Optimize for Voice Search and Rich Answers Simultaneously

Published Nov, 11 2015

Ever talked to your phone to search for something? Did you get a “rich answer” with information that appears directly in search results?

Maybe you asked “how much does it cost to repaint a car?” and got an immediate answer, like this example, which Google sourced from one of our clients:

cost to repaint car

With the use of Google voice search rising — indeed doubling in 2014 — and rich answers like the one above shown to increase site traffic and account for ~20% of results, you’re probably thinking it’d be neat if your business was in on the action. We’re here to help!

Voice Search and Rich Answers: Two Heads of the Same Coin

I started to plan out two articles, one about positioning websites to benefit from voice search, and the other on how to get content featured as a “rich answer.”

But the more I thought about it, and the deeper I researched, the more I realized that the two opportunities have a great deal in common, and that the recommendations are basically the same. In other words, two birds, one cupcake. (I prefer the less violent, more nonsensical metaphor).

Optimizing for Both Voice Search and Rich Answers At the Same Time

voice answers googleThis may come as a surprise to no one, but the “secret” to voice and rich answer optimization is quality content that answers questions authoritatively and in an easy-to-follow way. In fact, this sort of optimization is really just an extension of blog best practices, and fundamentally, it’s the same advice that SEO/content types like us have been giving for years. But now there is additional potential in following through!

Thanks, Hummingbird

The opportunity for this dual optimization is in big part thanks to the Google “Hummingbird” algorithm overhaul of 2013, designed to better interpret the intent of entire search queries, not just keywords. This technology powers both voice search search and rich answers, since more natural-sounding questions can now be better connected to quality corresponding answers.

So how do you compete for voice search and rich result traffic? There’s no exact science, but there are definitely some best practices to consider. Here are my top five:

Five Ways to Optimize for Voice Search and Rich Answers

1) Start with FAQs

This was always my favorite piece of advice to bloggers, and now it’s got even more potential. If someone has asked you a question about your business — let alone asked you a question so many times it warrants FAQ status — then chances are very good other people elsewhere are searching the Internet for an answer as well. As a representative of your industry, you have an opportunity to produce the best answer on the web!

2) Authoritative Content

Now, not just any answer will do. Your answer doesn’t necessarily need to be long, but make sure it is thorough and complete — worthy of its own page or post. If you cite facts or resources, reference them with links. Make sure to work through all of the angles and implicit followups that people will undoubtedly have. It’s difficult to suggest an objective way to measure “definitive,” but that’s how your answer should feel: definitive.

3) Multimedia Answers

Bonus points for recognizing that not everyone can or wants to read your brilliant answer. By including a video answer with accompanying transcript (if not covered by the post), you are boosting the quality and engagement potential of your page. You can ensure your video is mobile responsive — or works well on all devices — using this nifty converter tool.

At a minimum, consider including images, if they help answer the question. If you do add images, make sure to reduce the resolution of these so you don’t slow down page load times, which is definitely a factor of SEO. As a rule of thumb, images should be about as big as they appear on the screen (I like to do screenshots after opening large photo files).

4) Appropriate Metadata

An answer should have enough content to support its own page, and that page gets its own metadata. Use an SEO support tool like Yoast to make sure your page title, URL, article heading, and meta descriptions all communicate the question you are answering. If you included images, you’ll want to make sure those have an alt tag, which is basically just a description of the image (since computers can’t read pictures).

5) Formating & Accessibility

This one’s a biggie. In addition to your site being mobile-friendly (not sure? test here), make sure to clearly communicate your answer using proper formatting. Break up sections to separate ideas using header tags as appropriate, and make good use of bulleted lists. Be clear and concise, avoid fluff, and dump industry jargon people won’t and don’t need to understand. For more on formatting and accessibility, check out this series on business writing tips.

Why Bother? Leapfrog More Competitive Websites

Blogging to show up for target keywords is tough business, but voice/rich answers offer an opportunity to punch above your weight. That’s because unlike in most search queries, where the most authoritative site tends to dominate other, potentially even better options, voice search and rich answers are on the lookout to return what appears to be the best answer, and don’t necessarily default to higher authority domains, or domains that tend to have more quality links pointing to them.

Stone Temple did a study finding that over half of domains with rich answers had domain authorities under 60. Many small businesses are in the 20-40 range, which represents a large slice of the rich answer pie, with top authority sites representing a much smaller one. This breakdown suggests there is no domain authority bias present, which means small businesses are freed up to compete against bigger competitors by developing better answers to search questions.

domain authority rich answers

Quality Answers = Great SEO = Awesome for Business

I love this topic because all the elements are synced up to providing — and being rewarded for providing — quality answers to the questions people are literally searching for. That’s good for SEO, but it’s also great for establishing credibility and earning customer trust. And that’s awesome for business.

Content production is a challenge, but with voice and rich answers, everyone has an even better opportunity to compete based on quality.

Sound like pie-in-the-sky? If the local collision center can become the national “answer” for how much it costs to repaint a car without even setting out to earn that distinction, then you have a shot, too. So think closely about your niche, and have at it!

 To paraphrase the immortal words of Derek Zoolander, Stephen would love to continue talking about this conversation. Come see him and other online marketing experts at next year’s SoundBoard conference on May 5th!