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Is your business voice search ready?
If it is, you deserve a round of applause—a 2019 study found that only 4 percent of U.S. businesses with a physical location are voice search ready.
The reality is that you’re probably in the other 96 percent.
Considering 40 percent of adults depend on voice search every day, you’ve got a problem if you’re in that 96 percent. Though this may seem to throw a wrench in your current search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, there are specific voice search SEO strategies your business can use to improve your voice search-readiness. From including keyword phrases that better suit voice search queries to nailing down exactly how to approach local SEO, these changes to your current digital marketing strategy can bring the results you want—and get you into that 4 percent.
Want to know how to do it? Keep reading. But first, let’s get some things straight…
What Is Voice Search?
To keep it simple, voice search is voice recognition technology that allows people to perform searches by speaking into a device. These devices range from smartphones and computers to home assistant devices, which we’ll discuss in-depth later. Google voice search queries have gone up exponentially over the years, so it’s crucial to understand these developments and incorporate them into your digital marketing strategy.
How Do Consumers Use Voice Search?
The first thing to understand about voice search is how people use it. With voice search on the rise, it’s important to keep up with the stats so that you’re prepared for how these advancements will change your industry. Here are some of the major voice search statistics you need to know in 2019:
- Globally, smart speaker shipments grew nearly 200 percent YOY in Q3 2018. Amazon shipped the most devices, with Google close behind. Consumers are recognizing the value obtained from voice’s user-friendly interactions (Strategy Analytics, 2019).
- 61 percent of 25-64-year-olds say they’ll use their voice devices more in the future. The 18-24 demographic mirrors this trend, with 57 percent saying they’ll increase their voice device usage in the coming years (PwC, 2018).
- 71 percent of wearable device owners predict they’ll perform more voice searches in the future. Though wearable users are the most optimistic, tablet and speaker users are not far behind (PwC, 2018)
- Out of the 3.5 billion searches performed on Google every day, almost a third of those are voice searches (TheeDesign, 2017).
- Of US smartphone users, 71 percent of people between ages 18-29, 59 percent of people between ages 30-43, 39 percent of people between ages 44-53, and 38 percent of people ages 54+ use mobile personal assistants (Thrive Analytics, 2014).
- 60 percent of mobile personal assistant users are on the go when using them (Thrive Analytics, 2014).
- Voice search queries typically fall into four categories—30 percent general information, 27 percent personal assistant, 22 percent local information, and 21 percent fun and entertainment (Search Engine Land, 2016).
- Voice search queries are usually longer than text searches and characterized by a question—typically three to five keywords long and starting with who, what, when, where, why, and how (Campaign, 2016).
- Over half of voice search users expressed satisfaction with voice assistants, 38 percent were neutral, and 12 percent were dissatisfied (Search Engine Land, 2016).
- Some experts predict that 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen by 2020 (Gartner, 2016).
- According to comScore, 50 percent of all web searches will be voice searches by 2020 (Campaign, 2016).
- 60 percent of people use voice search at home, while 57.8 percent of people use voice search on their smartphones (Stone Temple, 2017).
Why Voice Search SEO Matters to Business Owners
Think about it: If your digital marketing strategy has a direct effect on your company’s success, and voice search use has a direct effect on your digital marketing strategy, then voice search trends will inevitably affect your business. Whether or not this will bring positive or negative results depends on how well you adapt your strategy to the changing landscape.
With voice search on the rise and Google’s new mobile-first index—which bases rankings off of the mobile version of a site instead of the desktop version—businesses need to adapt to the changing digital landscape. Exact match domains and other black hat SEO tactics are no longer going to cut it. Voice search improves the user experience of search engines—by being faster and more convenient—and provides more accurate results. This means that, if your website content is optimized (particularly for mobile use) effectively, your business could be the first one a digital personal assistant suggests.
Let’s say you own a plumbing company in a fairly competitive service area—Fairfax, VA, for example. If you do a standard Google search for “plumbers fairfax va,” this is what you’ll see:
However, if a family returns to their home to find that a pipe has burst and flooded their floor, they may do a voice search to find a plumber as quickly as possible. If your website has a lot of relevant, optimized content and authoritative web pages—such as an emergency pipe repair service page and a variety of extensive blog posts on pipe maintenance—you could be the first company that comes up when they say, “Hey, Alexa, find a plumber near me who fixes burst pipes.”
Locking down a featured snippet (otherwise known as “position zero”) could be the key to being the go-to plumbing company in Fairfax suggested by a potential customer’s digital assistant of choice.
Voice Search Optimization Tips
In the eyes of some industry experts, the rise of voice search is the end of SEO as we know it. However, other major influencers in the SEO world—we included—believe that voice search is changing digital marketing for the better. Whether you perceive the glass as half-empty or half-full, you can’t deny that voice search is affecting digital marketing and SEO strategy, whether in good ways or bad ways.
