Voice Powered Search: What it Means to Your Business

A man is looking at his phone while driving, making a voice query.

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Unless you’ve time-warped back to the ‘90s, you’re most likely familiar, and aware, of the practice of search engine optimization as a method of improving brand visibility, and driving traffic, phone calls and sales for your business.

Now we’ve got one more curve ball added to the mix: Voice Powered Search

In case you still need a quick refresher, search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of optimizing your content and web pages, including certain words and phrases, to make it more likely to show up on search engines. Google looks at over 200 “signals” or factors that impact where your page shows up for any given search phrase. SEO attempts to optimize for all of them.

However, this process isn’t an exact science. Google updates their ranking algorithm over a few hundred times a year. Of course, they don’t always give us an indication as to what was altered. After all, they don’t really want us manipulating the results for our benefit.

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Additionally, since Google and other search engines are constantly changing their search algorithms, keeping abreast of these changes and how they impact your site is becoming increasingly important.

The nature of search engine optimization is almost constantly changing, and it was predicted in the 2009 book “The Art of SEO” that voice recognition searches would play a major role in SEO in the future. Voice recognition has never been as reliable as text-based searches, but it has improved significantly over the last few months. Conversational search capability is making desktop search easier to use, nutritional information is readily available via mobile voice search apps, and Google Now can provide quick answers to questions asked on the fly.

Google is obviously trying hard to make voice searches work, and other companies such as Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex are implementing regularly updated voice recognition software into their search engines. Naturally, SEO professionals are wondering how voice recognition searches differ from text-based searches and how they will affect SEO in general.

Voice vs. Text

For those who are wondering, voice recognition searches are very different from text searches. When someone searches for something with a text-based search engine, they enter a series of keywords, terms, and phrases that usually don’t fit together as a full sentence. This usually doesn’t present a problem for search engines because they are programmed to recognize keywords and phrases regardless of syntax. On the other hand, voice recognition search doesn’t work this way. People tend to speak in a conversational tone when they use voice recognition search engines, something that would yield fewer and less accurate results in a text-based search.

Why Voice Search is so Important

Voice search has seen a strong evolution over the last few years, from a trendy proof of concept to trendy fad, and on to widespread adoption with the integration of Siri, Cortana, and Alexa into the devices in our hand (cell phones) and in our homes (Google Home, etc.).

Not convinced that voice search is here to stay?

Check out these stats….

  • According to Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, around 1/5th of ALL Google searches are made by voice command.
  • According to Voice Labs there are over 33 million voice-first devices in circulation and this number is slated to continue with exponential growth.
  • When surveyed, the majority of search engine thought leaders list voice search amongst the top three trends in 2018 and beyond.
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What Demographics are Using Voice Search?

Interested in SEO optimizing for voice search but are unsure of the market demo to go after?

Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of the age groups using personal voice-assisted search in the United States as uncovered by Thrive Analytics:

  • 71% of all users 18-29 years of age
  • 59% of all users 30-43 years of age
  • 39% of all users 44-53 years of age
  • 38% of all users 54 years of age or older

Searching for Local Stores

Now that we’ve established how voice recognition searches are different from text-based searches, let’s talk about how that affects searching for local businesses. Programs such as Siri and Google Now can tell you about what kinds of businesses are nearby when you ask them where you are. The local businesses that are displayed in these searches are those that are the most popular and relevant. This means that keeping a local business’s website updated is more important than ever. Local businesses will be in more direct competition with each other since word of mouth advertising literally turns into search engine hits.

How to Optimize for Voice Search

We’re all familiar with traditional SEO, but how do we optimize our search results for voice commands?

First, voice commands are longer than text queries. In fact, the average length of a traditional text query is 3.2 words as compared to 4.2+ words for voice.

This presents both an opportunity and challenge. Think going ULTRA long tail. This means LESS competition, hyperfocus, and enhanced user intent.

The downside? This may mean production of a LOT MORE CONTENT to hit all these ultra-long-tail commands. So how can you ensure you hit all the biggies?

With voice commands, we’ve seen a 61% growth in those queries starting with:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • Why; and
  • How

Therein lies a solid opportunity to focus your content around question based queries. Put yourselves in the shoes of the target audience. What types of questions will or do they have and how can you effectively address these.

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Voice Search Optimization Tips:

  • Develop in-depth content that answers common questions surrounding your: brand, company, services/products, pricing, use, etc.
  • Leverage structured data markup and schema
  • Aim for getting featured in the knowledge graph / featured snippet
  • Think past H1 and H2 tags, and incorporate additional headings and sub-headings as well as numbered and bulleted lists
  • Collect chat and support ticket data to formulate content based around the most common questions your users and prospects ask
  • Consider leveraging Google’s auto-suggest data for content curation
  • Conduct manual research using voice commands as if you were your own customer

Voice Search and Global Enterprises

Global enterprises that may not have local stores should also keep voice searching in mind when they consider their SEO strategies. Voice searching may not affect these businesses in the same way it affects local businesses, but people are still using voice searching to find them. One way companies can use this relatively new technology is by adopting a Q&A or FAQ content strategy. People tend to use complete sentences when they use voice search programs; they even go as far as to ask specific questions. Companies can take advantage of this by providing search engine hits that answer frequently asked questions. Not only will this increase traffic to company websites, but it will also improve a company’s reputation by providing better customer service.

The goal of search engines has always to provide users with their original search intent. When users enter some vaguely connected keywords into Google, this was relatively easy. Now that voice recognition software has come into play in a big way, companies have to change their SEO strategies if they want to stay ahead of their competition. This sounds like a daunting task, but it could also provide companies the opportunity to provide better search results and even better customer.

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