How to Rank on Google Home

Posted by Dr-Pete

Google Home, Google’s latest digital assistant, is part of a broader market experiment in voice-only search. While the hardware is new, Google has been building toward this future for a while, and one of the clearest examples is the introduction of featured snippets to answer questions in search. For example, if I ask Google: “What is a moonshot in business?” I get this answer…

In desktop search, Google also returns a set of traditional organic results, and, in some cases, ads, news results, Knowledge Panels, and other features. Featured snippets weren’t designed for desktop, though — they were designed for devices that only have room to display a small number of results (such as mobile phones) or even a single result.

Google Home is a single-result search device, and featured snippets were designed for exactly this purpose. The good news is that, if we can optimize for featured snippets, we can optimize for voice. Below are six examples that explore how featured snippets become answers on Google Home.


“How many people have walked on the moon?”

Here’s a question that should have a factual answer, but, for whatever reason, that answer is not available in Google’s Knowledge Graph. So, the answer is extracted from Wikipedia and presented as a featured snippet. It’s interesting to note that the answer (twelve) is pulled out of the paragraph and presented on its own…

How does this two-part answer “appear” on Google Home? Let’s find out…

Google Home starts with the short answer: “Twelve”. Then, it moves on to attribution: “According to Wikipedia…”. Finally, the device reads the snippet, but only the first sentence in this case. As we’ll see, Google may choose to cut off the featured snippet, but the logic of when and where isn’t perfectly clear.


“Who has walked on the moon?”

Let’s move on to the natural follow-up question — who are these people? This question returns a more typical, paragraph-based featured snippet…

Here’s how it sounds on Google Home.

In this case, we get attribution first (“According to Universe Today…”), followed by the full snippet. Even though this snippet is fairly long, Google Home chooses to read the full contents.


“How do I get to the moon?”

Hey, I’d like to be one of those people — how do I get in on this whole moon thing? I’m feeling starved for glory. Here, Google returns a list-based format. I’ve purposely chosen a messy example (notice how Google presents an ordered list but then repeats the numbering, e.g. “1. Step 1.”) to see how Google Home will handle it…

How will Home deal with an ordered list that includes a bit of mess? Let’s find out…

First, notice the attribution is different: “According to some information I found on Live Science…”. This may just be for variety’s sake, but I’m not entirely sure. Google Home then proceeds through the steps, but some are truncated. Step 1, for example, becomes simply: “Assemble the Pieces.” We’re left a bit unclear what we’re assembling the pieces of (the moon?). Google also reads the odd syntax (“1. Step 1.”) verbatim, but this is more of a problem with the featured snippet algorithm than Google Home itself.


“List all the moons.”

Let’s try a longer list, and a slightly different format. This isn’t a question so much as a command, but featured snippets handle it well enough…

What happens to the longer list on Google Home? Here’s what we get…

Google Home skips a couple of words in the list and pauses oddly in one spot, before finally ending the list with “…and more.” Clearly, there’s a length limit to the spoken answer, but that limit isn’t entirely consistent and seems to depend on the format of the answer.


“What kind of cheese is the moon made of?”

This one’s just for fun. We all know what kind of cheese the moon is made of…

Here’s the snippet on Google Home, which is structured just like our first example…


“List of ISS missions.”

Occasionally, Google formats a featured snippet as a table, generally extracting it from tabular data in the source page. Here’s an example…

Interestingly, this same search returns no results on Google Home. I tried a handful of tabular featured snippets, and either they returned no results or Google substituted a paragraph-based snippet. Obviously, translating a table into a voice answer is tricky business, and it appears that Google hasn’t worked out how best to solve that problem.


“What is Page Authority?”

How does this help you and your brand? Obviously, we’re not all in the moon business. While featured snippets are naturally focused on informational queries, questions are relevant to many aspects of our business and even our branded properties. For example, if I search Google for “What is Page Authority?”, one of Moz’s own proprietary metrics, I’m rewarded with a featured snippet…

Obviously, this isn’t a household term or particularly high-volume search, and yet there’s still opportunity to be had. Is the same question answered by Google Home? Yes, it is…

Google Home needs a little work on its pronunciation, but we do get back the full snippet and are even rewarded with “According to Moz…” and a bit of a brand boost.


“Where do we go from here?”

This is one question Google Home definitely can’t answer. The direct translation of featured snippets into voice answers means that Google Home does present clear search marketing opportunities. At the moment, though, it’s very difficult to measure the extent or the impact of those opportunities. How does a voice answer help us without a corresponding click? How will we measure voice answers? How will Google monetize voice? I don’t think even Google knows the answers to these questions yet.

For now, it’s worth exploring ranking for voice if only because winning featured snippets also positions you well in desktop and mobile search. As voice evolves, we can expect to see more interplay between devices, where a voice search saves a link in an app (Amazon Echo’s app already does this with Bing searches) or opens a page directly on a linked device. Our investments now will create opportunities over the next few years as the market for voice search grows.

Remember, Moz Pro can help you find and track featured snippets, as well as flag opportunities where you might be in a position to win a snippet. If you can rank in position #0, you can rank for voice and on Google Home.

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November 10, 2016  Tags: , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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