Is your university or college prepared for the voice search revolution?

It's a market that's expected to hit a global net worth of some $28 billion by 2026, up from about a quarter of that figure in 2018.

Voice assistance is now available at every turn, from smart speakers in the home to digital devices and wearables. So it's no surprise that more than 40% of adults (surveyed in the US) use voice search daily, and an estimated 70% of consumers are thought to prefer the feature over typing.

The convenience and relief from screens are potentially both factors at play here.

The popularity of voice search has not only been accelerated by the range of speech recognition devices on the market, but also as it's come alongside years of investment in the technology that has rendered voice search 95% accurate.

Universities and colleges shouldn't ignore the importance of factoring voice search into their digital marketing and SEO strategies.

It's a great way to give prospective students easy access to information, appeal to them, and stand a chance of being featured in students' general non-institution-specific searches.

Higher education can leverage voice search to help potential recruits at various points on their journey, from finding relevant course information to getting directions to open days.

But to do this well, websites need to be optimized for speech inquiries.

Voice search isn't too far removed from the strategies employed for traditional text search, but there are added techniques to make sure your content shines when emerging from a speaker as well as a screen.

student using voice search on mobile for university

FAQ pages

A well-planned and comprehensive FAQ page is perhaps your best friend when it comes to prominence and efficiency in voice search optimization.

This lets you map out the kind of information your target audience is seeking from smart speakers and devices, so that your responses are packaged well enough to achieve audio exposure.

Featured snippets (which we'll cover in a subsequent blog post) account for 40% of voice search results—so this should be a major target of FAQ pages to benefit both speech queries as well as traditional typed ones.

It can also give institutions a good chance of being featured top in more general queries, such as: "Where is the best place to study law in California?"

And it's an area that provides a great return on investment if you also intend to implement chatbots, as some of the query planning and mapping for your chatbot can also draw on your FAQ resources.

Keyword research

Your FAQ pages, as well as any other pages that could attract voice search queries, need thorough research and planning. You can use SEO and keyword tools to help you with this: SEMrush and Google Keyword Planner are just a couple of the many tools available.

Voice search terms tend to be long-tail or even more detailed, so they will be lengthier. They usually involve a question and are more conversational in tone compared to text search.

The response needs to take the same approach: the golden rule is to write how you speak.

While long-tail searches are less common than their shorter counterparts—known as head terms or keywords—they're more specific and tend to have a higher conversion rate as a result. Look at the kinds of questions prospective students are searching for answers to, and tailor content to this.

Making a general FAQ page on the university or college alongside faculty or course-specific pages will give your institution maximum exposure in voice search.

It also makes sense, where possible, to phrase headings and sub-headings on any page as a question for a similar effect.

For example, a course detail page could list the areas of study under a question subhead of "What modules does this [insert name of degree] include?"

Bear in mind that, unlike traditional search, users won't be able to scroll through a list of answers to their query—they're only given one answer.

Creating content based on reliable research of what information students are looking for about universities, classes, and research is therefore crucial for institutions to tap into the voice search market.

voice search on speaker phone

Get local

If your university hasn't done it already, claim your free Google Business Profile.

Nearly 60% of people search for local businesses using voice, and local content is given preferential treatment, with results in the vicinity three times more likely to be delivered to audiences.

And there are plenty of prospective students who will be searching for institutions closer to home, especially with the pandemic and cost of living crisis impacting people's decision to fly the nest and spend money on expensive higher ed accommodation further afield.

Universities and colleges should use this business profile opportunity with information that is up to date and as informative as possible, while exploring potential keywords to include in ‘About Us' sections to boost the chances of voice search traffic.

higher education voice search revolution - hey google

It's also important to add local business structured data, also known as schema, to boost visibility and accessibility.

Schema markup can also be an important tool to enhance voice search visibility on university websites, as it helps search engines decipher the purpose of page content and its relevance to user questions.

Google is also working on more voice initiatives around schema, so it's an area of growth to keep an eye on.

Accessibility impact

Remember that voice search is an important and life-changing tool for those with visual impairments and other disabilities that make traditional text search challenging, so it's vital to ensure that alternative text fields and descriptions are added to images and meta tags, and that they are comprehensive and in plain English.

Videos count, too. They'll need to rank high in Google first, but search engines can isolate parts of video content relevant to user queries.

Titles need to be conversational phrases and keywords need to appear in both the video and transcript to stand a chance of the content ranking high and being considered for voice search.

The importance of user experience

Gone are the days when Google rankings were based on content alone.

Google Page Experience—the web giant's latest strategy to improve search results for users—has more of a focus on UX design.

This not only impacts traditional type search, but voice results too—so, it's doubly important to make sure websites are compliant in areas like mobile optimization, responsiveness, and page load times.

The average voice search result loads twice as fast as the traditional approach, and voice searches are conducted over mobile more than any other device (20% of mobile search traffic is through speech).

So double-down on your SEO, as the nearer to the top of Google rankings you are, the better your voice search potential.

higher education voice search revolution

Voice search is here to stay

There's no doubt that voice search will remain an integral part of the digital marketing landscape and become more impactful as time goes on, with more than 66 million US households expected to own a smart speaker by the end of this year.

Universities and colleges need to tap into this popular feature as soon as possible and continue to evolve content in line with up-to-date research and SEO best practices.

What's your university or college doing to boost voice search visibility?

We'd love to hear other top tips in the comments below or across our social channels.

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