Integrating SEO & VSO: Effective visibility for digital communicators
Emerging technologies are quickly changing the way people find what they’re looking for online. For more than a decade, we’ve been hearing all about search engine optimisation (SEO) and how to make content relevant to the all-powerful search engines. But, as technology advances, digital communicators now have to consider more than just SEO to keep their organisations visible online.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and smart speakers are just two examples of the technologies already reshaping the way people interact with the online world. These technologies enable voice searches – as opposed to typing a search – which, in turn, created the relatively new concept of voice search optimisation (VSO). VSO, in a nutshell, is the optimisation of content, keywords and keyword phrases for searches done through voice assistants.
In the era of the content shock – where the amount of content published vastly exceeds our ability to consume it – an integrated strategy embracing both, SEO and VSO, is required for truly effective digital communication. Read on to find out more.
Creating effective visibility with SEO and VSO
Together, SEO and VSO make up “effective visibility” which is the ease at which your organisation can be found online by customers and other stakeholders. Effective SEO strategies will help your content to be ranked high on Google, Yahoo and Bing search engine result pages, typically resulting in higher organic traffic and conversions. VSO, on the other hand, is the practice of optimising your content to be found through voice searches, often with the aim to reach the so-called ‘position zero‘.
As voice tech is still in its infancy, SEO remains, at least for now, the dominating force within search optimisation. In fact, SEO shows a 15% conversion rate on average – print ads and direct mail perform much worse, with a less than 2% average conversion rate. No wonder that the SEO services market in the US alone is forecasted to reach the $80 billion mark in 2020 with the global market expected to grow by more than 14% annually until 2022.
But, VSO is also on the rise: according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 71% of people would prefer using a voice assistant over typing a search. Already today, 31% of smartphone users worldwide use voice tech at least once a week and it is expected that 50% of all online searches will be voice-based by 2020. As Albert Creixell – (Alexa Skills) Partner Business Development Lead at Amazon – puts it, “utterances are the new hashtags“.
Consequently, moving forward, SEO and VSO need to work in tandem to provide digital communicators with the visibility they need; but how can you effectively integrate these two approaches?
Ranking criteria, opportunities and challenges for SEO …
The main goal of SEO is to provide search engines users with a great user experience i.e. delivering the most relevant search results. Although search algorithms constantly evolve, there are some tried-and-true SEO techniques – mainly focusing on relevance, trust and authority – for getting content to rank high:
- Have a secure, accessible and mobile-friendly website – This way search engines will be able to easily reach and read the content of your site to understand what it is about. As website content is mostly accessed via mobile devices, most search engines primarily use data from the mobile version of websites to rank webpages;
- Incorporate keywords – The most well-known SEO method is to incorporate a set of relevant keywords into your content within text, titles, tags and meta descriptions. Keywords promote relevance as search engines directly link these to the terms people use in their searches;
- Earn backlinks – As many websites compete on the same or similar keywords, rankings are also determined by the respective authority level. Authority is built through the number of backlinks which are links leading to your site from other sites. The greater the authority of these ‘backlinking’ websites, the higher their impact on your ranking;
- Pay attention to ‘linkless mentions’ – Linkless mentions are exactly what the name suggests: a mention of your brand without including a link, for example. Remember, the more buzz there is, the greater your authority and the higher your ranking. Linkless mentions can be easily tracked with media monitoring tools such as Ubermetrics.
The most challenging aspect of SEO is that search algorithms are constantly changing. Communicators need to stay up-to-date to secure an effective online presence. And, while keywords and backlinks won’t go away any time soon, new metrics such as linkless mentions will become more important. This leaves communicators with a huge amount of data to track but, at the same time, also with many opportunities to enhance brands’ online visibility.
… and VSO
Technically, voice searches deliver the same results as text searches (provided that the same keywords are used) and, therefore, most SEO methods also apply to VSO efforts – with further similarities such as mobile-friendliness being paramount, but also some notable exceptions. VSO comes with some unique strategies and ranking criteria communicators need to be aware of:
- FAQs: When using voice-enabled devices for search, it is common to do so in a conversational fashion, often using questions. An ‘FAQ’ section on your website will help you rank higher on search results every time the questions you wrote are spoken via a voice search;
- Long-tail keywords: When voice-searching, people tend to use longer sentences that are very specific to their search. This means that longer, hyper-specific keywords are going to be more important when ranking on voice search results. Consider also that the longer the keywords are, the less keyword competition there will be;
- Geolocation: 22% of all voice searches revolve around location-specific content. To be found, it is important that you provide localised content. That way it is more likely to appear in search results;
- Position zero: This coveted position is also known as the ‘featured snippet’. Appearing at the top of a search engine results page, it gives you the best possible search result. Often, voice-enabled devices such as Amazon’s Alexa will give position zero as the answer to a question asked via voice search.
