Writing for voice search

by Colm Hebblethwaite

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So far in this series, we’ve set the scene: voice search is no flash in the pan or technological curiosity. It’s the new normal, and something that all brands should start thinking about. 

We know how quickly usage is increasing, who the main users are and how the tech itself works. Now to get to the important stuff and look at how content creators can adapt. The good news is that voice search doesn’t represent a radical change of approach. It is essentially a continuation of the trend towards prioritising relevance and usability seen over the last few years. 

Here are some of the ways we can start optimising content for voice search today.

Answer the question! 

The primary way people interact with voice search is by asking questions, so it makes sense that your content should look to provide the answers. 

Take the following question: 

  • Who won the champion’s league last year? 

Now, let’s look at two potential answers:

  • Marking the second time since 2008 that two rival Premier League sides had clashed for the most coveted prize in club football, the 2019 Champions League final turned out to be fairly one-sided. In the end, Liverpool proved to be worthy winners with a 2-0 defeat over Tottenham Hotspur.
  • Liverpool won the 2019 Champions League with a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. The match marked the second time since 2008 that two clubs from the English Premier League had gone head to head. 

The text in bold shows the answer to the question that the user has asked. In the second example, the answer provides them with the information they wanted straight away. It’s also much easier for the Natural Language Processing that underpins voice search to interpret.  

Be natural, don’t ramble

As we talked about in the first part of this series, voice searches tend to be longer and more conversational than keyboard queries. Overly formal and long-winded language isn’t going to work in this situation. Instead, you should use a more conversational tone. For example, we’d recommend writing “at the same time” instead of “simultaneously”. 

The best way to make sure your writing is conversational is to read it out loud. This quickly shows when language sounds unnatural and helps to produce a better flow. 

With regards to keywords, stuffing them in is not an option. Instead, focus on keyword prominence and trying to get the right words and phrases in headlines, URL slugs and the first paragraph.

FAQ pages are also an easy win for brands looking to take advantage of voice search. You don’t have to worry about being too functional with the language, and you can fill this page with long-tail keyphrases.

Think local 

One of the most common phrases used for voice searches is ‘near me’. If you haven’t created content that caters for local SEO, then you could be missing out on this search traffic. This is another area where an FAQ page can provide a lot of value, allowing you to answer key questions. 

It is also a good idea to claim your Google ‘My Business’ listing. It’s a great way to make sure that Google has all the additional information it needs about your business including your industry, phone number, address, opening hours and more. By keeping this up to date, you are increasing the chances of appearing in voice search results.

Account for mobiles 

The majority of voice searches take place on mobiles. This means that making your content hard to read on a smaller screen can be a costly mistake. 

In particular, you want to keep an eye on: 

  • The length of your headlines – ideally seven words or less 
  • The length of your paragraphs – keep them to three sentences max so that the reader is never confronted with a massive wall of text 
  • The way you format – subheadings, bullet points and concise copy all help increase readability and provide the reader with the information they need quickly 

Make it easier for search engines 

The goal of good content is to communicate information in the most useful way. Nowadays, search engines are the first choice for users to find the answers they want, and digital content writers need to keep this in mind. 

When it comes to voice search, there are three specific areas to focus on.

  1. Long-tail keyphrases are an important way of accounting for the longer nature of voice searches. You need to think about the way people speak – so use phrases like ‘best smart home assistants for under £200’ rather than ‘cheap home assistant’. You can use Google Autocomplete or Serpstat to help you find the right keyphrases. 
  2. Structured markup data makes it easier for search engines to understand your content. By tagging individual paragraphs with things like ‘review score’ and ‘article data’, you are helping search engines navigate your writing. The up-and-coming ‘speakable’ tag makes things even more interesting, allowing you to highlight exactly what parts of the text should be read aloud by assistant-enabled devices.
  3. Featured snippets are one of the main ways that Natural Language Processors seek out answers to user queries. These featured snippets are something that Google does automatically so people can make sure a page is useful before they click. The main way to write for featured snippets is to keep your paragraphs short, yet rich with valuable information.

Adapting for voice search

The foundations for good content writing won’t change drastically as voice search becomes more embedded. But making small changes and focusing on structuring your content around user questions will give you the edge over your competitors. 

In our final post of this series, we’ll show you how to fit voice search into your brand’s content strategy going forward.

The full list of posts are below:

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