SEOers have a profound paradigm shift coming, and it’s coming in the form of voice search. With the advent of apps like Siri, Cortana, Google Now, and several others that enable people to speak their searches rather than type them, a new-but-actually-quite-old school of searching is coming to light.
A study by Northstar Research found that 41% of all adults and 55% of all teens have used voice search at least daily. This makes it critically important for SEO gurus to understand how to optimize for voice-based searches.
The Vagaries of Voice
There’s simply a different mindset that comes into play when you make voice searches. Anyone who has passing familiarity with Google — so basically, anyone more than a few years old — knows that searches like “Psychology phenomenon encounter again” simply give better results than searches like “What do you call that thing where you hear about something and then you hear about it again a couple days later?” (The Baader-Meinhoff Phenomenon a.k.a. the frequency illusion.) But when you speak your searches rather than typing them, you engage a different part of your brain, and your tendency is to say something far more like the second search than the first.
This means that voice searches have many more “irrelevant” and even counterproductive words jammed into them than text searches. While ‘translating’ these questions is getting easier as computing power increases, Google’s success rate at nabbing the intended result still hovers around 60% for the average spoken question.
On the other hand, if the asker actually does correctly use a question in a Who-What-When-Where-Why-How format, Google Voice does massively better — approaching 90% success. There are a lot of reasons why, but primary among them are two factors: the Knowledge Graph and microdata.
Microdata Is SEO for Voice Search
If you want to be able to access Voice Search results, then, and your client isn’t widely-known enough to have nailed a spot on the Knowledge Graph, you need to be able to use microdata skillfully. By considering what questions people are likely to ask about your client and their product/service, and answering those questions somewhere on their site (likely a FAQ, for obvious reasons), and then highlighting those answers in microdata so that Google’s spiders know exactly what they’re looking at, you can gain control of the answers Google Voice will provide to those questions.
The Downside: Direct Answers
But there’s a catch to all of this — Google Direct Answers, the system that Google uses to put the answer to a simple question right there in your SERPs without requiring you to click on a link to see it. Because Google Direct Answers is reliant on the same microdata that Voice Search is, putting that microdata all over your client’s site means they’re meaningfully less likely to actually get clicks, because people looking for a tangential fact will find it without doing any clicking.
In general, that’s not a big loss — the people who were only looking for information were probably never going to buy anything anyway — but it can alarm a client who sees a drop in apparent traffic when microdata is instituted. As long as you warn them up front, however, the added traffic you can get from Voice searchers who are looking to spend some money and solve a problem is well worth it, especially if you already know a bit about microdata.