How to optimize for voice search

Inspired by a recent presentation at SMX West, columnist Sherry Bonelli discusses why small businesses and local search marketers need to be thinking about voice search.

The way people search for information online is changing. Increasingly, people are using voice search on their smartphones, tablets or voice assistants (like the Amazon Echo or Google Home devices) to search for information on the internet. Siri is your best friend if you’re using an Apple device, Google voice search is popular on Android devices and Microsoft’s Cortana is useful on your PC and smartphone using their app:

cortana-voice-searchAccording to Hitwise, nearly 60 percent of searches are now performed on a mobile device. With more and more people using mobile devices to search, people often find it’s easier to use their voice to search instead of typing on tiny screens.

This means SEO professionals need to start thinking about content and SEO differently.

Searching by voice is a hot topic among forward-thinking SEO professionals. At SMX West 2017 last month, Benu Aggarwal had a popular session on the subject, “Optimizing Content for Voice Search and Virtual Assistants.” During that session, she gave some great tips on how SEOs can start thinking and planning for a different type of search strategy for voice searches.

A new world for search

Mobile devices, smartphones and smart home devices featuring digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant are invading our lives.

These new voice devices and technology make it easier than ever for people to simply ask a question and get information from their device. This allows for a more natural way to interact with machines using a conversational voice. Using your voice, you can now play music, turn on your lights, search for a local pizza restaurant, order products and get information on everything from breaking news to the weather.

And interconnectivity between various devices is an interesting part of voice search technology. For instance, a Google Home tip can even show up on your desktop, giving you advice on how you can best use your Google Home voice assistant:

Google-Home-Prompt-Appears-On-PC-DesktopDuring her SMX West presentation, Aggarwal shared the follow stats:

smx-voice-search-presentationThis slide shows the importance of mobile and local search. But how might voice search factor in?

According to the 2016 Internet Trends Report, voice search is rapidly gaining market share:

increase-in-voice-search-shareIn 2015, 1.7 million voice-first devices were shipped. In 2016, that number increased to 6.5 million devices. VoiceLabs predicts that in 2017, 24.5 million voice-first devices will be shipped.

The big question for SEO professionals is: How do you create a content and SEO strategy for this new way to search?

How to optimize for voice search

Since search engines were first introduced to the mainstream in the mid-1990s, users have learned how to succinctly enter keyword phrases to find information on the internet using a PC. Unlike search keyword phrases that you type into your computer, voice search is more conversational and natural in tone. Voice search is also typically mobile and often locally focused.

For example, when I traveled to San Jose for SMX West, my smartphone knew where I was physically located. So when I searched for a restaurant, my phone anticipated where I was (not in Cedar Rapids, Iowa), and the search results for restaurants were all in San Jose.

Because they’re more conversational, voice search queries are also usually longer than typical text keyword search queries.


It’s important to remember that the whole purpose of these new technologies is for the device to provide the best results for on-the-go searchers. To do this, the devices try to find easily identifiable, short and relevant pieces of content to serve back to the searcher. Here are some tips that can help you optimize for voice search.

What are people searching for?

According to the Internet Trends Report 2016, people are using voice search for a variety of searches. With an estimated 22 percent searching for local content and information, local businesses (and agencies that do local SEO) need to start strategizing for local voice search.


Claim your Google My Business listing

If you haven’t claimed your Google My Business listing yet, what are you waiting for? It’s time! Claiming and optimizing Google My Business is a great way for Google to find out more information about your business, like the category of business you’re in, your address, phone number, business hours and more.

Since many voice searches are local in nature, having your Google My Business listing claimed and up-to-date can help increase your chances of showing up when a voice search is done pertaining to your local business, location or business category.

Conversational keywords

Now keywords are no longer just keywords. Keywords in the voice search world are long-tail+. The “plus” refers to the conversational phrases that you need to add when optimizing for conversational voice search.

Your keyword strategy must now be more conversational in nature and mimic how real people talk and ask questions verbally. Start thinking about the types of questions you get when customers call you on the phone to ask questions about your business, then start documenting and recording the exact words they use when they talk to your customer service representatives.

Once you have a list of questions and statements your customers give you over the phone, you can then start creating content pages that focus on those longer, more conversational search terms.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages

A great way to use the aforementioned customer data is to create FAQ pages that focus on those long-tail+ conversational keyword phrases. Try to group common questions on the same page. Go for natural-sounding questions and phrases instead of the old SEO-keyword phrases you’re probably used to using. If you need to create several different pages so that the voice search technologies have a better chance of pulling information from your site, go for it!

Also, anticipate more direct questions from searchers. Searches like “best digital camera” will start to disappear, and hyper-specific searches will become more popular. Example: “Alexa, where can I find a waterproof video camera that works with Facebook Live?” Offer quick, succinct answers to questions that voice searchers are asking.

