Have you gotten a smart speaker in your home yet? Amazon may have been first with the Echo, but Google Home is the one we’re interested in today. Why is that? Marketing for Voice search is poised to be a key focus for the content marketing and SEO industries over the next year or two. By 2022, over half of US homes are expected to have one.
There have been worries from advertisers about these speakers. Right now, the manufacturers seem loathe to monetize their services with advertising. Amazon shut down a company that was trying to make an ad network through its services. As more people turn to voice search, marketers and advertisers are being put into a bind. You can’t click through on a voice query. The answers these speakers give you is taken from the web page that is considered to have the best information to solve your problem. And voice search results only provide you with what they think is the single best answer!
So why would a traditional web marketer care about voice search? The places search engines, especially Google, are harvesting information for their voice queries are from top ranked sites, those in Featured Snippets, and those with a strong local search SEO. Turns out that optimizing a site for voice search also optimizes a site for the latest SEO features. This is why tailoring their content marketing for voice search is one of latest challenges businesses face in the years to come.
Thanks to Google’s RankBrain, a new form of site structure has emerged to boost SEO rankings. Instead of focusing on backlinks, the AI is querying sites directly to determine what topics a site talks about and what questions it can answer. This has led to the development of topic clusters.
A topic cluster is quite similar to a pillar page with internal linking to related subjects. The central topic pillar answers a broad question. Smaller subpages link to the pillar post that answer more detailed questions about the topic. This link structure creates a semantic relationship between the posts. It is most useful for sites pursuing a content marketing campaign because the traditional tree structure makes it more difficult to create this semantic linking.
Topic Clusters: The Next Evolution of Content Strategy [Source: HubSpot]
Let’s take the example of a bank, call it BigBank, with an ongoing blog. The blog tries to address all of the different customers of the bank, from individuals to businesses to investors. Each of these groups has some questions and needs that are similar and some that are quite different.
A topic cluster starts by taking a high-level question and then breaking it down. A good one would be “How do I open an account at BigBank?” The general information that crosses all classes of customer would go on this top page. Linked from it would be more specific information for opening different account types (brokerage, money market, business credit, etc.) These pages all relate back to the topic of the central page, how to open an account.
If BigBank reorganized its blog along these lines, it would make it much easier for Google’s algorithm to read the semantic structure of the site. Since RankBrain took over the algorithm, Google has said it is increasingly improving its understanding of the semantic relevance and user intent behind different search terms. Whilst no-one knows the inner workings of its algorithm, it is logical that Google is increasingly applying more weight to the relevance of content when deciding rankings and relies less heavily on older standbys such as backlink quantity. All of this means more opportunities for marketers to develop content aimed at voice search!
A really easy way to get started with these is to create broad FAQ pages on your site with subpages that link to greater detail. Those detail pages could then have related links that go to your existing content pieces. This will let you keep the SEO value already in your blog and enhance it with topic clustering. A great way to see the difference between a core topic and its sub-topics is to study Featured Snippet requests.
In case you are unfamiliar, a Featured Snippet is a list of questions related to your query that appears right at the top of a page in Google. Clicking on a question will give a brief answer linked from another site. Further related questions are generated as you click on the answers.
Featured Snippets are the hot spot to grab for SEO at the time of writing. They’re above the fold and often above the first organic result. Plus, if your answer is really good, it can catapult above everything (!) and display the first part of your answer and give a link back to your site! How’s that for placement? Want an example? Try searching for “How do I cook bacon in the oven”.
Featured Snippet [Source: Google]
Featured Snippets appear to be the core resource Google uses to answer queries that aren’t handled by other knowledge cards (e.g. stuff in Google My Business.) The way to get a lot of Featured Snippets is to provide clear answers to queries. This study from SEMRush shows current best practices for earning Featured Snippet placements.
There are some key differences between voice search and text search. While text-based queries are typically somewhere between one and three words, people tend to use longer-tail keywords and natural questions when searching by voice. If you can align your answers with those Google selects for a query, there’s a great chance that users who search for this information are going to see your Featured Snippet linked to your website. This is the key to marketing for voice search.
If the information is good, they’ll click through and that opens all of the other marketing tactics at your disposal. Thus, while voice search may not have a direct marketing or advertising application (yet), Google is rewarding sites that give it data necessary for voice search with higher search engine result page (SERP) rankings and Featured Snippets placement.
It’s time to start reorganizing our websites to take advantage of these changes. Will the top organic spot still be valuable? Sure. Will PPC still have a role? Yes. But Google search is transitioning from being just a search engine to a fully-fledged virtual assistant. Now is the time to start building pages that give Google, Amazon, Apple, and other virtual assistants the answers they need.
For more inspiration on how to identify topics that your audience is really looking for, click on the link below to download our eBook on how to create your data-driven content strategy: