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voice search

Voice Search: What Small Business Owner’s and Marketers Need to Know

Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch About Voice Search

An increasing number of people are turning to search devices, but not necessarily search engines per se. We have laptops and our phones, and then, of course, we’ve got these Alexa and Google Home devices. These are how people are actually now executing searches. Not all of it is direction-based (“Google, find a salon nearby). A lot of it is going to be assistant-based. It’s going to be playing our music. It’s going be turning our lights off. The sky’s the limit.

As marketers, we need to start embracing this idea of search using voice. Research says 50% of searches will be voice-based by 2020.

So are we in “panic mode” time? I don’t know if that’s the case, but we certainly are at “pay attention mode” time, even for the smallest of businesses.

In fact, for local businesses, this is coming faster than you might have realized or understood, and it may be more important for these businesses to pay attention to voice search more than any other business now. According to Search Engine Watch, mobile voice-related searches are three times more likely to be locally-based than text.

Yes, a lot of those searches have to do with looking for directions or trying to find a good place to do “X”. They’re not necessarily doing full-on research, say to hire an attorney or to hire a plumber necessarily, but a lot of transaction-based searches and location-based searches are happening through voice search in the local market.

According to Bright Local, 53% of people use voice search to find information on local businesses. Many say they use voice search daily (particularly on a smart speaker).

Smart speakers have clearly taken off in the past couple of years, with Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa dominating the marketplace. Google has really moved into the spotlight with their speakers this year because it’s so tightly integrated into search to begin with.

How people use voice search for local businesses

So, what are the things people search for? How do they use voice search for local businesses today? Making restaurant reservations receive the highest use, by far. Additionally, people are using it to find sales and offers from local businesses, as well as to find out which products a local business has in stock. In a nutshell, it consists of a lot of very product transaction-based searches.

What local businesses should do about voice search

Google My Business

If you’re a local business, you need to get really good at some of the things that Google has been telling us about for search anyway, such as optimizing your Google My Business listing. It’s now just become more important so you must embrace it and optimize it. Google is clearly showing signs that they’re not kidding this time. They are investing a lot of time and energy into Google My Business and continue to add features, which I think businesses need to be paying attention to. I’d recommend taking advantage of every new feature they offer, including Google Posts, Messaging, the new description, and product and service offerings. Don’t forget to add photos and videos as well.

Bottom line? Make sure the listing is claimed, accurate, and complete.

Featured Snippet

Have you ever done a search for something and see a full description at the top of the page? This is what people are starting to call position zero or the featured snippet.

position zero

What I believe Google is trying to do is get you to stay on the page. Why ever leave the search results if they can give you most of the answer they think you’re after? The featured snippet is what around 70% of voice searches bring up today. Google Maps results are also big for voice search results.

To get this coveted spot, start doing some brainstorming. Find some low intent terms that don’ have a featured snippet today and write an answer-based or list-based blog post that clearly gets at the intent of what those low intent search terms might be. You might want to take a look at Answer the Public to find questions or related phrases. A lot of times you can create content that more specifically addresses the search term or at least what the intent of a search term is.

Site speed and security

This has never been more important. If your site doesn’t load, you’re never going to show up in voice search results because that’s a bad experience.

According to my friend Brian Dean from Backlinko, 70.4% of Google Home result pages were secured with an HTTPS or SSL certificate. We need to all go to HTTPS, or have secure websites. At some point in 2018, you’re going to start seeing search results that indicate that a site is not secure.

As you can see, reputation matters more than ever. There’s a lot of indication that search results are not going to show up for companies with low ratings for voice search. Local media mentions are probably underrated, so make sure you pay attention to them and social signals as well (even though Google denies it, I believe that it does in fact matter). 

Google Assistant

Google Assistant, which is really part of the Google Home piece, is really going to start doing things. They have a new tool that they’ve announced that’s been getting a lot of hype called Duplex, where you can say, “Hey Google, find me a hairdresser near me and make me an appointment for 2:00 on next Wednesday,” and it is actually going to make the phone call and interact in an artificial intelligence-way with whoever answers the phone.

You’re going to see more of that coming and for a lot of businesses, particularly appointment-based businesses like restaurants and hair salons, the staff are going to need to get those phone calls and it clearly is going to sound like Google. They’re going to need to understand what it is and how to respond to it. 

You’re also going to start seeing smart displays. Televisions today are going to have built-in Google Assistant available more and more where somebody can just be sitting there and tell Google to order them a pizza right from their television without getting up.

As I said, this is not panic time. This is the time to start preparing. Be realistic about it and see if voice search applies to your business at this point. You’re not going to go out there and dominate for voice search in a competitive industry, but I will tell you one thing: Even if you think that they are evil, pure evil, you need to get one of these smart speakers like an Alexa, or a Google Home so that you can understand a little bit about how they work, and what kind of search results they return. 

