By 2020, at least 50% of all searches are expected to be voice oriented. Consumers are increasingly reaching for their phone to speak commands, rather than type them. They want to know about the latest deals, sales and promos; receive personalised assistance and find instant business information.
Voice shopping is also entering the arena. In September this year, Argos launched the first national voice shopping partnership with Google, allowing customers to check availability and reserve items with voice commands. While shoppers still need to browse Argos' website to discover products, their partnership with Google is an interesting example of omnichannel marketing.
How are marketers preparing for the transition?
1. Understand the impact on content marketing
Ever since the Hummingbird update, Google has been actively growing its AI-backed speech accuracy capabilities. In May 2017, its speech recognition accuracy rate reached 95%. This number is also the threshold for human accuracy, meaning that algorithms are now equally good listeners as we are.
Voice search transition has a few major repercussions for marketers:
- Emergence of more complex, natural language queries.
- More local “near me” results for voice searches.
- Shorter interactions with content.
- Changes to structured data and content formatting best practices.
All of these mean that you will need to create content that ‘talks back’ to the customers and helps them quickly accomplish their goals.
2. Start optimising for user intent
Voice search commands carry a different intent compared to written commands. They are often performed on the go in the spur of the moment. KPCB 2016 Internet Trends report indicates that:
The ultimate predicament for marketers is to match different voice queries to the exact stages of the buyer's journey and serve the right kind of information.
Long tail, question-style keywords will have a different kind of buying intent. For instance, if someone asks, ‘What is the difference between a junior and superior suit?’ they are likely in the research phase. But if they want to know, ‘Where can they book the cheapest rate for a superior suite in the Hilton hotel, Paris?’, they are at the final stage of the funnel.
Finding such keyword opportunities for optimisation can be challenging as most keyword research tools still cater towards text-based queries. Google is yet to bring voice search reporting to the Analytics suite.
Right now, to research natural language phrases and search queries you can use Answer The Public. This free tool will generate a bunch of questions related to your industry.
Include those questions in your FAQ content to capture more voice search traffic or create blogs to target those at the research stage.
3. Revise your technical SEO
In May this year, Google released an important update to its Structured Data Tool which require publishers to add voice search-friendly schema markup to their recipes so that Google Assistant and Google Home could pick them up.
For now, this update only concerns recipes and is said to have no impact on rankings. However, John Mueller, chief webmaster trends analyst at Google, did confirm later that structured data helps page rankings in the same fashion as regular content improves rankings for relevant search phrases. Consider this an early indication that structured data will only grow in importance.
Furthermore, Mueller also mentioned that not all informational formats would be included in voice search results, at least for now. Algorithms will not pick up information from pages styled as tables or a list of links. So if a user asks “What is [Company Name] price for service X?”, Google may not be able to return any voice results if your page is styled like a table. Schedule an audit to make sure that your key pages (e.g. pricing) will not be excluded from voice search results due to improper formatting.
Additionally, the newly released Speakable tool from Google may help if you are an approved news publisher.
4. Plan for the local queries
Google has reported a 500% growth in “near me” searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” over the last 2 years.
Clearly, voice search largely contributes to this trend. To optimise your content for local voice search results, apply the following tactics:
- Update your Google Local business page to include full address, neighbourhood, opening hours, phone number and additional data that will indicate your location.
- Re-target customers with local inventory ads whenever they are in a nearby area as Macys.com does.
- User “near me” and location-specific keywords as anchor texts for optimising internal and external links to your website. That’s exactly what TripAdvisor does to dominate "near me" search results across the world.
Voice search may seem like a novel and intimidating concept to marketers as few definitive optimisation guidelines are available right now. However, it presents new untapped opportunities for businesses. By exploring the options and preparing for transition early on, you can be among the first to obtain massive SEO benefits.
Lee Wilson, SEO, Vertical Leap