If you don’t use voice search yourself, you might not be aware of just how far this technology has come in the past few years.

 

The current generation of voice recognition apps – now dubbed Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPAs) – do much more than answer quick questions. These advanced systems from Google, Apple, Microsoft and all the other big tech brands can now perform complex searches to deliver targeted results, open apps and complete other tasks hands-free.

 

With Google adding Australian dialects and slang recognition to its voice search and map functions in 2016, local businesses that optimise their websites for this new breed of search queries will have the advantage.

 

How are people using voice search?

Back in 2014, Google revealed the then-surprising statistics that 55% of teenagers and 41% of adults used voice search at least once a day.

 

Fast-forward to this year’s Google I/O keynote speech in May where CEO Sundar Pichai announced that one in five (20%) of all search queries on Google’s mobile apps and Android devices are now made using voice.

 

Microsoft also reported in May that a quarter (25%) of searches made through the Windows 10 taskbar are now spoken rather than typed. This trend is only going to gain momentum as more users realise the potential of voice search and the technology gets ever more finely honed.

 

As well as performing searches, people use their IPAs to get directions, make calls and play music.

 

What does voice search mean for SEO?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) should always be an ongoing process as you keep your websites up-to-date with the latest trends and developments. While the increasing prominence of voice search doesn’t mean throwing the old rules out of the window, you should think about tweaking your SEO strategy to attract people searching with their mouths as well as those searching with their fingers.

 

The four major distinguishing features of voice search over text search are:

 

1. Longer search queries using natural language

 

Text searches tend to be short (between one and three words on average). They avoid extraneous terms and only use the most relevant keywords. If someone wants to know who is currently in charge of Australia, they’ll probably type something along the lines of “prime minister australia.”

 

By contrast, voice searches are usually longer – between six and ten words, according to Microsoft’s Rob Wilk. Because people are speaking, they also tend to use natural language, resulting in more conversational search queries. They ask, “who’s the prime minister of Australia?”

 

 

You can make sure you’re catering to these searchers by writing your websites in a natural way, using long-tail keywords rather than stilted phrases. If it suits the tone of your site, incorporating common slang terms could also give you an edge over local competitors.

 

The best way to test whether a page is optimised for voice search is to read it aloud. If you sound like a robot, it probably needs work.

 

2. Questions phrased as questions

 

You’ve probably noticed that voice search queries are likely to be phrased as questions, unlike text searches that ignore grammar and use the minimum words possible. For years, we’ve been used to ignoring “unimportant” words like who, what, when, where, how and why, but voice search has brought these back into prominence to deliver more targeted results.

 

If you are already answering questions on your website, make sure search engines know it by including question and answer phrases in your content (not just in your FAQ). Although voice search data hasn’t found its way into analytics yet, you should still check how people are arriving at your site through text searches to make sure you’re answering the right questions.

 

3. Specific goals

 

Because voice searches are more specific, they can also make it quicker for users to find exactly what they’re looking for. This is where a well-optimised site can help them and help you.

 

If a busy customer types “iphone newcastle,” Google doesn’t know whether they’re looking for information on where to buy a new or used iPhone, where to get repairs, how to configure their phone, or something else. But if they ask “where can I buy an iPhone in Newcastle?,” voice search will only show them pages that match their current stage in the buying cycle.

 

Make sure you’re capturing those queries by using targeted keywords.

 

4. Local focus

 

One area in which voice search offers a distinct advantage for small businesses is its location-based results. People are three times more likely to use voice search rather than text search to get directions, so you need to make sure that your website’s location data is readable by search engines. This is especially important if you hope to target people in your area who are using the phrase “near me”.

 

Although not all voice searches are made on phones, the rise of voice recognition technology can be directly linked to the growth of the mobile web as users embrace hands-free functions on the move. Make sure your websites are mobile-friendly as well as voice-friendly and you’ll make it easier for local customers to find you.