Google’s giving marketers a new markup tool to play with: Speakable for voice search.
Here’s a little more about Speakable: what it does, who it’s for, and why I think it may be the future of marketing.
What You’ll Learn:
- What Speakable is
- Why Speakable matters to marketers
- Who can use Speakable
- How to get started with Speakable
- About Speakable for content creators
- Can Speakable be used for ecommerce?
- How to rank in the SERPs using Speakable schema
Last year, Google announced a new markup made for helping publishers get their content on the Google Assistant.
Speakable promises to deliver content through new channels, distributing information to a wider audience using voice search to find answers to questions.
Speakable is still in BETA, but select content creators can use the markup to reach a wider audience. While Speakable has yet to become a mainstream SEO tactic, the possibilities for voice in paid and organic search alike are becoming an exciting reality for marketers across all industries.
What is Speakable?
The term Speakable actually refers to devices that are capable of speech recognition. For example, if you enable the text-to-speech (TTS) feature on your smartphone, you can speak into the microphone and the phone will type the message for you.
Other Speakable devices include your Google Home Assistant, Alexa, Siri, and well, anything connected to the web and powered by voice.
Google’s Speakable markup enables publishers to highlight parts of a specific webpage to be read aloud by the Google Assistant.
This is a bit different than adding a meta data description that would prompt someone to click on an article, as we’re going to assume that most people entering search queries through Speakable aren’t going to then head to their computer to finish reading the article.
So, if you’re hoping to land an article on the Assistant, you would highlight the most important parts of an article so that the end user would essentially get the “bullet point summary” of the full piece.
Remember, voice search results tend to be short and concise, which is why Google wants Speakable schema applied to only small bits of content.
Nearly a full year after the announcement, Speakable is still in BETA, though the specification is listed on Schema.org alongside other markups users can add to content in hopes of making an appearance in the rich results.
Speakable works like this: the Google Assistant uses structured data to answer questions about topical news items on smart speaker devices.
Why Does Speakable Matter?
Speakable matters because it’s another move toward embracing voice search as a major piece of the SEO landscape.
Today, more than one in six Americans own a Smart Speaker and 40% of adults use voice search at least once a day.
Voice search has been changing how we write for the web and Google has been taking notice. The Search Console is in the midst of a massive update, which now provides reports for rich results, as well as guidance for how to create content that earns position zero.
Today, search results are triggered by intent, not keywords alone, so SEO has become about message match and providing relevant content to searchers more than it has in the past.
With all of these shifts underway, Speakable represents another milestone in voice search, showing that language-based search results are taking up a larger share of search queries.
Who Can Use It?
Right off the bat, let’s address the question of who can use Speakable.
Right now, the markup is available exclusively to content publishers who pass Google’s publisher guidelines. I’ll cover that a bit more momentarily, but generally speaking, this means news publishers like the New York Times, NPR, as well as sites like Wikipedia, local news channels, and certain types of blog content.
But, I suspect that the rollout will come to more types of websites after graduating from BETA and Google has more control over making sure that only the highest quality content–be it shopping recommendations or
new restaurant ideas–pass through your Assistant’s speakers.
How to Get Started
Per Google, to be eligible in the audio playback results you’ll first need to make sure your site meets eligibility requirements, which means that your site must be a valid news source.
To become an approved publisher, you’ll need to submit your website to Google’s Publisher Center.
To do become a Google-approved publisher, complete the following steps:
- Verify the ownership of your website in Google Search Console.
- Go to the Google Publisher Center.
- Add the domain where you’d like to apply the Speakable markup, then click “request inclusion in news index.”
- Complete the request form found here. Essentially, Google will ask a few questions: describe your website, what kind of content you feature on the site, and what news section your domain falls under (i.e. sports, politics, local news).
After you’ve submitted your site, the review process may take 1-3 weeks. Website owners can check the Inclusion Request status for updates.
What are the Rules?
Admittedly, there are a lot of rules to account for when it comes to getting started with Speakable.
Google’s Developer site mentions four sets of guidelines that need to be followed in order to get the Assistant to (potentially) acknowledge your content.
Here’s a quick overview of what Google looks for from Speakable publishers:
- Don’t add Speakable structured data to content if it sounds confusing in a voice-only context. This means leaving out things like source attributions, photo captions, or datelines.
- Speakable markup tells Google which parts of the article to read and is part of the article markup. This means, you’ll need to get the Article type properties and specifications set up correctly before setting up Speakable.
- Marked up content should be roughly 20-30 seconds when read aloud. As a general rule, this equates to about two or three sentences.
- Content must have clear, concise headlines and summaries that provide searchers with useful information.
- Don’t highlight the entire article with Speakable structured data. Instead, focus on highlighting a series of key points. What happened, who is involved, what was the outcome?
- If you do decide to highlight the “top of the article” make sure that you break out the text into individual sentences, as opposed to highlighting the whole paragraph. This makes it easier for the Google Assistant to read your content as TTS.
The webmaster guidelines lay out the basic best practices that Google uses to determine rank. Meaning, they’re not exclusive to Speakable or any other type of markup, rather all things SEO and PPC.
