Voice Search Part II: The Old SEO vs. New SEO Smackdown

Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)

Voice search is here, and it has more than a few content marketing pros more than a little freaked out. If you could read the minds of copywriters around the world, here’s what you’d hear (translated to English, of course): “Another freaking content issue we have to address?!! Will it ever end?”

I recently wrote a ‘Voice Search for Beginners’ article here on the Marketsmiths blog. It included stats on smart-speaker ownership and three effective tips for optimizing website copy for marketing’s new world order. 

Today’s article is Voice Search Part II. Where the “Beginner” article advised how to keep existing content competitive, the below article provides insights to creating top-performing future content. Read on for an explanation of the factors that determine content quality and search result position for voice search. 

Featured Snippets 

This term should be the number one goal of every online marketing content writer seeking to make the most of voice search. 

What is a featured snippet, exactly? It’s the answer to a search query that typically appears in the first position on Google SERPs. 

How is optimizing for it different than the SEO you’ve been doing? That depends on whether you’re practicing new or old SEO. 

    • Old SEO centers on typed queries as keywords. New SEO centers on verbal queries as questions. 
    • Old SEO aims for first page results. New SEO aims for first position results. 

These distinctions are critical. Yes, old SEO dreamed of being the first result, but all was not lost if its pages appeared in positions two, three, or even ten. An oft-cited stat among SEO pros is that 75% of people don’t click past the first page of search results. (When I worked in SEO, we referred to any page appearing anywhere after page one as a “Jimmy Hoffa.”) 

New SEO multiplies this competition by a billion. That’s because Google-enabled voice search delivers just one result—the featured snippet. Thus, if your content is in position two, three, or ten, it may as well be Jimmy Hoffa, because it’s not likely to ever be seen again.  

Natural Language Processing (NLP)

So keywords are no longer Google’s primary tool for delivering search results. What then is Google using to determining relevance? The answer is Natural Language Processing (NLP), a component of AI wherein a computer program can read and conceptualize content as a human would. 

In terms of Google and SEO, NLP allows crawlers to grade your pages for syntax and grammar; specifically sentence structure and context of phrasing. (If you’re an online marketer who remembers the bad old days of keyword stuffing—just a decade or so ago—you know this is pretty incredible.) With NLP, Google crawlers can even tell if an article is well-written, making the oft-touted but rarely employed “write for users, not SEO” a mandate (versus a suggestion). 

People Also Ask (PAA)

You’ve heard the phrase, “down an internet rabbit hole?” People Also Ask (PAA) is partly to blame for that rabbit hole. 

What is PAA? It’s a single result on a Google SERP (search engine result page) that is represented as a box of questions related to a user’s original query. When clicked, these questions expand like an accordion to show answers that Google has pulled from various websites. Below each answer is the URL of the referenced website and a “Search for” link that drives users to yet another Google SERP—this time for the PAA question the user clicked on. 

Four years ago, Mozcast reported a 1,723% year over year growth in PAA questions appearing in SERPs. As of this writing, Moz reported PAA questions appearing in 90% of SERPs. A single PAA question can show up in as many as 21 unique SERPs. 

How does this relate to voice search, and what does it mean for you? Put simply: It strengthens the case for making questions, not keywords, your content’s true north. 

If reports that more than 70 million U.S. households will own a voice-assisted device by 2020 are true, crafting content that plays well with conversational interfaces—i.e. presenting information in plain language that asks and answers common queries—will give you a decided edge against competitors who haven’t done the same. 

Need help putting voice search concepts to work in your content? Contact the copywriters at MarketSmiths today.  

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Amanda Cargill

Amanda Cargill is a Brooklyn-based writer, video producer, and marketing communications strategist specializing in food, travel, culture and lifestyle content in domestic, multicultural, and international markets.

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