The main reason your SEO strategy should change is because of how different text and voice searches actually are. Here are some ways voice search affects SEO:
- Use of conversational language
- Transformation of text searches into long-tail question queries
- Emphasis on featured snippets
- Importance of informative and authoritative content
One of the main differences between text and voice searches is how the level of conversational language changes. While you may type “best restaurants charlotte nc” into your search engine, you’d be more likely to say, “Hey, Siri, what are the best restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina?” when using voice search. Since conversation is the basis of voice search, your content needs to have natural-sounding language.
This includes having the answers to specific questions.
As we know from Google’s prioritizing of featured snippets, answering questions promptly and accurately is key for ranking. In one case, acquiring a featured snippet led to a 516 percent increase in sessions, higher click-through rate (CTR), and better visibility as an authority. Creating content that is seen as informative and authoritative enough for Google to select for this coveted spot can create an opportunity to be the answer to the questions voice searchers are asking.
You can’t do that by repeating the same keyword a bunch of times without putting it into an understandable, readable context. Plus, if you craft your content in a featured snippet well enough, it can even serve as a promotional opportunity for your business.
How to Optimize Your Website for Voice Search
Since, as stated above, voice search is typically characterized by questions, your content needs to be able to fit this demand. So, how do you optimize for voice search?
It comes down to these factors:
- Use natural-sounding language
- Form queries into question phrases
- Provide concise answers to questions
- Target long-tail keywords
- Think about user intent
- Focus on action queries
- Tighten up your local SEO schema
- Ensure your website is fast, mobile-friendly, and secure
- Make sure your Google My Business profile is completely filled out, including your description, business hours, name, address, and phone number
The study I mentioned at the beginning of this post found the following were the most common errors:
- Opening hours — nearly half of all listings had errors
- Websites — almost one-third had errors
- Business name — nearly 25 percent had errors
- Street address — nearly 20 percent had errors
One of the most important ways to optimize for voice search is using natural language, as mentioned earlier. Since users of voice search are essentially having a conversation with their personal assistant device, your content should fit this context. Let’s say you own an insulation company. Take this common query: “Hey, Google, what is the best insulation for an attic?” In your content, you can use “What Is the Best Insulation for an Attic?” as a header before answering the question concisely. This way, you have a better chance of being the first response to a voice search.
Topical optimization—or focusing on long-tail keywords—is key since voice search users are typically asking for something more specific than they would be in a basic text search. Using keywords wisely is a necessary component to a successful SEO strategy regardless, so make sure you’re not writing “plumber” (or whatever your primary keyword may be) every other word. Keyword stuffing isn’t going to do you any favors with voice search—or in general—so stick with content that provides useful, relevant information.
In order to optimize for voice search, you need to think about user intent. Sometimes, when people search for something on Google, they aren’t necessarily planning on buying anything. However, when it comes to voice search, people are typically already planning to buy something or use a service (e.g., searching “movie theater times near me” while driving around town on a Saturday evening).
Understanding search intent is crucial when creating content for your site that directly answers searchers’ queries. Another benefit of voice search is that artificial intelligence (AI) technology can track what type of queries people tend to search, which allows it to cater responses to users accordingly.
Google has stated that voice searches are 30 times more likely to be action queries than text searches. In essence, people want to find places and buy things through their digital assistant. While standard desktop searches may indicate that people are simply looking for information, mobile searches (such as “find X near me”) and voice searches (such as “Hey, Google, where can I buy X?”) indicate that people are trying to do something specific with the information they’re provided. Depending on your industry, this could give you a huge advantage and increase your revenue over time.
Home Assistant Devices & Voice Search
Though having digital assistants on your phone may not be anything new, home assistant devices are taking over. At the beginning of 2017, experts predicted that the total number of US homes with voice assistants would surpass 30 million by the end of the year. Though Amazon has sold 75 percent of these devices, Google reigns supreme by having the highest percentage of general knowledge among Cortana, Siri, and Alexa.
Here are some statistics from Think with Google about home assistant devices (such as Google Home or Amazon Echo):
- 44 percent of those who regularly use a voice-activated speaker say they order products they need like groceries, household items, etc., at least once a week.
- 48 percent of those who own a voice-activated speaker would like to receive personalized tips and information from brands to make their lives easier.
- 52 percent of those who own a voice-activated speaker would like to receive info about deals, sales, and promotions from brands.
- 41 percent of people who own a voice-activated speaker say it feels like talking to a friend or another person.
- 53 percent of people who own a voice-activated speaker said it feels natural talking to it.
- 62 percent of those who regularly use a voice-activated speaker say they are likely to buy something through their voice-activated speaker in the next month.
- Almost 70 percent of requests to the Google Assistant are expressed in natural language, not the typical keywords people type in a web search.