It can seem like a daunting task, but creating these individual pages and snippets of content centered around specific semantic questions that people are asking can not only help your site show up in voice search results, it can also increase your chances of appearing in a Google “Featured Snippet.”

Structured data markup

Use structured data markup (applying the correct schemas) to give these voice search devices even more information about your site and content. Structured data markup from is crucial for your site, as it defines more specific information and makes it easier for search engines to accurately parse your content and understand its context.

It’s a new world for SEO!

Voice search is not going away. It’s time SEOs start optimizing their sites for this brave new world of voice search — so they’re not left behind.

View Benu Aggarwal’s full presentation from SMX West here:



Google Page Speed Insights Tool Now Shows Real User Speed To Your Pages

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Google announced they have updated the Pagespeed Insights tool to now show real user data from Chrome users, on how they access your pages. That means, if you are using Chrome and accessing this page, Google may use that data to determine how fast or slow this page is.

Google wrote the “PageSpeed Insights will use data from the Chrome User Experience Report to make better recommendations for developers and the optimization score has been tuned to be more aligned with the real-world data.”

In fact, Google shows two metrics, First Contentful Paint (FCP) and DOM Content Loaded (DCL). Google will rate your page Fast, Average, or Slow based on both metrics. So if both metrics are in the top one-third of their category, the page is considered fast.

Here is the chart:

  • Fast: The median value of the metric is in the fastest third of all page loads.
  • Slow: The median value of the metric is in the slowest third of all page loads.
  • Average: The median value of the metric is in the middle third of all page loads.

I ran the test on this site and it is pretty fast, to my surprise:

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My company site doesn’t even have the metric, which means that it doesn’t have enough data in the Chrome user experience report:

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Here is Search Engine Land’s report:

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Google said the PSI report now has several different elements:

  • The Speed score categorizes a page as being Fast, Average, or Slow. This is determined by looking at the median value of two metrics: First Contentful Paint (FCP) and DOM Content Loaded (DCL). If both metrics are in the top one-third of their category, the page is considered fast.
  • The Optimization score categorizes a page as being Good, Medium, or Low by estimating its performance headroom. The calculation assumes that a developer wants to keep the same appearance and functionality of the page.
  • The Page Load Distributions section presents how this page’s FCP and DCL events are distributed in the data set. These events are categorized as Fast (top third), Average (middle third), and Slow (bottom third) by comparing to all events in the Chrome User Experience Report.
  • The Page Stats section describes the round trips required to load the page’s render-blocking resources, the total bytes used by the page, and how it compares to the median number of round trips and bytes used in the dataset. It can indicate if the page might be faster if the developer modifies the appearance and functionality of the page.
  • Optimization Suggestions is a list of best practices that could be applied to this page. If the page is fast, these suggestions are hidden by default, as the page is already in the top third of all pages in the data set.

I should add that although page speed is super important for your web site, the impact it plays in ranking is minimal despite what rumors are out there.

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Mid-November Google Algorithm Search Ranking Update

Yesterday I saw signs of a spike in webmaster and SEO chatter about ranking changes in Google. That chatter has built up over the past 24 hours and the monitoring tools, most of them, have spiked as well. It looks like a more significant Google search ranking algorithm update was pushed out over the past 36 hours. It is hard to say exactly what happened but this is not at the levels of a major Penguin or Panda update but it is more significant than the daily Google updates does throughout the day.

Here are some of the comments from WebmasterWorld:

I’m seeing changes in the top 3 results. We’ve seen drops from ~#2 to ~#4

In my niche, there seems to be quite a lot of movement? My site in particular shows in position 7 (where it’s been for over 18 months), then 5, then 13, then back to 7

I’m seeing KWs jumping around too, fortunately in our favor.

There are several threads at the Google Webmaster Help forums also, but here is one of them:

I’m seeing massive drop in search traffic on one of my site, please check if there’s anything that i can do.- I have not received any messages on Search Console – Its an education site – I’ve attached screenshot for past few days analytics traffic data. – Is Google rolling out new algorithm update ?

And some on Twitter also, here is one:

@glenngabe @rustybrick @Marie_Haynes Seeing early signs of volatility in the SERPs since yesterday, which typically result in SEO community chatter within a day or so. Noticing anything on your end? 🙂

The example sites I’ve seen so far are ad heavy, low quality content sites but I only saw a handful of sites. It is way too early for me to say anything concrete about this update.

My concern is that Google said in the past, they will try to minimize updates before/during holidays and with black Friday and the big Thanksgiving shopping season next week, why now Google?

Here are some of the tools showing the update:


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Do you see changes in your rankings and Google organic traffic over the past 24 hours?

Google Search Algorithm & Ranking Update : October 7th – 9th

Looks like we had a Google algorithm update over the weekend, starting probably late Friday, October 6th and rolling out over the weekend. Most took notice on Saturday October 7th but the chatter is still fairly strong and will likely remain strong for the net couple of days.

