This post was originally made on the 4Ps Marketing blog.

Prior to Christmas, Google announced  that they’ve published a specific set of search quality evaluation guidelines for Google Assistant and Voice Search in order to give more insight into how its quality process works. The resulting PDF is rather short but extremely useful for anyone interested in this type of technology, from developers and academics to marketers seeking a better figurative footprint in the eyes-free search results.

It’s All About Intent

The document references the existing Actions & Answers criteria for the Needs Met scale in the general search quality evaluation guidelines, so this isn’t particularly surprising. Google has always closely worked in line with user intent, but it’s particularly interesting to see them work on guidelines for voice action apps.

Intent Understanding Determines Satisfaction

The examples for playing music rely on a human-level of common sense to determine how successful a response is. For example, when a user requests “play jazz” the app should play a playlist rather than a single song.

Even more conventional queries get this sort of treatment, for example when someone asks the name of the US president, they will want the current head of state. Or, if someone asks about the weather for the coming weekend, they’ll want to see a daily forecast for the whole weekend rather than just a general commentary.

Here Comes the Knowledge Vault

“Play Mumford & Sons reminder” was a query that particularly caught my attention as a testament to the sheer data parsing capabilities of the famous Google Knowledge Vault.

Not being a huge Mumford & Sons fan, my initial thought around the intent was that someone wanted to set a song from the band as a reminder.

People with better (or worse)  taste in music will, of course, understand that this query is asking for a specific track to  play – so much for my human perspective on the query – while the example response is given just opens a calendar app to set a reminder.The reason why I like this example is twofold; firstly, it turns on its head the very old-fashioned idea of “latch onto the most obvious keyword”. Here “Reminder” is the name of a song, not the calendar-style activity. The second is that it is reliant on the kind of advanced semantic parsing capability, generally native to Google itself with its Knowledge Vault technology.

What Does This Mean for Me?

Unless you’re a developer probably not an awful lot right now – but quite a few brands are now starting to look seriously at the idea of integrating themselves into technologies such as Google Home and Alexa with custom skills. In my opinion, all brands should  consider having it on their roadmap within the next twelve to eighteen months as the adoption rates of this tech aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.  Brands that are too slow to embrace this growth stand the risk of being left behind.

Currently, there are some good implications in here that relate to preparing your brand’s content for Voice Search in general. There isn’t a single easy or technical way to “optimise” for Voice Search (if I had a nickel every time someone asked me about “voice SEO” I’d be off blogging about Stargate Atlantis somewhere rather than writing this!) but there are some general things to bear in mind.

First and foremost, rich answer results on Google surface commonly as responses to voice queries. While there doesn’t seem to be a direct equivalence (experiments at 4Ps have shown that a voice answer doesn’t always match the rich snippet returned in “position zero” when sampling on a normal SERP) it is still worth keeping an eye on your footprint here. Make sure all your reference touchpoints like maps and Wikipedia are up to date and on-brand and see where else your content could be showing up for Q&A-type queries. Not everything gets a spotlight like Rodney McKay, of course (and nor should it) but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps to keep an eye on your SERP presence!

Google Rich Answer Example

When it comes to trying to feature in more snippet, extensive experimentation and careful monitoring are strongly recommended for the best results. Content formatting and wording is a much stronger influence than technical mark-ups like schema.org. So, create stuff that is fantastic for your users (as usual – yawn) and focus on a “meeting intent” angle if you want to see progress. Always but always know what the purpose of your content is from a user’s perspective – are you answering a question (or questions), providing specific guidance on how to do something, explaining how something works…?

So, buzz your data, speak to your users (and customer service team), produce awesome stuff that meets the needs a real-world person might have in relation to your brand, and you’re already as well on the way as you can be to “optimising” for voice search in 2018.

Tools like AnswerThePublic.com are invaluable for generating ideas based on real searches, and of course, I’d be horribly remiss if I didn’t also mention the outstanding rich snippet research done by the SERP sampling superstars at STAT. So go forth and develop your snippet presence, and don’t forget to have a good look at things like Actions On Google and Alexa skills development as well while you’re at it!

Photo Credit: Kevin Bhagat


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