We need to start thinking about this NOW. According to comScore: 50 percent of all search queries will be initiated by voice by 2020.
When Siri was launched on the iPhone 4S in October 2011, we weren’t really panicked by the potential knock-on effect of the virtual assistant on SEO. The technology, while promising, was still clunky in places. I didn’t have the chance to fall in love with Siri, as it actually couldn’t understand my accentless voice (who knew elocution lessons would come back to bite you in the digital age?!). I personally haven’t bothered with Siri since, although I’m sure it is now developed enough to understand my somewhat plummy tones.
But Alexa — she’s a different story. As soon as Rick (LTF’s benevolent overlord) asked me to look into how we can optimise websites to tie in with voice search, I hopped onto Amazon to check if I could actually afford an Echo/Alexa (purely for research purposes, you understand) whilst mentally kicking myself for telling my mum that my house didn’t need a Google Home for Christmas. Damn my conscious effort to not be swallowed by technology.
Alexa has been on my mind since New Year’s Eve of 2018. Previously, I viewed the voice assistant with feelings akin to “meh”. Was it a flash in the pan fad? Would Alexa really understand me, where Siri had failed so spectacularly? Seriously, I asked Siri to tell me the weather for the day, and she showed me Google results for Michael Faraday.
But on this particular New Year’s Eve, I joined my BFFs & SOs at JenJen’s house, where she & her wife had just installed the Alexa they got for Christmas. Cue much champagne, gin and vodka later, and I was over in the corner asking Alexa “what’s it all about?”
My slightly inebriated state notwithstanding, I was beginning to fall in love with the device. And this was just my first flirtation with Alexa. I’m almost ready to join the other lazy/efficient humans in a marriage to the sexy time-saving device.
The current installed base of virtual assistants now exceeds 1.5 billion devices. Google previously reported that its Assistant is now on one billion devices (mostly smartphones). Earlier, Apple said that that Siri had 500 million active users around the world. Amazon also reported more than 100 million Alexa devices sold to date.
That is a lot of love for the voice-commanded robots, and this bond will only get stronger over time. We need only look at our growing and genuine addiction to our smartphones. According to an article in Forbes —
The brain on “smartphone” is the same as the brain on cocaine: we get an instant high every time our screen lights up with a new notification. It’s all thanks to dopamine, the feel-good chemical that gets released every time you do something you enjoy, like eating your favourite meal or getting a hundred likes on your latest Instagram post. Dopamine reinforces (and motivates) behaviour that makes us feel good and, in turn, can create addiction.
Our obsession with smart and digital devices is not going to go away. If anything, as we focus on reducing our screen time our use of voice search and virtual assistants may increase. We know staring at screens for hours is bad for us, but voice search could offer us a way to cheat our screen time goals and still get that high from procrastination and distraction.
So, as marketers, we need to really focus on how we can use voice search to our advantage. How do we make sure that our search engine rankings tie in with the instant gratification granted by voice search? Amazingly, if you already have a successful SEO strategy, there are just a couple of tweaks needed to optimise your site for voice search.
You need to be ready to capitalise on your online reviews. Imagine someone does a voice search for the best digital marketing agency in Northamptonshire.
How will a search engine determine who is “the best”? By utilising your company’s reviews. In a general “best of” search, the reviews that make the Google grade will be four stars and above. The more of these reviews you have, the better your ranking will be.
I’ve written before about the importance of having a review strategy, but I’ll happily repeat myself here: if you don’t have one, GET ONE.
Your strategy should include asking your customers for reviews as part of your service process, and you can easily automate this. Once your work is completed, get ahead of the game and send a review request to your client.
Remember to make it easy for them, too — don’t just send a link with a 400 point form to fill out, because they won’t do it, no matter how happy they are with your work. Keep in mind that your client is busy, and make your review process quick and easy.
This should already be in your SEO strategy, but make sure your details are correct on EVERY online directory that you are listed under. You’ll also want to include the following in your business listings:
Prioritise your phone number. No one will use voice search to send you snail mail. Have your contact number prominently displayed on each page of your website.
Ensure your company address is correct. Remember that people may be searching for your company using voice commands on their GPS. It will also be generally helpful to have your address marked out on Google Earth/Maps, as someone may ask for the “real view” rather than map view.
LTF’s Google Earth image
yes, you do need to list your opening hours. If someone finds your business via voice search and they can find out that you’re not open at their time of search, they can use virtual assistant to set themselves a reminder to contact you during your opening hours.
Bear in mind that 9 to 5 is no longer the standard for working hours, particularly among Millenials and Gen Z (the people most likely to adopt voice search technology). These two generations statistically opt for flexible work hours to suit their industries and lifestyles.
So, be sure to list your opening hours. You may not be working at 8pm on a Monday, but someone searching for your company will be.
Is your business name an acronym? Perhaps add the phonetic alphabet details to your keywords. For example, we would need to add Lima Tango Foxtrot to our keywords. We might also need to add the two potential pronunciations of Lima (Leemur and Lime-a).
Remember the polite granny who asked Google questions with please & thank yous? The one who went viral in 2016?
Hold her as your standard for voice search optimisation.
The granny who thought that she was talking directly to a person when she asked Google a question
We need to start thinking about conversational search, starting with what that actually means:
Conversational search is the non-keyboard, verbal input version of a traditional search engine. Instead of using a keyboard or mobile phone screen to enter a query, users utilise the spoken word using their voice and speak the query either into their mobile phone, desktop or via their smart-speaker (e.g. Google Home). By nature queries (or keywords / keyword phrases) using voice (i.e. the spoken word) versus a typed query utilising a keyboard, are longer and tend to be more conversational in nature. i.e. they are nearer to how a human would speak.
So, when we use voice search we are more likely to ask full questions, rather than the abbreviated queries we type into a search engine. Think “Ok Google, who’s the best digital marketing agency in Northamptonshire”, rather than “best digital marketing agency Northamptonshire.”
You will need to take a closer look at your long tail keywords and adjust them accordingly. We like, totes literally don’t speak in shorthand, yeah?
But in all seriousness, consider the vernacular in which your target market speaks. If you market clothes to Gen Z and Millenials, you may need to include such phrases as “On Fleek” in your keywords. If you market IT solutions to big corporations, avoid “On Fleek”. Take the time to consider your customer profiles and how your customers may speak. This should help you to narrow down your voice search optimisied long tail keywords and full phrases.
Remember that voice search will currently only result in ONE ANSWER to the query, rather than the multiple answers you get from a traditional keyboard search.
Yes, we are talking about mobile optimisation again. Because it is VITAL that your website is mobile friendly for both traditional SEO and now for voice search.
People are rampantly using their mobile devices to conduct voice searches.
Based on this, Google announced that their search algorithms will primarily begin to use mobile versions of websites as a primary ranking factor.
Invest in making your website mobile friendly. I can’t stress how important it is to the digital success of your business.
These are all things that should be easy to bake into your existing SEO strategy, and (trust me) it’s better for you to start now before the competition cottons on 😉