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Voice search: what can brands do now to prepare for this revolution?

By Robert Turner, European marketing director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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October 29, 2019 | 6 min read

PASO may immediately conjure up images of Strictly Come Dancing ("Seven!"), but it is an acronym that will soon be soon be as prevalent in the digital marketing lexicon as SEO has been in the past 20 years. It stands for 'personal assistant search optimisation', and businesses that tailor their offering around it today will reap the rewards in the increasingly voice-led future.

Dance couple

By 2020 there will be 1.6 billion digital assistants, more than there are people in China. Steve Jobs famously said his ambition was to get rid of the keyboard and it now seems his vision is being realised, but what can brands do now to prepare for this coming sea change?

The voice-led future

While the idea of using Google Assistant or Alexa to research information on services or retailers may still seem advanced to many, the idea of needing to actually speak to a real person to book an appointment or ask a question could soon seem quaint. In fact, the future development of the medium could cut out the human element altogether.

One of Job’s proteges at Google, Sundar Pichai, astonished the 2018 Google conference when he announced that the latest version of the Google Assistant would be able to make appointments for haircuts at salons and make reservations at restaurants. In the video of him unveiling the Google assistant successfully booking a haircut, two thoughts spring to mind.

The first is the creepiness of the almost faultless humanness of the assistant - are we venturing deeper into the uncanny valley? The second is the undeniable realization that the days of using a phone for making routine appointments will soon be over.

In this brave new world, businesses will need a completely different approach compared to any other channel. The need to be visible to a choosy digital assistant will not only be important – it will be critical for survival. Unlike traditional search, where ranking on page one is a great start, for voice it is about being number one. It's a daunting proposition.

The local nature of voice searches

The starting point for every business is to understand the increasingly local nature of search behaviour. Fuelled by the rise of handheld devices, according to Google, 46% of all searches now have a local intent. Consider you own experiences with voice assistants. When you conduct a voice search for most products or services – from shoes to banks to vets – the first result you get will be local result derived from maps channels. Any business with physical locations needs to be fully optimised for local searches to have a chance of being on the lips of Alexa, Siri or the Google Assistant.

To compete for these all-important top results, you first need to ask yourself some important questions:

Are your local listings optimised?

Is your listing complete with all the necessary information—business name, address, phone number, website, hours of operation? Complete and accurate listings make it easier for potential customers to find your business via voice search.

How about your content?

Is it optimised? As the direction of search is shifting, at least partially, to voice search, optimising your content will play a huge role in helping you show up in voice searches. Your content must be organised, structured, and it should sound natural when read out loud—so you should avoid pages full of links or tables of data. Instead, format content into bullet points or step-by-step instructions, or consider building an FAQ page. All of this will help your chances of being featured in voice search results.

Are you keeping tabs on your online reviews?

Customer reviews are a critical factor in the ranking algorithm for voice search. Voice assistants will only tell you about the best businesses, and consumer reviews are a defining factor in identifying those businesses. Encourage positive reviews and, in the case of negative reviews, ensure that you are responding to them in a timely and effective manner.

Are you using schema markup?

Schema means data about data. This markup language helps search engines return more informative results by providing them with additional information about the data that is on the website, helping voice assistants find your content.

Is your website’s local SEO configured properly?

You need to optimise your local SEO for voice search. This goes hand in hand with optimising content and local listings. Knowing that the searches made through voice are usually significantly longer than text searches, using long-tail keywords is good practice when it comes to optimising for voice search.

What is your mobile experience like?

For every one second delay in a mobile website’s load time, conversions decrease by 12%. Consider optimising the mobile experience has become critical for voice searches that often come with a “right now” intent. Keep your loading time to a minimum.

PASO requires an investment in tech, patience and potentially a change of strategy, but the potential rewards are absolutely worth the effort. With fewer overall results presented to voice searchers, there are massive returns on offer to those who manage to rank highly. But make no mistake: now is the best time to optimise for this new medium and ensure your visibility to new and existing customers alike.

DAC has produced a whitepaper title titled ‘The Rise of Voice Search, Make your Brand Heard in a New Era

Robert Turner, European marketing manager, DAC


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DAC is one of the largest independent digital media agencies in North America, with a growing international presence and offices in the US, Canada and Europe. We...

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