7 Ways to Optimize Structured Data for Voice in WordPress

You’re already using structured data to improve search queries and results for your site. But have you thought about the use case for structured data as it pertains to voice search?

There are a number of reasons why we need to start thinking about this. For one, there’s mobile-first. As more users access your site with mobile devices, content needs to be optimized for that experience. According to Google, there are 30 times more search queries made by voice now than by typing.

But there’s also the rise of voice-powered digital assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home that need to be taken into account. As users ask their in-home or in-office devices for help finding recipes, instructions on how to assemble furniture, or a summary of a new podcast, where do you think that information comes from?

As digital devices make it easier to communicate with the web, search engine algorithms will eventually adjust to the increasing amount of voice search queries. To prepare your WordPress website for this change, you’ll need to know how to use structured data to improve voice search results.

Ways to Use Structured Data to Improve Voice Search Results

With the introduction of Google Duplex, a technology that’s able to converse naturally on behalf of its user, it’s clear that Google is making strides in voice search optimization. Take, for instance, the example of the business that uses Duplex to call customers with appointment reminders. As Google’s technology becomes smarter and better equipped to process natural voice queries, so too will its search algorithm.

Search engines aren’t the only ones working to better understand how natural conversations take place between users and the web. Web developers are doing the same, thanks to technology like Amazon Polly. With text-to-speech solutions, developers can now turn any app or website into a voice-enabled platform.

Needless to say, the world is moving more in favor of voice functionality, which means your SEO strategies need to account for it. The only problem is that it’s not as simple as optimizing your WordPress site with natural language long-tail keywords. You also need the assistance of structured data.

It’s not that search engines can’t interpret what your WordPress site is about solely from the content or metadata. It’s just that structured data provides them with clearer specifics–specifics users are actually asking for in search. If Google can get those details to the user without forcing them to click, imagine how much more effective search would be for everyone.

Structured data can also be used to improve the appearance of your search listing. Let me show you an example:

In Google, I ran a non-voice search for “How to train a dog”.

Google Search - dog training
Google Search results with Structured Data – Dog Training Advice

As you can see, the top organic search result was from the wikiHow website and the article was called “Veterinarian-Approved Advice on How to Train a Dog”. Not only does it tell me the name of the article and give a description of the page, but it also provides a user rating which lets me know that most readers were satisfied with the advice given. It’s an eye-catching rich snippet and that’s all thanks to structured data.

However, there’s a problem with the meta description as well as the “How To” callout Google pulled from it at the top of the SERP.

The meta description of the page should read:

“How to Train a Dog. Are you thinking of adding a new dog to your life? Would you like your current dog to be better behaved? Would you like to train your dog to serve your needs instead being trained to serve its needs? Attending dog…”

Instead, the meta description includes the same text from the How To list of instructions above it:

“Method 8. Training Your Dog to ‘Wait’ at Doorways. Begin doorway ‘wait’-training early. Place the dog on a leash. Walk to the door. Give a “wait” command before stepping through. Praise him when he waits. Teach him to sit in the threshold. Give a separate command to encourage him through the doorway.”

And these instructions aren’t actually relevant to what I asked. Yes, they do explain one way to train a dog. However, there are 13 methods provided in the article. It’s strange that Google scanned through the page and determined that method #8 was the most relevant answer to provide here and also swapped the meta description out for this list of instructions.

Now, if wikiHow had used the HowTo schema markup, I probably would’ve received a more appropriate response and Google hopefully would’ve left the metadata alone. Granted, the article is still relevant and I can use it. But what if someone had done this search with a voice-activated device? They probably would’ve been confused by the response Alexa shared with them or thought that it was too narrow of a subject to aptly handle their query.

So, let’s talk about how structured data can be used to improve the vocalization of your search listing as well (now that we understand how important that part is).

Using Structured Data for Improved Voice Results

Let’s think about the reasons why someone might want to initiate a search using their voice instead of typing it out. Perhaps they have their hands full while cooking or fixing something. Perhaps they’re on the go and want a quick answer. Or maybe they’re trying to multitask and want a quick response to a question while they work on something else.

For some WordPress sites you develop, there are going to be on-page elements that would benefit from being marked up with structured data.

Here are some examples:

“best products for teething babies”

Using voice search in Google, I asked for the “best products for teething babies”. In response, Google pulled up this SERP and then told me to look at the Mom Tricks tips.

