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Brands should act now to get ahead with voice search

By Ryan Hall, founder

February 13, 2020 | 5 min read

Voice search is still in its infancy with most interactions happening in the home via a home voice app like Alexa, Google Assistant, and to a lesser extent, the Apple Homepod. But consumers are using voice search. In fact, 58.6% of US consumers are using voice search (Comscore 2019). Yet only 11.5% of brands have an Alexa app, and only 6.5% of brands have a Google Assistant app - which is pretty low adoption for what is a fun bit of technology. So is it still a fad in its early phases and yet to hit proper adoption? I think so; yes.

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Why brands should act now and get ahead of the voice search game.

Brands haven't taken voice apps seriously yet, so why would they take voice SEO seriously if the bar is low extending their customer experience to voice?

Well, I don't blame the brands. They've made the right investment call, and given social etiquette and behaviours, voice was always going to be a slower adopter than, say mobile.

It's intrusive. It breaks the flow of a conversation in a group. Or if you're in an office and you start shouting commands at your device, with everyone being able to hear the request and results? It's just not normal, acceptable behaviour. Unless you're a Bluetooth headset warrior from the late 90s, that's been biding their time patiently for your early adopter status to come good, it's just not normal.

But there is a place for brands and a window of opportunity to get ahead of the search competition. And to do that, voice SEO needs to be appropriately considered, as a proper channel with suitable considerations made.

Simple things like looking at the questions your target market are asking. Research shows that most of the most popular voice search requests are for fact-based questions - so either that's kids still finding search a novel toy or it's the consumer base that's adopting the technology. Or perhaps they're all cheating on quizzes? Following that users use voice search for directions, to scour entertainment options, browse for restaurants and listen to the news.

Personally, it's still very early for voice and for voice search results on a broader spectrum. It's yet to be applied in the home properly; it hasn't become natural behaviour there either. Outside of the home, that behaviour, in my opinion, is even smaller. Despite devices like ear pod-style headphones and their ability to pick up voice more effectively which has undoubtedly improved the consumer's experience. It's also becoming more socially acceptable to be seen walking around with ear pods in, taking a call or whatever else you're doing - so the stigma associated with being a Bluetooth headset warrior is fading.

For me, the most untapped use for voice search, today, is in-car. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are changing that. The experience for search results is becoming far easier for consumers to handle inside a car cabin. And socially, it's more acceptable for drivers to use voice search. So in-car is the perfect location for a voice search experience. It's contextually relevant to the environment; as the environment is constantly moving meaning that drivers need more search support.

That begins to justify a real push for brands to get their voice SEO right for an audience that depends on the parity of the experience between their other search channels.

But brands need to take voice search and SEO seriously. They need to build voice apps in the right way, first and foremost. They need to start taking into consideration the use of colloquial phrasing and accents. Which, speaking as a Geordie, goes a long way.

There needs to be a robust web SEO foundation but also a focus on ranking for featured snippets in Google. But I am also taking into consideration concise answers to questions in 29 words or less. A neat little optimisation trick.

It's a tough time device-wise too, and brands need to ensure that everything is optimised for each assistant. So once again, the search wars are back. But research shows that Google is the most popular and effective search - which is hardly surprising.

The job isn't done yet; it's a big and intricate task. Right now, that doesn't make a monumental difference but now is the time for brands to consider how to act to get ahead of the voice search game.

Ryan Hall, founder, Vaunt is a judge for The Drum Search Awards 2020. The deadline has now passed but you can still apply for an extension.

Hall also launches The Growth Agenda podcast from The Zeitgeist this week, interviewing successful entrepreneurs about how they’ve grown their businesses.

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