Preparing for Voice Search (Part 3 of 3) - Informational Search Optimization

Voice search is a hot topic of 2019. In the first of this three-part series, we laid out some statistics that suggest consumers are rapidly adopting this emerging technology. How do marketers capitalize on this growth? The first step is to understand how voice search platforms are sourcing content for their results. In part two, we analyzed voice search results for local-intent queries - keyword searches used to find a local business - and how they compared to what we see in the traditional SERPs. In part three, we shift our focus to informational queries - searches done for educational purposes.

Informational keyword searches are less commercially motivated than local-intent keywords, and less likely to result directly in a phone call, sale or store visit. Instead, informational keywords offer marketers an opportunity to capture prospects early in the consumer journey by providing credible information and, simultaneously, raising awareness for their products or services.

Methodology

We conducted our analysis using Google Home, Amazon Echo and an Apple iPhone (Siri) and compared the results to search results on a desktop computer - looking specifically for ranking factors in common across platforms. Web searches can produce varying results depending on your browsing history, so searches were performed using an ‘incognito’ browser to minimize personalization and localization.

The searches we used for our informational keyword test include a variety of queries that could be of interest to marketers across industries:

  • What are the symptoms of strep throat? (healthcare)
  • What is a stone massage? (professional services)
  • What are the most popular hikes in Colorado? (recreation)
  • What is the average price of a Virtual Office? (B2B)
  • Good inexpensive winter jacket? (e-commerce)

Our goal is to determine what is driving results for each of the individual platforms to identify tactics marketers can use to gain visibility on informational searches in voice search results.

Results

Unlike the voice search results we got with local-intent keywords, which yielded up to five different choices, informational queries are producing a single result that attempts to accurately answer the question posed in the query. We also encountered results where the source website was not referenced.

In general, there is less of a clear path to monetizing informational query optimization for voice than we saw with local-intent keyword optimization. Marketers looking to capitalize on voice search for informational queries should do so with the goal of awareness.

The following analysis compares voice and traditional organic results for five informational queries. Specifically, we are looking for insights into the role of organic rankings on voice rankings, highlighting where brands can be sourced for queries where they don’t have a dominant organic presence.

Google Home Results

Search Query Source for Voice Search Result Google SERP Result
What are the symptoms of strep throat? mayoclinic.org Page 1 / Result 3
What is a stone massage? wikipedia.org Page 1 / Result 3 / Position “0”
What are the most popular hikes in Colorado? theoutbound.com Page 1 / Result 1 / Position “0”
What is the average price of a Virtual Office? fitssmallbusiness.com Page 1 / Result 1
Good inexpensive winter jacket? gearwear.com Page 1 / Result 6

All of the results of the Google voice search test for informational queries pulled content directly from sites that were highly ranked in the traditional Google SERPs, suggesting that traditional SEO tactics that push sites up the rankings in desktop search are applicable for voice search as well.

Why aren’t the top results from voice search not also the top results in the traditional SERP? A voice search result must be concise and accurately address the question posed by the searcher. It is likely that websites that deliver content that better meets this criteria can be sourced for a voice search result over a higher ranking site. We see this same type of logic driving Google’s Featured Snippets and People Also Ask results, which surface content from sites that do the best job of directly answering a question posed in a search - even if the site isn’t the highest ranked organic site.

What is the implication here? The way content is delivered matters. Voice searches are predominantly done in natural language queries - full sentences that reflect the way we talk. Providing content on your website that mimics this style, along with concise, digestible content blocks, is an excellent way to optimize your site for voice; verbose content with drawn-out explanations is not going to perform well.

Amazon Results

Search Query Source for Voice Search Result
What are the symptoms of strep throat? Mayo Clinic
What is a stone massage? No Site Referenced
What are the most popular hikes in Colorado? No Site Referenced
What is the average price of a Virtual Office? Couldn’t Answer
Good inexpensive winter jacket? Amazon Result

Our analysis of Amazon’s Alexa demonstrated far less clarity into what is driving its results. As you would imagine, our E-commerce search query featured an Amazon result. And the healthcare query featured content from highly authoritative Mayo Clinic. Of the three remaining results, two provided answers without referencing the source and Alexa was unable o answer the other query. It appears that Amazon Alexa currently doesn’t have a clearly defined strategy for providing answers to informational queries that lack a commercial or local intent.

Siri Results

Search Query Source for Voice Search Result
What are the symptoms of strep throat? Wikipedia
What is a stone massage? Wikipedia
What are the most popular hikes in Colorado? Top 5 Google Result
What is the average price of a Virtual Office? Top 5 Google Results
Good inexpensive winter jacket? 5 Local Results pulled from Apple Map

Because Siri is associated with devices that have a screen, i.e. iPhone and iPad, the potential for garnering traffic from voice search result is much higher than we see with voice-only devices. Voice searches are accompanied by a ‘clickable’ list of the websites that were sourced. So it is undoubtedly worth incorporating Siri into your voice search optimization plans. However, we noticed no logic to the results we found that were specific to Apple: Siri is sourcing content from Wikipedia, Google and Apple Maps, reinforcing our belief that a good, traditional SEO strategy is still essential in today's voice-first world.

Summary

In the traditional search world, informational keywords present a considerable opportunity for awareness marketing. Without the constraints of hyper-localized results, marketers can extend the geographic reach of their brand by being a credible, online source of answers to informational queries. In a voice search world, the opportunity is less clear-cut, given the reduced number of search results and the lack of integration with a browser for website visits. But with an opportunity this big, you can’t afford to wait on the sidelines. Whether you develop an app or 'skill' dedicated to answering informational queries, or you continue trying to optimize for voice-initiated web searches, it’s critical you do something; your competitors certainly will.

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