With consumers readily embracing this new technology, businesses are still running behind with just 4% of them being ‘voice search ready’. The way we see it, this is a great opportunity for early adopters to get a leg up on the competition.
But, this position will need to be earned since VSO doesn’t come without its own hurdles. Today, search engines are still far from perfect when it comes to understanding the meaning behind statements or questions and then provide the appropriate info or answer. In fact, working with voice searches implies a “conversational” tone which comes with a natural unpredictability typically not seen within an SEO context. This makes voice search results less accurate, sometimes preventing brand names from popping up in results:
— Rab (@Zen_Rab) December 3, 2017
SEO and VSO techniques share many similarities and, therefore, can be part of one integrated strategy that will support your communication activities, for both, text and voice. To put such a strategy in place, you need to understand your audience, their interests and (search) behaviour to provide valuable and relevant content. Secondly, consider industry-specific trends to identify relevant (long-tail) keywords your stakeholders might use. Finally, reach out to partners, customers and others to motivate them to engage with your content. This will also help to generate valuable backlinks.
Search optimisation also impacts other types of content, such as video and visual content, and podcasts. Consider that by 2022 video content will make up more than 80% of all internet traffic (consumer and business) and that 91% of people prefer visual content over text-based content. Also, the podcast market will reach $1bn in revenues by 2022. Compared to static texts, these types of content are easier to consume and still provide great value. Video SEO, visual SEO and podcast SEO all have specific methods to attract higher levels of brand exposure. The general rule is, the richer and more diverse your content, the higher you rank in search results.
SEO & VSO: Measurement and tools
We’ve put together a list of useful metrics and tools to help you analyse and evaluate your optimisation efforts:
- Organic traffic: Usually when organisations start working on SEO the goal is to grow organic traffic levels – so measure these over time;
- Organic conversions: One of the essential objectives are conversions. Measure behavioural patterns, for example, within the different stages of the marketing and sales funnel;
- Keyword ranking: This will help to understand if you are working with the right keywords. If your site doesn’t rank for your target keywords, you need to adjust your strategy. Keyword ranking data is also helpful to track the number of keywords you’re ranking for and if your position improves within the ranking. The former will result in more traffic; the latter translates into a greater domain authority;
- Backlink growth: Monitoring the number and quality of backlinks is a must. If the numbers are low, consider to run an outbound or outreach programme. If the backlink quality is insufficient, try to work with more authoritative websites;
- Domain authority: This is a great metric to show if search engines perceive your website as authoritative.
- Mobile traffic: In a VSO context, a rise in mobile traffic means that you are successfully ranking for mobile-specific keywords – these rank differently than desktop ones;
- Long-tail keyword performance: Driven by the growing popularity of voice searches, statistics show that 70% of all web searches happen through long-tail keywords. Measuring how well your long-tail keywords perform, is a key indicator of your VSO success;
- Local visibility: Here, a good starting point is to set up ‘My Business Insights‘ on Google and monitor how you rank on Google maps for specific searches.
- Google Analytics provides you with performance data of your website as well as users insights to gain a general overview of your SEO and VSO as well as your overall marketing performance;
- SEMrush is an all-in-one reporting platform analysing the performance of domains and their specific pages. Monitoring backlinks, keyword performances and domain authority is of great help for both your SEO and VSO strategies;
- Linkody helps you keep track of the performance of your off-page SEO providing you with a good overview of your links and backlinks;
- Featured Snippet Optimization Tool provides actionable insights for your VSO strategy and helps you get to position zero and have the featured snippet;
- Trendmark is a software that extracts insights out of intent search data for data-driven SEO and VSO, content and business strategies;
- Google Webmaster Tools is a free service that helps you evaluate your website’s performance in search (and voice search) results offering insights into how Google sees your website also pointing out to you issues that need fixing;
- Keyword.IO is a keyword research software that helps you figure out what long-tail keywords your customers are searching for to enhance your VSO.
A final word on ‘effective visibility’
As digital communicators, it is on us to write compelling, effective content. But, given the explosive growth in terms of the volumes of published online content, search optimisation is a necessary skill for PR and marketing pros to ensure exposure and visibility. However, with all the talk about technology – in this case, SEO & VSO – we mustn’t forget to consider both, search optimisation guidelines as well as the human audience. Machine-optimised content and content for a human audience are not two distinctly different entities – instead, they should be treated as one, unified audience. We fully agree with marketing expert Donna Merril who recommends to “never optimize your site for the search engines. Optimize for the best reader experience, which, coincidentally, is the same bottom-line goal of all search engines”.