the speed of your site, you’ll also get a list of items specific to your website to improve. Your next steps depend a lot on those results, but Google points to two factors that are the most important to a site’s speed scores.

  • Render blocking round trips: the round trips required to deliver render blocking resources. If most resources from a page are render blocking, PageSpeed Insights considers a page to have large optimization headroom. The developer could investigate Avoid Landing Page Redirects, Eliminate Render-blocking JavaScript and CSS, Leverage Browser Caching, Prioritize visible content and Reduce Server Response Time rules for optimization.
  • Response size: the total size of the response, including HTML main resources and all subresources. If most of the response body could be eliminated by compression or minification, PageSpeed Insights considers a page to have large optimization headroom. The developer could investigate Enable Compression, Minify Resources and Optimize Images rules for optimization.

No. 3: Secure your site with HTTPS

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an internet protocol that protects data between the user’s computer and a website. Google called for “HTTPS everywhere” on the web and started using it as a ranking signal all the way back in 2014.

According to Google, HTTPS provides three key layers of protection:

  • Encryption – encrypting the exchanged data to keep it secure from eavesdroppers. That means that while the user is browsing a website, nobody can “listen” to their conversations, track their activities across multiple pages or steal their information.
  • Data integrity – data cannot be modified or corrupted during transfer, intentionally or otherwise, without being detected.
  • Authentication – proves that your users communicate with the intended website. It protects against man-in-the-middle attacks and builds user trust, which translates into other business benefits.

In general, it’s just a good idea to use HTTPS to protect your site visitors’ data, the improved search rankings are just an added bonus. As a general ranking factor, HTTPS should help your presence for search results on any device, but it may have a significant impact for searches on Google Home. According to Backlinko, 70 percent of Google Home result pages were secured with HTTPS vs. 50 percent of all Google’s desktop result pages.

What you need to do to migrate to HTTPS

First, determine if your site uses the HTTPS or HTTP protocol. This is a lot easier than finding page speed. Just open your home page and see if the URL at the top starts with “https://” or “http://” – if you do this in Chrome, you will also see a lock icon and the word “Secure” before the URL.

How to determine if your site uses HTTPS

If your site already uses HTTPS, congrats! You’re good to go.

If you’re still using HTTP, we’ve got a little work to do. This can be a very involved process that may require your IT team or an outside SEO agency.

Here’s overview of the steps you’ll need to take according to Google:

  • Obtain a security certificate from a reliable certificate authority (CA) that offers technical support.
  • Decide the kind of certificate you need:
    • Single certificate for single secure origin (e.g., www.example.com).
    • Multi-domain certificate for multiple well-known secure origins (e.g., www.example.com, cdn.example.com, example.co.uk).
    • Wildcard certificate for a secure origin with many dynamic subdomains (e.g., a.example.com, b.example.com).
  • Use server-side 301 redirects to send users and search engines to the HTTPS page.
  • Support HSTS which tells the browser to request HTTPS pages automatically, even if the user enters HTTP in the browser location bar. It also tells Google to serve secure URLs in the search results.

No. 4: Add structured data to your site

Even though Backlinko’s study found very little correlation between structured data and voice search rankings, this is still a valuable strategy for any type of search result. Adding structured data helps Google understand your website’s content, organize the information and match it to a searcher’s intent.

Here’s a little more detail from Google on structured data:

Google Search works hard to understand the content of a page. You can help us by providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page by including structured data. Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content; for example, on a recipe page, what are the ingredients, the cooking time and temperature, the calories, and so on.

What you can do to add structured data to your site

There are a lot of different types of information you can optimize with structured data to help search engines understand your site’s content. You can use a structured data vocabulary like Schema Markup to identify attributes like recipes, products, articles, people, organization, location information, etc. Just find the code you need on schema.org and follow the instructions to add it to your webpages.

Here’s an example of website content without any markup:

Website content without structured data

There’s really no way for a search engine to distinguish that information from any other configuration of letters and numbers on the page. By adding structured data, search engines can understand those numbers and letters represent key pieces of information like the company’s local address, phone number and email address.