As a quick refresher, the webmaster guidelines provide a rundown of things to avoid such as sneaky redirects or rich snippet markup abuse.
Structured Data Guidelines
Structured data guidelines apply to all types of structured data.
At a glance, there are a lot of bullet points dictating what you can and cannot mark as structured data unless you want to get hit with a manual action.
That said, when you start reading through the guidelines, most follow basic common sense.
Google asks that you refrain from including hate speech or spammy content, for example, and they divide their expectations into a set of quality guidelines which include the following areas:
Because Speakable is used by the webpage and article objects, you’ll need to include the required properties for eligibility. As per Schema.org, these properties indicate which parts of the website are appropriate for TTS conversion. you can read more about them here.
One more thing: enabling structured data does not guarantee that you’ll appear in the results, rather that it meets the criteria to compete against other publishers who also made the cut.
Implementing Speakable will require the usual Schema markup be included. Here’s an example from Google of what that looks like.
Speakable Voice Optimization for Content Creators
We’ve covered voice search in the past, finding that voice search success depends on factors like site speed, appearance in the rich results, and surprisingly not schema.org markup.
It also depends on the quality of your response and, like traditional SERPs, your site’s reputation.
Raters evaluate voice content based on how well the publisher answers a question. Not too short, not too long, and definitely no tangents.
Now that the Speakable schema is available, you can at least throw your website in the ring, so to speak, letting Google know that you’d like to be featured.
While the idea of optimizing for Google Assistant might be daunting, it’s worth pointing out that it’s really just a matter of breaking the bad habits we’ve picked up while trying to make unnatural keywords work in the context of an article or blog post.
Speakable Voice Optimization for eCommerce
While when you look at the Schema.org entry or the Google Developer blog it seems that the focus on Speakable is articles and blog posts, e-commerce can benefit from following a similar approach for voice.
According to NPR’s Smart Audio report, about 57% of smart speaker owners have ordered a product using a Speakable device, and the majority of those purchases were first time purchases.
It’s early days, but voice search presents some major opportunities for e-commerce, and online retailers can start optimizing by focusing on embracing natural language queries within their web copy, descriptions and blog content.
Again, Speakable is designed for news content, but as is the case with Google opening up Local Services Ads, we’re only in BETA, and it’s likely we may soon see this option available for online retailers, local businesses,
What Strategies Can You Use to Rank on Speakable?
As it stands, about 40% of the voice search results are pulled directly from the featured snippet.
That feature is designed for providing users a quick and easy response to a question and content featured here spans news articles, how-to guides, recipes, and more. Each type is assigned a Schema.org markup that lets Google know how to classify the content.
Right now, things are shifting in the Google universe.
Featured Snippets are now known as rich results, and they’ve started to reveal some best practices for landing in position zero that go beyond “writing naturally,” “positioning yourself as an authority,” or “emphasizing relevance.”
All great pieces of advice, which fall under the EAT quality umbrella, but they’re a bit vague. Here are a few strategies you can try to help your content surface in Speakable results.
Optimize for Long-Tail Keywords
While it seems that modern SEO is less focused on keywords than in the past, that doesn’t mean you can abandon them altogether. Again, you’ll just need to find the right phrases for capturing high search intent.
Think about the types of questions you might ask your Google Assistant. For instance, you might say, “Okay, Google, how long does it take to boil an egg?” Versus typing “time to boil an egg” into the Google search bar.
When you take the screen out of the equation, more context is required if you want to deliver the most relevant results.
Optimize your headlines to answer short questions and write the responses just as you might say them out loud.
Optimize for Mobile
Yeah, yeah. I know you’ve heard it a million times before, but optimizing for mobile is another way you can improve your voice search performance.
Roughly 20% of people use voice search on their phones, so the more mobile-friendly your site is, the more likely you are to show up in an answer to a voice-based query.
Look Toward Google News Guidelines
Because Speakable is available exclusively to approved publishers, Google Assistant rankings are based on the same criteria as Google News articles.
Here are a few bullet points from the Content Producer Help section:
- Limit the Use of Ads
- Content including private or confidential information is not allowed.
- Restricted content includes sexually explicit, violent, hateful, illegal, dangerous, or sponsored content.
- Harassment, spam, deception, and bullying are prohibited.
In all, this is pretty straightforward stuff. As far as ranking factors are concerned, Google looks for the following:
- User Preferences
- Rich Textual Content
User preferences may come into play more here than they would for organic content or paid ads.
News is displayed based on the publisher’s ability to create high-quality content, but also the end user’s favorite topics, sources, and location. Part of your success in Google News, and by extension, Speakable, may require an upfront investment in brand awareness.
Voice search and Speakable markup, in particular, could change a lot about organic search, content marketing, and paid ads.
And, although Speakable schema is only available to approved publishers, we’re bound to see this tool expand into other markets.
To stay ahead, make sure you’re adopting voice optimization best practices and applying them to your content, and if you’re able, now’s the time to try adding Speakable markup.