The Power Of Voice Search And Its Effect On Your SEO

Google has come a long way from its origins in the last 20+ years.  While it was originally developed to be a search engine and help people find information on websites, it is moving toward an answer engine which in 2019, answered over 50% of queries without a user clicking on a search result.  You read that right – over 50% of searches done on Google in 2019 did not result in a click through to a website!

Socio-political concerns aside, what does this mean for local businesses?  If people aren’t clicking on search results does that mean SEO is dead?  Well, not exactly but it does mean that we need to be aware of how people are using Google and how Google is identifying search intent to serve different results in different formats.

Zero Click Searches

Let’s start by looking at what we know about zero click searches.  These are searches where the user resolves their query in the search results page without needing to click on a result.  Some zero click searches are a result of information that Google knows to be true.  For example, if you do a search about sports, Google will tell you game times and scores of current games that are served up from its own data sources.  This is also true for questions like “how old is” a celebrity or other objective data that Google has learned.

When Google doesn’t have an answer for a question sometimes it will serve what we refer to as “featured snippets.”  You can see an example of a featured snippet below.  While featured snippets used to be considered position zero with 10 results following, they are now position 1 with 9 results after.  This is important to remember because a site used to be able to rank twice on page one (once in the featured snippet and once in organic results).  Now if a site ranks in the featured snippet it is automatically pushed to the top of page two in the organic section because Google doesn’t want to serve duplicate results on page one (source).

These featured snippets are acquired through a combination of traditional ranking factors and schema as well as some specific on-page factors that don’t seem to be important for organic rankings.  Our research has shown that sites that rank in the top 12 positions organically are equally eligible to acquire the featured snippet spot.

Do Featured Snippets Increase or Decrease Organic Traffic?

This is a valid question and the answer is that it depends.  If you have the featured snippet for a query like “what language do they speak in France?” That search in general is going to get very few clicks because the answer is one word and doesn’t require a user to read an article.  However a recipe for “how to make butter chicken” could benefit significantly from holding a featured snippet, because the snippet does not fit the full recipe or instructions.  By ranking first, people will begin to read the featured snippet and then click through to the site to read the rest.  In this scenario, the snippet is effectively a long, prominent, and better laid out meta description.

How does this all affect local businesses?  This will depend significantly on the type of business you have and the terms for which you want to rank.  For example, if someone is searching directly for the service you provide Google (almost) never displays a featured snippet.  For example, a search for “furnace repair company in city” will display a local maps pack, but not a featured snippet.

Where a furnace repair company stands to gain traffic from featured snippets is in local informational queries.  For example, “do I need a permit to install a new furnace in Winnipeg?”  In this example, the query is both informational and has local intent and ranking with a featured snippet could help increase traffic to the website.

If the business targets a national or international geography, then informational searches without local intent are also effective sources of featured snippet traffic.  For a local business however it may not be valuable to have a featured snippet that attracts global traffic if you only service one city.  An example of this would be something like “how to get rid of red wasps.”

Optimizing GMBs for Local Business Voice Search

If you have a business that people visit like a restaurant, instead of a service area business, it is definitely valuable to optimize voice search data sources so that if somebody asks their phone something like “Give me directions to a Chinese restaurant near me” or “Call a pizza delivery place” that your business comes up as one of the first options.  Below are the most important business listings that you need to have optimized to get traffic from voice searches from different devices:

Search: Google
Business listings: Apple maps
Reviews: Yelp

Search: Bing
Business listings: Yelp and more recently Yext
Reviews: Yelp

Google Assistant
Search: Google
Business listings: Google my Business
Reviews: Google my Business

Search: Bing
Business listings: Bing
Reviews: Yelp

Non-Zero Click Voice Search

We talked about voice search being answered with snippets, and voice searches being answered with local business information, but what about voice searches that simply trigger a traditional search results page?  In the first two scenarios, we are assuming that most users aren’t looking at a screen and want a verbal answer from their smart device.  However many people now use voice search even when looking at their device because it’s more convenient than typing a search into the search box.

In this case, optimization becomes similar to optimizing for traditional search with a few small differences.  First, data shows that voice searches are typically longer strings of words than traditional typed searches.  Secondly, they are much more frequently phrased as questions. By including questions and answers in the content you can increase your chances of showing up for voice searches that are phrased as questions.

People search Google for answers to their questions—with the right content and optimization, they can also find your business. Taking advantage of featured snippets will get your website a higher click-through rate. Writing Q&A’s that appear in voice searches can create more traffic. But the type of content that your website needs will vary depending on the industry. To help navigate the constantly-changing world of Google search results, our SEO experts can help. Our proven track record shows that we know how to develop content that generates better results. We’ll take care of the technical side so that you can focus on providing great service.