The ongoing WebmasterWorld thread has a lot of weekend chatter around Google ranking shuffles and changes. Here are some of those comments from the thread:

I am seeing our site appear number 1 then number 2 then number 3 or 4 in incognito. Google is now shuffling the serps!

I am seeing now some massive changes on search the Friday 13th update may have been brought forward…. if I’m right I brag naming rights as the “Sunday B|oody Sunday Update” happy!

Huge improvments on my side. +65% comparing this sunday with last sunday.

Looks like my organic traffic is now back to normal and I’m seeing slight increase.

I don’t think we should name it the Sunday Bloody Sunday Update – since the update started before Sunday. Maybe you can call it the Columbus Weekend update since today is Columbus Day or something Fred related or we can not name it anything.

Here are the tools, almost all of them showing significant changes in Google:

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SERP Metrics:
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Advanced Web Rankings:
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RankRanger is the only tool not showing changes, which is weird – maybe there is a bug with their software or maybe they see something no one else does?

In any event, I don’t see any comments from Google on this and I am honestly tired of asking Google about these updates. Maybe that will change with Danny Sullivan joining Google or maybe it won’t? We will see.

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Google Search Ranking & Algorithm Update Underway? Chatter..

Google Algorithm Update

In the past 24 to 48 hours I have been noticing an uptick in SEO and webmaster chatter around a possible Google search algorithm and ranking update. It is not clear if it is related to specific algorithm changes or maybe changes to how things rank due to user interface changes but there are webmasters asking what is going on.

The ongoing WebmasterWorld thread has a nice amount of early chatter. I am seeing comments on my own site on the past day or so with complaints and other social media mentions.

This might be something Google reverted or is rolling out slowly, it is not clear. Of course, with any of these, without Google confirming it, we have no way to say for sure if Google did do an update. Google will just give us their typical line that they make updates all the time or say “Fred.”

Here are some of the mentions from the forum threads:

We had a horrific morning at 50% down, but it’s back to normal for the last hour

Whatever they did but today we have a drop of 50% right now with bounce at 99%.

I’m more than 50%, closer to 75%!

Seeing two sets of results. One obviously one better than the other.bad set: traffic about 5% no user action, no transactions, bounce 100% good result: normal traffic, user action, bounce at 30%, normal sales

I’m seeing a few drop in visitors on my site. Might be it has something to do with this update or else.

Virtually all the automated Google tracking tools show normal “weather” behavior and no real signs of a major update yet. Maybe they will pick up on it tomorrow or maybe like I said, it was just Google testing here and there.

I am not seeing mass complaints in the normal Google forums with specific webmasters complaining yet. I am just seeing this analysis from SEOs and Webmasters in the more Google focused forums.

Are you seeing ranking changes and traffic changes?


Google Algorithm & Ranking Update Chatter

Google Update Brewing

Starting over the weekend, mostly Saturday and Sunday on August 19th and 20th, there were some chatter in the webmaster channels around Google fluctuations in the search results. The chatter was intense for a day or so and died out a lot since then, but there was chatter.

Both WebmasterWorld and Black Hat World both had chatter around a weekend Google update. But like I said, the chatter mostly died down since, although the black hat forums are more “chatty” about it.

The threads are talking about both personal ups and downs in the Google search results and also overall lack of quality in the search results over the weekend.

Some of the tools show a spike of some sorts near the weekend, not that I fully trust the tools but it is good when measured against the chatter in the webmaster community.

Here is Mozcast:

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Here is Algoroo which is missing the 19th:

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SEMRush Sensor:

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To be 100% clear, the chatter is very limited compared to large updates but there is chatter and the tools do correlate to the chatter.

Did you notice ranking changes and traffic changes from Google since the weekend?


Poll: Is Black Hat SEO Dying?

There is a pretty large new thread at Black Hat World where “black hats” are discussing if their methods are dying out now. Black hat SEO is the SEO practice of going against Google’s webmaster guidelines in order to manipulate the Google search results in their own favor. These practices can include link spam, hacking into sites, hurting competitors, and many other forms of spam listed in the webmaster guidelines.

The thread was started a couple days ago and now has dozens and dozens of replies. Some believe it is way harder to do black hat SEO these days then it was years ago. Some are saying Google’s algorithms are way smarter now. Some are saying that Google acts too fast to remove their sites and the effort is not worth it. While others are saying it still works well and although it may be harder, it is still very effective if you know what you are doing.

Here are some quotes from the thread:

If it is an algorithm, it can be gamed. That should sum it up.

It’s just evolving.

Blackhat works. Yes, still it is working well. The question is, how experience you do have and how well you could implement them.

It all depends on what niche you are working on and how much you got power to dominate. It’s a game

Do you do black hat SEO? Do you know people that do? Please take our anonymous poll below and have your friends take it. I’d love to share the results in the near future.