Voice search used to seem like something from a sci-fi film, but these days it’s becoming the norm. Using Google doesn’t require a screen anymore – in fact, Gartner predicts that in 4 years’ time 30% of searches will be screen-free. A lot of statistics are flying around about voice search right now because it’s on the brink of becoming the next big thing. The announcement of the beta for Google Speakable Markup is a small step into a future of voice search. But what do we really know about it?
The beta of the Google Speakable schema has just been launched. This means that Google Assistant will be able to read marked sections of news content aloud. The new schema.org specification is in beta in the US and it’s only a matter of time before it launches around the world. While Google Speakable markup isn’t going to change the world of SEO, it does provide some key insights about the ways SEO is going to change in the future.
In this post, we’re going to dive into Google Speakable and how we think you should be preparing to use it to improve your SEO strategy.
What is schema?
SiSchema.org was founded by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex to create a universal data structuring vocabulary. Schema markup (in simple terms) is back-end code that helps search engines classify your content. While HTML tags help browsers understand how to display their content, they don’t give any indication of what that content means. To structure that information, schema provides context.
Schema structures the metadata on your website in a way that search engines can understand and index, so they can return richer results. Schema markup boosts your website’s chance of being featured for a rich snippet on Google, which is important for voice search results because of its short, digestible format. Rich snippets also earn your business the highly coveted spot of ‘position #0’ on Google’s SERP – this will rank your business above even the first result. That alone is a real incentive to use schema markup.
What is Speakable?
Speakable is a schema that lets you markup sections of content that would be suitable answers for voice searches. Speakable will use Google Text-to-Speech (TTS) to read out answers to voice queries. As Google have noted on the beta page for Speakable:
‘The Google Assistant uses Speakable structured data to answer topical news queries on smart speaker devices. When users ask for news about a specific topic, the Google Assistant returns up to three articles from around the web and supports audio playback using TTS for sections in the article with Speakable structured data. When the Google Assistant reads aloud a Speakable section, it attributes the source and sends the full article URL to the user’s mobile device.’
While voice search capabilities are available around the world, Google Speakable Markup is currently limited to English language queries on Google Home devices in the US.
Speakable schema markup offers a new opportunity for marketers. They’ll be able to use schema markup to identify content that’s suitable for voice search. In July 2018, Google announced the schema, saying it would allow ‘eligible publishers to markup sections of a news article that are most relevant to be read aloud by the Google Assistant’. Google is the first company to announce implementation of this schema – it’s a significant step towards developing more intelligent search engine results.
A brief history of voice search
Since the launch of Google’s voice search app in 2008, talking to your devices has become totally normal. Amazon followed suit with Alexa, Apple with Siri, and Microsoft with Cortana. Ever since, voice search has become increasingly intelligent. Google have put a lot of work into improving voice search; Google Hummingbird saw the core algorithm of Google become substantially more intuitive. A key part of this was semantic search. This allows Google to predict user intent with context. For instance, after the implementation of Hummingbird, Google can recommend you the best restaurant near your location rather than the best restaurant in the world.
Another huge development was conversational speech. In 2013, Google revealed their improved search experience, saying ‘people communicate with each other by conversation, not by typing keywords’. Conversational speech was significant for voice search, because it allows for a more natural user experience. As Google said in their announcement blog:
‘Soon, you’ll be able to just say, hands-free, “OK Google, will it be sunny in Santa Cruz this weekend?” and get a spoken answer. Then, you’ll be able to continue the conversation and just follow up with “how far is it from here?” if you care about the drive or “how about Monterey?” if you want to check weather somewhere else.’
These developments haven’t just been good for voice search, they’ve revolutionised the way we search for information.
What’s the future of voice search?
It’s difficult to predict exactly how we’re going to adopt voice search. Human behaviour is tricky that way. What we do know though, is that the way we consume content has become more and more streamlined over time. Where we used to have to trawl multiple webpages for exactly what we needed, we can now ask one question that a search engine can accurately answer.
Google published its guidelines for how Google Assistant answers queries. This is a great insight into how not just voice searches, but all searches, are going to evolve. Natural language processing allows us to find what we need in our own terms, and conversational speech predicts what we might want next – we expect quick and simple results. Voice search is a natural progression of what we’ve seen from search engines in the past 10 years. At I/O 2018, Google demonstrated the unbelievable capabilities of Google Assistant – onstage, the AI assistant successfully made a phone call booking an appointment without being recognised as an AI. The technology powering the AI is Google Duplex, and it’s only going to become more powerful.
As marketers, we should be very excited and aware of the progression voice search has made and will surely make in the future.
What are the benefits of optimising your SEO for Speakable?
For businesses, structured data markup is essential. Search engine spiders being able to parse your website will improve your domain authority, which will help you rank higher than your competitors. We don’t know all the details on Speakable just yet, as it’s still in beta, but the schema itself indicates ways we can optimise our content, especially for mobile. Voice search is a format designed for quick and easy questions – you’re more likely to search for a recipe or a news article than you are a treatise on ethics.
In order to optimise your content for voice search, you won’t have to change your SEO strategy dramatically (at least, not yet!). Optimising content for voice search is a similar process to getting a featured snippet: your content should answer a specific question your user has. This format transfers well to voice search, so your SEO strategy won’t need overhauling, just updating.
Let’s look at some things you can do right now to get Google Speakable ready.
How to make sure your SEO strategy is ready for Speakable
Use schema for rich results
Make sure important information is tagged appropriately so that Google can recognise key information like your phone number or business address. Using schema increases your chances at rich results for your website. Google keep their algorithms to themselves, so we don’t know the exact correlation between the two but optimising for both can only improve your SERP presence. Position zero at the top of the page is prime position for your business, so it’s worth using all the relevant markup you can. You can find the full schema list here.
Update your Google business listing
Considering the nature of Google Hummingbird, users are going to be searching for businesses local to them. Keeping your information up to date will increase your chances of appearing as a search result when users search for businesses like yours. High quality images, CTAs, relevant information and good reviews will signal to Google and your leads that your business is trustworthy. Google My Business can also show you how leads are finding your business, giving you a data-based insight to which keywords you should be optimising on your website.
Understand your user’s intent
What voice search indicates about user intent is that there are different ways users will interact with your content. People behave differently when they’re speaking aloud than when they’re typing. Rather than typing the two or three keywords they need, people are more likely to use full sentences when speaking aloud. That means longtail keywords will become essential when you’re optimising for voice search.
If you’re using schema to markup content as voice searchable, it should be content that your users would verbally search for. Your user-intent models should take voice search into account because these users are looking for the simplest information you have to offer.
So, is Google Speakable markup going to revolutionise SEO?
Google Speakable markup is a small step, but it’s a small step in an exciting new direction. It gives us a lot to think about when it comes to the future of SEO strategizing. Between algorithm changes and finding the perfect keywords, marketers are always finding new ways to innovate. By embracing voice search early, we’ll be ahead of the curve.
At Fifty Five and Five we’re invested in staying at the forefront of digital marketing and creating effective SEO strategies. Find out how we can help your business get ready for the future here.
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