In 2017, nearly 50% of U.S. adults used digital voice assistants, according to Pew Research Center. Today, that number is probably much higher: Voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant have become essential tools.
The rise of digital assistants has created a new subgenre of search engine optimization (SEO). Voice search optimization, or VSO, is a set of best practices that help websites show up in searches conducted via voice.
The good news: If your website is accessible for people with disabilities, it’s also well-positioned for VSO.
Why is Voice Search Optimization important?
When your website appears in any type of search results, your audience grows. Voice search results may be particularly beneficial for building trust with your users and establishing your business’s authority.
Practically, if your website works well with voice assistants, it also provides a better experience for users. Voice assistants look for content that provides clear information with appropriate semantic markup — and if your content is readable to voice assistants, it’s more likely to work with screen readers (software that converts text to audio or braille) and other assistive technologies (AT).
To appear in voice search results, websites must have a clear structure
So, how can you improve your website’s presence in voice search results?
For starters, your website must be programmatically determinable: All of the visual features should be presented in a way that machines can understand.
This is where SEO overlaps with digital accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requires content to have appropriate semantic markup, which happens to be the best practice for technical SEO.
Review your website and make sure it follows these requirements:
- Subheadings and lists use appropriate HTML.
- Buttons have appropriate labels.
- Tables are only used to present data that belongs in tables.
- Each page has the HTML lang attribute, which defines the native language of the page.
- Images have alternative text (also called alt text) describing their purpose and function.
When your site has a clear text structure and identifiable controls, search engines can present it to users — particularly, voice assistant users and screen reader users.
Write content for users, not search engines
Keywords are important for SEO, but they’re becoming less important as search algorithms become more complex.
Google and other search engines are adept at recognizing synonyms and analyzing the context of each website. For example, if someone searches for “best cat foods,” a blog called “best kitty foods" might still appear in the search results, despite the different terminology.
With that in mind, the best practice is to write naturally. Search engines and voice assistants want to deliver concise, accurate answers to their users. If you structure your web page in a predictable way and provide valuable information, you’re well positioned for voice search.
Once again, this is also the best practice for accessibility. Websites that use clear, simple language are more useful for people with a wide range of abilities.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Think about the reader. If your webpage answers a question, try to provide the answer right away — don’t force the user to read through pages of content to find the information they want.
- Use subheadings, images, and lists to break up long content. Make sure those elements have appropriate HTML.
- Make sure each page has a unique, concise title tag. Title tags help people navigate your website, and they’re crucial for SEO.
- Don’t try to force keywords into subheadings or title tags. Use keyphrases naturally; don’t worry about hitting a certain keyword density.
Remember, search engines look for consistent, high-quality content. By testing content against WCAG, you can ensure that your website is readable for search engine spiders — and for people who use assistive technologies to browse the web.
Digital accessibility helps your website build organic traffic
1 in 4 U.S. adults have some type of disability. If you’re ignoring 25% of your potential customers, you’re doing something wrong.
WCAG helps content creators find issues that impact users with disabilities, and as we’ve discussed in other blogs, an accessible website can be a powerful tool for business growth. When your website works well for every type of user, you can expect more traffic, more user engagement, and higher conversion rates across a variety of channels.