rom WarGames and 2001:A Space Odyssey to Avengers: Age of Ultron, voice search has been aSci-Fi staple for decades. The main character might get all the glory, but thewhiz-bang technology—all you have to do is talk to your computer and it doesstuff!—is what really sparks our imagination. In fact, scientists have beenworking to make Hal—a kinder, more cooperative version—a reality since Audrey,created in 1952 by Bell Laboratories, learned to recognize digits spoken aloud.
Seven decades later, here we are, shouting all kinds of inquiries into the air and getting good answers. What’s a good substitute for coriander? How late is the market down the street open? What restaurants still deliver at this hour? With nearly 73% of all U.S. households owning a smart speaker, the entire internet is just an ask away.
To ensure their business is the answer when a consumer asks their smart speaker a question, businesses who’ve mastered the art of SEO now need to turn their efforts to voice search optimization.
The international standards in digital accessibility for business websites are set by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and is known as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).
Voice search optimization is SEO adapted for sound rather than keystrokes, and for the nuances of spoken language rather than typed queries. Someone trying to remember where they’ve seen an actor in a tv show, for instance, might type, “Last of Us cast. ”But if they’re searching by voice, they’re more likely to ask, “where have I seen Ellie on The Last of Us?” Voice search optimization converts sound and conversational syntax into data.
When a person asks their smart speaker, phone, or computer for information on a particular topic, the request is detected by a technology called automatic speech recognition (ASR),which converts the speech to a wave file and removes ambient noise. The ASR analyzes the sound patterns in the file, employing statistical probability to identify individual words and reconstruct entire sentences. Once it does, it enters the data into a search engine to find a match.
A website or piece of content that isn’t language-rich won’t appear in voice searches. For instance, if the website for your plant shop relies primarily on photos, it’s unlikely to show up when someone asks, “Hey Siri, is there a shop that sells broad-leaf indoor plants near me?”
A plant shop with descriptive captions alongside the photos, an FAQ section, and a blog or other content written in natural language is much more likely to get a hit. For brick-and-mortar shops, answering the “near me” part of the question with a description of the location also helps: “Happily serving up indoor plants in the Silver lake neighborhood since 2015.”
We’ve been waiting for voice search for decades. Now it’s here, and Americans are using it. Adjust your SEO accordingly.