What is your business currently doing for voice search?

Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO.

voice search

How to Optimize Your Website for Voice Search

As we are all aware at this point, voice recognition technology is continuing to get better and better, in fact, it is now believed to be 95% accurate. As users, we’re adapting to this new voice revolution rather quickly (almost 1/4 of mobile search queries are voice search), yet marketers and SEO specialists seem to be lagging behind a bit when it comes to optimizing for this new way to search.

If you’re in the marketing world, it’s time you start paying attention to voice search optimization to help you show up in search results via this method.

While optimizing for voice search requires slightly different tactics than the search engine optimization techniques we’re used to, they can benefit your website as a whole, regardless of how a person is searching for you, so implementing these best practices is really a win-win.

Aim for the Featured Snippet

Position zero, or Google’s featured snippet, is now the most coveted spot in search engine results pages for many reasons, but becoming the top result for voice search is now one of them.

A featured snippet is meant to be a quick answer to a question (as shown in the screenshot below), which is typically what people are looking for when they are using voice search.

voice search optimization

If you are able to land this spot in results pages, you’ll be more likely to be the result found in voice search results. According to a survey by Backlinko, 40.7% of all voice search answers came from a Featured Snippet.

With the featured snippet, simple answers (such as asking a celebrity’s age) are answered directly as they are facts. For more expert/opinion-based posts, search engines will pull content from websites they think are the best fit to answer the question.

Helpful tips to get to that desired spot include:

  • Knowing and addressing your audience’s intent
  • Doing your keyword research
  • Creating high-quality content that answers questions
  • Implementing SEO best practices
  • Focusing on easy-to-follow formatting

At the end of the day, aiming for the Featured Snippet should be a top priority regardless of how people search, but it can really give you an extra boost with voice search.

Optimize for certain types of keywords

As most people in the marketing world know, when it comes to SEO, keywords are, well, key. They are at the core of your content strategy and help you identify and respond to audience intent.

When it comes to voice search, you need to think about keywords and SEO a bit differently as these search queries tend to be a bit longer than type-based search. Because of this, you really need to put an emphasis on long-tail keywords.

Additionally, when people use voice search, they’re typically more conversational than when they type terms into a search box. Be sure to create content around conversational phrases. Having an FAQ page on a site or Q&A related blog posts can be easy for search engines to pull from since questions typically come across as being more conversational. I like using Answer the Public to find questions related to search terms I’m trying to rank for. I definitely encourage you to check it out!

When it comes to SEO, I don’t really condone shortcuts as SEO should be looked at as a marathon, not a sprint, however, research is showing that there are some common trigger words that may help with voice search that you could add to your target keyword phrases to help you get found through voice search. These terms include, but are not limited to:

  • Buy
  • Get
  • Find
  • Top rated
  • Closest

Granted, don’t include these in all of your content, but you may want to consider sprinkling them in here and there.

Understand schema markup

If you’re asking yourself what schema markup is, I highly recommend starting your research (and don’t be deterred by code, this is important stuff!). Not only does it bode well for search optimization in general, it may also be one of the most important factors to ranking for voice search.

In a nutshell, schema markup helps search engines understand the content on a page. By including it on your website, you make it very clear what that page is all about, making it easy for search engines to scan.

Invest in mobile optimization

For SEO in general right now, it is imperative that your website is mobile-friendly. Google primarily cares about user experience and are now pulling the experience on mobile devices over a desktop for SEO. I’d recommend moving to a responsive design and ensuring mobile site speed is quick to avoid penalty.

Since so many voice searches are done via mobile device it’s essential you are optimized to help get found in mobile results.

Focus on content

While this may seem like a no-brainer at this point in the SEO game, there are a few specific tips that you should pay attention to specifically when it comes to voice search:

  • Ensure your content is simple and easy to read
  • Aim to write long-form content (roughly 2,000 words) as that’s typically what Google pulls from for voice search
  • Answer your audience’s questions and solve their problems with your content
  • Write/speak naturally in your content (this goes back to people using conversational phrases when using voice search)
  • Share your content on social media regularly, as those tend to perform better with voice search

Stick with SEO basics

Lastly, don’t forget about the basics of SEO. The more you follow those best practices, the more Google will reward you. Just because there are new aspects to consider doesn’t mean you should forget about the existing elements.

  • Be sure to optimize on-page elements with relevant keywords including URL, page title, header tags, alt text, meta description, and within the copy itself.
  • Build a backlink and review strategy.
  • Ensure your site is secure.
  • Focus on page speed (according to Backlinko, the average voice search result page loads in 4.6 seconds (52% faster than the average page).

I say this all the time but it never seems to be enough: build out your total online presence. Create the best user experience you can and you’ll see the benefits roll in.

Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO.