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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Voice search offers publishers a big opportunity. Here’s how to make the most of it

September 19, 2019 | By Erik Martin—Independent Journalist @Martinspired

Content providers have always known that word of mouth can work wonders. Now, they have to apply that principle by speaking up—literally—in order to reach more consumers via voice search.

Voice searches already account for about 20% of mobile queries. By next year half of all online searches will be performed via voice. Yet only 4% of businesses surveyed regard themselves as voice-search ready. Publishers who are behind this important tech curve risk being silenced by rivals intent on commanding the conversation.

The talk on the street

“It’s no surprise that voice as an interface for technology and information is taking off so quickly,” says Rachel Reed, senior innovation manager for food, lifestyle and entertainment company Meredith Corporation. “As consumers, we are drawn to technology that understands us, empathizes with us, and can ultimately predict our needs and wants. As publishers, voice paves the way for us to create more personalized and meaningful connections with our audiences.”

Bryan Osima, software engineer and CEO of Uvietech Software Solutions, says people are relying more on voice search for three primary reasons: convenience, speed, and accuracy. “We are bombarded with tons of information every day and we have shorter attention spans. So, the speed of getting the information we need is paramount,” he says. “The primary devices for that today are smartphones, smart speakers, and wearables with built-in smart home assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant.”

Publishers who choose not to optimize for voice search are leaving a lot of traffic on the table, Greg Secrist, cofounder of BKA Content, believes. “This area is especially beneficial for news organizations and other content providers who want to increase their chances of their content being found and consumed by readers,” says Secrist.

Real world success stories

Reed can attest to how crucial voice search is becoming for content companies. For years, Meredith has employed a predictive framework that enables its brands to dynamically serve content to targeted users. Now, they’re extending this personalization and predictive framework to voice to make informed predictions about and deliver useful voice content to individual users.

“We employ a two-pronged approach. First, we’ve implemented voice search optimization to ensure our content surfaces in response to general user queries. We are seeking to own the phrase, not just the keyword, by providing shorter responses to longer queries and implementing concise headlines and summaries,” notes Reed. “Second, we are building data-informed voice-first experiences designed for different platforms. This involves identifying the most meaningful use cases for voice and launching interactive experiences to address what we see as unmet needs in each space.”

Currently, Meredith is focused on voice search categories related to health and wellness, entertainment, and food. It recently launched two skills: Balance by Health, which offers daily wellness inspiration and motivation tips; and Entertainment Weekly’s The Must List, which provides an exclusive look at the top movies, TV shows, and movies that its editors recommend.

Secrist, whose business writes and packages customized content for clients, has also been working hard to ensure his team’s compositions are properly optimized for voice. “We use conversational language and semantics to make sure our content is compatible with voice search. Thinking about the way a customer would use their voice to access certain information is important when creating voice search-friendly content,” says Secrist.

Best practices for voice search

To improve voice search optimization (VSO) results, Osima recommends the following best practices:

  • Analyze all content carefully and think about as many contexts and questions users could have about that piece of content.
  • Provide concise yet comprehensive answers to those contextualized questions that could be returned in a voice search result.
  • Structure the content as clearly as possible with logical headings and sections that explicitly detail what each section is focused on. Content found in a frequently asked questions page often get the best returns on voice search. While you can’t make every page on your site FAQ, you can provide a similar structure: Employ a heading that’s descriptive and which could be a contextualized question or query a user would have, and then provide the answer immediately after.
  • Use structured metadata, rich snippets, and other tags made primarily for search engines to ensure that they precisely understand what your content is about.
  • Make sure your site and pages load very quickly.
  • Increase backlinks to your site to improve your domain authority. Search engines want to be sure that, as much as possible, they are returning results from very credible sources. Your overall domain authority is the biggest indicator of that.
  • Pay attention to semantics by targeting long-tail keywords related to the subject matter. For example, a consumer may be searching for “pants,” while others might refer to them as “trousers”; be sure your content addresses both terms.

Keep it simple for success

However, “skip buzzwords, as they don’t work in voice search. Drill down into the most generic keywords your business uses to attract an audience,” suggests Andrew Schrage, CEO of the popular personal finance blog Money Crashers. “Remember that voice search inherently involves brevity. So, you want to strip things down and find out what customers really want to know about your business in as few words as possible.”

Also, aim for content that reads in a conversational manner. That means ensuring a high Flesh-Kincaid readability score – 70 or higher is ideal.

“Having simple answers to questions is important, as voice search is looking for the simplest way to answer the users question. If your content has lengthy paragraphs answering something, it is not voice search friendly,” says Secrist.

Lastly, keep your eyes on the prize: Make a strong effort to identify the value and utility your brand provides and choose a unique way to deliver that utility via voice.

“Give users a reason to come back,” Reed advises. “Test, learn, listen to feedback, and continue to optimize.”

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