Here’s what that same content looks like to search engines after adding structured data:

Website content with structured data

As an example of how this works, Google has guidelines to help webmasters markup recipes to help searchers find them on Google Home. Using structured data, you can specify attributes like reviewer rating, cooking times and nutritional information.

According to Google, pages are eligible to appear for different search features depending on what structured data you add to a page.

  • Search: add recipe structured data to drive better engagement with rich results.
  • Guidance: enable your recipes to be read aloud by the Google Assistant on Google Home.
  • Carousel: add carousel structured data to enable your recipe to appear in a carousel of rich results. This can include images, page logos, and other interesting search result features.
  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Build your recipe pages with AMP to provide instant-loading recipes.

Getting started

These tips are just a starting point, there’s a lot more you can – and should – do to help your site’s ranking in search results. We know not all of these strategies are easy to implement and might take more time and resources that many marketing teams have available.

Need help increasing your site’s presence across voice, mobile or desktop search results? Contact Mindstream Media Group to learn more.

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The Latest from Google: June 2017

Top Announcements from the Google Marketing Next Event and Posts on Google My Business

Google is consistently looking for ways to deliver relevant and seamless experiences. This is partly because people expect it. More and more people look to digital to have everything they need at any given moment. At last month’s Google Marketing Next event, Google focused on the need for innovation, staying one step ahead of consumers’ needs and the technology to make it happen. Through data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation, Google believes it can truly deliver what people want before they even know it. In partnership with advertisers like you, Google wants to enhance workflows, so that you can better understand consumers and act on these learnings to drive better experiences and in turn higher quality leads.

AMP and Google Search

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project is expanding. AMP is all about using speed to provide faster experiences, and recently Google introduced two new ways they are utilizing it for advertising. The first one is a new AdWords beta that uses AMP to deliver fast-loading landing pages for search ads. The new AdWords will be available to all advertisers by the end of the year.

The second is through the Google Display Network, increasing the speed of how ads are served. Google says they have found these ads to load up to five seconds faster than regular ads. Not only are searchers seeing a seamless experience, but according to Google, this feature ensures display ads are seen by your intended audience.

In-market audiences for Search

This feature was first launched in 2013 focusing on targeting ready-to-buy consumers through intent signals like search queries and browsing activity. Google currently offers this targeting on their Display Network and YouTube campaigns, but now it’s coming to Search. According to Google, advertisers have begun using in-market audiences and are seeing a 10 percent increase in conversion rates. There are more than a dozen audiences available to choose from, including autos and vehicles, financial services, real estate and apparel. As a result, advertisers will be able to bid more effectively for higher-qualified leads.

Google Attribution

Google Attribution is designed to answer “Is my marketing working?” A question that has proven to be extremely challenging for marketers across the board. With this new tool, Google hopes to measure various interactions across devices and channels and help make that data actionable. Google explains that by integrating with AdWords, Analytics and DoubleClick Search, you are able to have all this data in one place with a complete view of performance. This alone ramps up the speed of optimizations like updating bids and budget allocation across channels.

Another key feature is the ability to switch to data-driven attribution, which uses machine learning to automatically determine how much to attribute to each step in the path to purchase. The machine analyzes conversion patterns so you can accurately see what’s working.

Unique Reach comes to AdWords Display and DoubleClick

Earlier this year, Google launched Unique Reach for YouTube in AdWords, and now they are expanding this feature to Display campaigns in AdWords and DoubleClick for all video and display ads. Unique Reach measures the number of unique users and average impressions-per-user. Google de-dupes these across devices, campaigns, inventory and formats so you can accurately know your reach. As a result, you can identify how to best utilize your budget.

New AdWords integration: Google Optimize and Google Surveys 360

Google takes A/B testing to another level with Optimize. Without any coding, marketers can create landing page versions for any combination of AdWords campaigns, ad groups and keywords. Optimize can automatically identify which pages are performing and get more value from campaigns.