Product List Featured Snippet
Search results for best products for teething babies using structured data

If you look at the page source, you’ll find two sections dedicated to schema markup. The first was made using a schema WordPress plugin:

Schema Plugin markup
Code from a Schema markup plugin

This just informs Google about the basics of the web page.

The other section was custom-coded and centered around breadcrumbs on the page:

schema markup no plugin
Custom coded Schema Markup

While Mom Tricks used structured data to ensure it was matched with relevant queries, the search results given from my voice query appear to be pulled from the page’s use of header tags. If that hadn’t happened, the result may not have been correctly presented (as in the case of wikiHow).

“customer reviews for OverWatch”

Here is what I got from this voice-initiated search:

customer reviews schema markup

The Google Shopping result on the right is a bit distracting and, quite frankly, overwhelming with how many reviews it has aggregated. However, I did get some nice results in organic search as well. As you can see, Common Sense Media, MetaCritic, and, further below, PC Gamer all provided extra structured data to bolster their search results for users.

“what is the meme with the painful face”

Written content isn’t the only thing users will be looking for with voice search either. Let’s try a meme search.

For this one, I asked, “what is the meme with the painful face?” I made no mention of Hide the Pain Harold and yet the image results at the top showed me what I was looking for (as well as some other results which are seemingly relevant).

Image schema markup

When you look at the page sources of these results, you’ll see that the developer properly used schema markup for ImageObject, which is what helped this image rank at the top of that search query’s page.

“how to make key lime video”

Another nice example of this is what the Martha Stewart website did with its recipe for key lime pie.

video recipe schema markup
Martha Stewart Recipes showing up in Search use Schema Markup

In my search, I asked, “how to make key lime video”. Of course, YouTube results are going to litter the top of organic search results because YouTube is the leading video platform and is also owned by Google. However, scroll down the page and you’ll find non-YouTube results.

Now, what’s smart about these is that they use structured data to mimic the same format as the YouTube listings. Video “thumbnail” on the left and short description on the right. Scrolling through these results, you might not even think to check the source since they’re all handled the same way. Instead, you’ll pay attention to the most attractive video and most relevant title and description.

Just so you can see how this was done, here is the structured data for that page:

structured data in the code of Martha Stewart's website
Structured Data code taken from Martha Stewart’s website

“how do you boil eggs”

It’s not just about getting Google to serve the right results to voice users. In some cases, you’ll want Google and voice-activated devices to provide a vocalized response to those users.

Using another food-related example, I searched for “how do you boil eggs” and got exactly what I was hoping for. Not only did Google display a whole bunch of relevant and well-reviewed search results to my query, but it also read the featured snippet result aloud to me.

spoken recipe schema markup
Featured Google snippet of Food Network’s how-to for boiled eggs

The interesting thing about the results served in response to this question is that the featured snippet at the top of the page isn’t the #1 search result. Instead, it sits at #9 and, yet, it’s the top result displayed and spoken aloud to voice users.

After inspecting the code for the organic results that appeared higher on the page, two of the eight used the recipeInstructions schema markup. That said, the structure of the code was really messy for those two websites and, so, I believe Google chose to display this result from Food Network above all others because of the proper use of structured data.

Other Use Cases for Voice Structured Data
Really, there are a whole bunch of ways in which you can use structured data to your benefit. It’s simply a matter of knowing what voice users would be looking for. Here are some other examples of content you’d want to prioritize getting in front of voice users in search:

And other speakable sections on your website

Basically, if it would be helpful to have a summary or list read aloud, or to display visual cues like ratings and image clips, then use structured data to put your pages front and center.

I would also suggest putting location-specific information–e.g. hours of operation, address, phone number–into structured data. Even if you have a Google My Business page, including that info in your markup could push your listing higher up in Maps results (which would be great for voice users doing searches on the go).

Implementation Tips for Using Structured Data for Voice Search

Now that you’ve seen examples of how structured data works in voice search, let’s talk about best practices and implementation tips for your WordPress site.

1. Make Content More Conversational

In general, the content of your site should be more conversational in tone. This includes:

  • All of the copy
  • Metadata written for each page
  • Focus keyword selected for each post or page
  • Image or video captions
  • Alt text for visual content

If you’re unsure of how to write this way, listen to how customers speak. It’s their voice that’s going to be searching for your website online, so your content should reflect that.