Local SEO for Home Assistant Devices
Since Google Assistant is the only one with a program made specifically for users who are looking for local services, tailoring your local SEO strategy to Google Home devices is key. (For all others—Alexa, Cortana, and Siri included—reference our general tips to optimize for voice search above, especially focusing on local SEO and using natural-sounding language.)
Google pulls recommended local service providers from their network, which includes those verified by Local Services by Google, HomeAdvisor, and Porch. If you aren’t included in Local Services by Google yet—due to geographical constraints—be sure that you’re high on the list on HomeAdvisor and Porch since Google prioritizes these providers over ones found in the organic search listings.
These are the areas currently included in Local Services by Google:
- Arizona: Phoenix
- California: Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose
- Florida: Miami
- Georgia: Atlanta
- Illinois: Chicago
- Massachusetts: Boston
- Michigan: Detroit
- New York: New York
- Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
- Texas: Dallas
- Washington: Seattle
- Washington, D.C.
How to Rank on Voice Search
When it comes to ranking on Google Home, it’s all about creating relevant, concise content that answers a question. If a home assistant user is looking for a specific piece of information, Google is going to pull the content that best suits this intent. However, when it comes to looking for a local service provider, results are more focused—according to Google—on these three factors:
- Relevance – How accurate the local listing is in relation to the user’s search
- Prominence – How commonly searched and well known that location is
- Distance – How close the listing is to the user who searched for it
For example, if you’re typing a search into Google that says, “plumbers gaithersburg md,” it will likely pull companies with the most optimized local SEO profiles (i.e., ones that are verified, completely filled out with accurate information, given a high number of positive reviews, supplied with current photos, etc.).
If you’re using a home assistant device in a suburb within Montgomery County and say, “Hey, Google, I need a plumber,” Google will use your current location and pull results from Local Services by Google, HomeAdvisor, or Porch before pulling organic results according to the three factors above. Soon, you’ll have a list of nearby plumbers in your email inbox.
Optimizing Your Google My Business Profile
Optimizing your Google My Business page by making sure its content, images, and information are complete and as accurate as possible is crucial for showing up at the top of the list for voice searches. Essentially, you need to keep up your existing local SEO strategy, but you’ll want to be sure to target how exactly people are phrasing their queries so that it pulls your business’s information accordingly. Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report found that voice search is three times more likely to be local-based than text search, meaning local SEO is now more important than ever.
What to Expect from Voice Search Marketing in the Future
Considering the fact that 20 percent of searches in the Google app are now done by voice, you can bet that voice search is on the rise in the marketing world, and it won’t stop anytime soon. As mentioned in the stats earlier, 50 percent of all web searches will be voice searches by 2020, according to comScore.
As noted a few times already, your mobile footprint is crucial to keep your business competitive. No matter how well-designed it may be, your website will not get you the results you want if it suffers from slow load times; website speed is a more important piece of the SEO puzzle than you may think. Even a two-second difference in load time can increase user abandonment by 32 percent, resulting in a steady fall of conversions per each second delay.
Another major component of voice search is its ability to “learn” your habits—the way you speak and what you tend to search. This isn’t just about your accent or vocal quirks; digital assistant devices also track your search habits. You know how you coincidentally see a lot of promotions for movie reward programs after you search for theater times in your area, or how your newsfeed is suddenly covered in department store ads after you order a pair of shoes online? This form of retargeting is making its way into voice search as well.
Google stated that their goal is to make their technology ubiquitous and seamless, meaning all of our devices—phones, watches, digital assistants, etc.—will have a unified software solution. While this is a scary prospect to some, it is inevitably becoming a reality in the digital marketing landscape and beyond. To be able to keep up with such a competitive market, your business needs to be on top of the latest technological advances (and search engine algorithm updates) and continue to adapt your SEO strategy in response to these developments.
Is Your SEO Strategy Ready for Voice Search?
From search intent to local SEO, there’s a lot to manage when it comes to optimizing for voice search. However, with the changes that result from new technology come new opportunities for growth. If you haven’t invested in your digital marketing strategy yet, now is the time to start. If you’re stuck on how to make your SEO strategy more dynamic, we’re here to help.
Even with all of the best tips and tricks on how to optimize for voice search, you may find it hard to keep up with the constantly advancing technology and evolving digital marketing landscape. That’s where we come in. At Blue Corona, we use our proven process of making data-driven decisions to establish your company as the ultimate online authority in your industry. No matter what size your company is or what area you serve, we can help you exceed your goals and outrank your competitors—whether on voice search or in a standard text search. The more online real estate you have, the more prospective leads you’ll obtain.
About The Author: Blue Corona's Editorial Staff is determined to help you increase your leads and sales, optimize your marketing costs, and differentiate your brand by passing on our tribal knowledge. The team vigilantly stays on top of the latest in digital marketing, bringing you the top insights with expert commentary. Want to see something on our blog you haven't seen yet? Shoot us an email and our marketing team will get to work.
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