The Surveys 360 tool allows for survey creation and specific audience sampling. Through the integration with AdWords, advertisers can target surveys to consumers in remarketing audiences. Brands can ask specific questions about experiences with their ads and landing pages to understand impact and guide optimizations.

Google My Business adds posts

Google My Business now has the ability to display posts on listings. For multi-location brands, this new addition provides local business yet another way to connect with consumers, share information about their products and services and stand out from the competition. Posts can be created using the Google My Business Android and iOS apps or website.

Google explains the following new ways businesses can engage with consumers through posts:

  • Share daily specials or current promotions that encourage new and existing customers to take advantage of your offers.
  • Promote events and tell customers about upcoming happenings at your location.
  • Showcase your top products and highlight new arrivals.
  • Choose one of the available options to connect with your customers directly from your Google listing: give them a one-click path to make a reservation, sign up for a newsletter, learn more about latest offers, or even buy a specific product from your website.

Related: 5 steps to optimize your brand’s presence for local searches on Google

As we learn more about these announcements and new features, we will continue to be your resource for the latest and what you need to know. In the meantime, reach out if you have any questions. As a Google Premier Partner, we are ready to help you maximize your advertising efforts.

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Do Keywords Still Matter For SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) sure has come a long way since the days of keyword stuffing, DMOZ  and PageRank when the presence and prominence of keywords within a webpage’s content could have a significant impact on its ranking in search results.

Keywords and content are still inherent parts of SEO. But, as search engines get better at understanding what searchers really want, do keywords as we’ve always known them still matter? And, are keywords still the most important part of an SEO strategy?

What if we’re in the age where keywords aren’t as important? How can we continue to use keywords to make sure we’re serving our potential site visitors’ needs?

Understanding intent = The “key” to keyword success

Ask any SEO pro what the most important factor is when choosing or optimizing keywords and they’ll probably tell you it has to do with “intent.” For example, if you’re performing a search for “shoes,” how does Google understand the intent behind that search. Are you looking for:

  • Information about running shoes?
  • Sites that sell shoes you can buy?
  • The history of shoes?
  • Different types of shoes?

Searcher intent is at the heart of every great keyword strategy. If you’re trying to rank for a keyword that doesn’t match your page’s content, you’re probably not going to rank very well.

Google has made several key changes to their search algorithm aimed at providing searchers with results that best match their intent (particularly the Hummingbird update in 2013). As Google compiles more and more data about keywords and uses that to inform search results, the websites that get rewarded with high rankings will be the ones that are able to answer and provide definitive topical answers that match the intent of users’ queries.

How to make sure your keywords still matter

To make sure your keywords still matter, you have to nail down your prospective searchers’ intent. Using our “shoes” example from above, the types of searches you can filter your potential keyword targets into will fit into one of these categories:

  • Navigational – probably a branded search term. Someone looking to get somewhere specific. Example search query: “Where can I get Nike skateboarding shoes”
  • Informational – very likely a “fat head” search term. Someone looking for information about a particular person, place or thing. The searcher is probably closer to the outside of the conversion funnel. Example search query: “Types of Nike Skateboarding shoes”
  • Transactional – searchers who know what they want. In general, they are ready to buy and are likely performing a long-tail keyword search. Example search query: “Nike Stefan Janoski Max Size 10.5 Blue”

Keywords still matter but make them topical

Don’t get hung up on choosing a thousand variations of the same keyword. As Google gets better and better at understanding searcher intent, the importance of keywords will get diluted. Instead, try to focus your keyword strategy around content topics.

Try to answer questions for your searcher that might lead them to discover your website at every stage of their path to purchase. Using specific landing pages, position your site as the answer to the navigational query, the informational query and the transactional query. That way, you’ll be able to leverage your site’s authority as the answer to a searcher’s every need.

Need help with your optimizing your site for better search engine rankings? Contact Mindstream Media Group to get in touch with one of our SEO professionals.