2. Use Structured Data for Critical Pages

There’s no need to go crazy in applying structured data to every single page of your WordPress site. Focus on the pages that get the most traffic (or should get the most traffic) and are critical to your conversion process. Then, figure out what users would be asking or looking for in relation to that page.

Then, apply structured data markup to those pages, with a special focus on elements that would motivate users to click on your result over others.

3. Choose Structured Data Wisely

There’s also no reason to go crazy with adding unnecessary strings of structured data to your pages. For one, it’s just going to clutter up the code (which is bad for SEO). Also, it’s a waste of search engines’ resources. Just give Google and its end users the information that’s the most relevant. And, if you’re targeting voice users, focus your efforts on those specific elements.

4. Identify Speakable Snippets

For any page that includes content users might want to have spoken aloud to them, be sure to identify those speakable snippets in your schema markup. You could do this with things like:

  • An intro to a podcast or video
  • A summary of an article or blog post
  • A list of steps from a tutorial
  • A brief bio of the company founder
  • A mission statement for the company

Basically, you want to find the most attractive soundbite from the page and highlight it with structured data.

5. Use Google’s Content-Based Actions

Google has created a special set of instructions for publishers that share articles, podcasts, or recipes on their websites. These instructions are called “content-based actions” and dictate how you should write markup so that Google Assistant devices know how to process user requests pertaining to the content. Specifically:

  • News: Users can receive your articles from the Google News feed in Assistant.
  • Podcasts: Users can stream your episodes by asking Google Assistant to do so.
  • Recipes: Users can get step-by-step instructions for recipes from rich cards in Google Assistant.

6. Implement Basic Structured Data with a WordPress Plugin

There are two ways you can implement structured data: you can code it by hand or you can use a WordPress plugin. Coding by hand will give you more control over the cleanliness and organization of your code. It also will open up more options for the schema you intend to use on your website.

That said, if your WordPress site really only needs to have blog content or product listings marked up, then a WordPress plugin should suffice. There are two I would recommend for this:

Schema

Schema plugin
Schema plugin background

The Schema plugin focuses heavily on websites for publishers: blogs, news sites, and other sites that publish written, video, or audio content. It also gives you a dedicated space to mark up informational pages on your site–like the About and Contact pages–to ensure users get a succinct and relevant result served to them in voice search.

WP SEO Structured Data Schema

WP SEO Structured Data Schema Plugin by Phil Singleton
WP SEO Structured Data Schema Plugin Details

If you want more schema options to work with, then I’d recommend using the WP SEO Structured Data Schema plugin. This would be a particularly good choice for e-commerce, service providers, reviewers, restaurants, and local businesses.

If you’re hoping to use other schema in your structured data, then you’re going to have to learn to code this by hand. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult as Schema.org has provided a guide on how to do so for each of its schema elements.

Here is an example Schema gives for a Recipe before any markup is applied:

Schema example before
Recipe details without Schema markup

Here is that same example, only this time it shows what it would look like if JSON-LD markup were added:

Recipe with full Schema Markup
The same recipe with full markup

If you ever get lost, refer to the examples provided at the bottom of the schema page.

7. Test Your Structured Data

Of course, once your structured data has been implemented, you should test it. The first way to do this is by using the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.

Google Structured Data Testing Tool run test
Test your structured data markup with a URL or Code Snippet

Once the markup has been implemented–manually or with a plugin–and your site has been indexed, run the domain through the testing tool. As an example of how this works, here is what that Martha Stewart video from earlier displays after the test:

Martha Stewart test results
Martha Stewart site test results in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool shows it’s a VideoObject

As you can see, the VideoObject schema is picked up as are all the elements the publisher associated with it.

You can and should also test your structured data by conducting your own web and voice searches. If the search engine doesn’t produce the right result, you can go back and revise your structured data. And if the search engine produces the right result, but gives priority to someone else’s site as a featured snippet, take a gander at their source code to see if there is a way you could better handle your structured data.

Wrapping Up

Although structured data–for any user, not just voice–doesn’t directly improve SEO, the outcome of correctly implementing it can have a positive effect on your site’s search ranking. By using structured data to enhance voice search results, visually and audibly, you can give your WordPress site an edge over the competition and increase click-through rates in the process.

And if you’re looking to boost your PageRank, be sure to check out SmartCrawl Pro.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: In general, are you using structured data with every new WordPress site you develop?