The Rise of Voice Search: How Small Business Owners Can Prepare

Voice Search for Small Businesses

The Amazon Echo and Google Home found their sales surging in 2017 after being heavily discounted for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. With the growing popularity of smart speaker devices, it’s no wonder that many predict Google search by voice to be one of the biggest SEO trends for 2018.

Data shows people’s increasing inclination to use Google search by voice, with 55% of teens and 40% of adults using voice search daily. Digital assistants, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, have a large part to do with this.

It’s interesting to note that 20% of Google searches are voice searches, and 25% of Bing searches are voice searches. Voice searches are predicted to account for half of all searches by 2020.

Societal acceptance can play a huge part in dictating tech trends that impact SEO. A boon for those invested in Google search by voice relate to the results of a study by Stone Temple, which demonstrated that people are becoming increasingly more comfortable conducting voice searches in public.

Given these positive trends for Google search by voice, it’s necessary for you, as well as other forward-thinking marketers and business owners, to start preparing for this new way of consumers finding information online.

So What is Google Search by Voice?

Voice search is a form of speech recognition technology that initiates a search when users state their search terms instead of typing them into a search field. However, as anyone who has had a conversation with Siri, Cortana, or Alexa knows, voice searches are not limited to being used with search engines.

This technology can also be used to launch mobile applications, request specific information, clarify the specifics of a request, search for content (such as audio or video files), and for voice dialing.

A voice search is conducted by software called Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA), which bases the results it delivers to the user on a number of factors, including user input, location, and access to sources.

How Google Search by Voice will Impact SEO and Other Searches

The increase of voice searches will impact SEO in a number of different ways, as people search and move through the internet differently when searches are conducted by speaking instead of typing.

One way Google search by voice could impact current search behavior is through the length of queries. Voice search isn't suitable for long queries and is most often used to find very specific information on the spot.

This can include anything from searches such as, “What’s the best Chinese restaurant near me?” to “Who is the actress who played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies?” These searches are looking for only snippets of information, rather than deep dives into a subject, supported by longform content.

You will still want to create content that answer the sort of questions that your audience will be asking—either via voice searches or more traditional searches. However, you need to be prepared for the possibility that users will not be reading or even seeing the content, but rather listening to their voice assistant regurgitating it.

Because the majority of content IPAs provide is from Google’s featured snippets, the value of securing a place within the blurb is already significantly increasing. To secure the featured snippet, Ahrefs data suggests that you must first rank in the top 10 in the SERPs for your keyword phrase.

A focus on Google search by voice and securing the featured snippets for your target keywords means that the importance other types of searches, such as organic searches, may start decreasing.

If voice search was only used by screenless devices with virtual assistants, it could be expected that voice search would be a novelty for a long time before eventually gaining traction. However, the popularity of voice searches on mobile devices has allowed the technology to grab sure footing in the market.

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Google Search by Voice: What You Can Do To Prepare

The first step in getting your company ready to adapt to Google search by voice is optimizing for mobile devices.

Already, 60% of searches are done on mobile, and this number will likely continue to increase, as more and more mobile users become comfortable with voice searches—especially as it can sometimes be cumbersome to type out a query.

Optimize Your Location

People often use their mobile phones, and subsequently their IPAs, to find specific places near them. In fact, 22% of voice searches are for location-based content. This trend is monumental for brick-and-mortar establishments.

To take advantage of this consumer habit, you’ll want to optimize for local searches. The easiest way to optimize your business for local searches is listing your business on Google My Business.

When listing your business, make sure you include your name, address, phone number, and website (NAP+W). You’ll also want to include store hours, prices, and directions. It’s absolutely essential that all this information is consistent across all of your channels, including your website, online listings, and social media accounts.

Create Content for Google’s Answer Box

Most content pulled by IPAs is from the “position zero” results—also known as the featured snippet. Securing the coveted zero position does not require your website to be at the top of the search results for a query, but it does require Google to think that you offer the best answer to a user’s question.

To get the featured snippet, you need three things:

  • Content that clearly answers the question
  • Clear code and tagging that Google can understand
  • Positive user engagement signals

Additional factors that impact where information is taken for position zero results include location (different countries have different snippets) and authority, which means it’s helpful to have backlinks from related sources.

According to Search Engine Land, “Google has patents for extracting entities from queries, returning factual answers in response to searches, and for retrieval of information to better understand how, and when, to generate an answer box—in other words, it’s at their discretion to award an answer box to a site for any given query.”

So, before you are able to create content for position zero, you need to know what questions you are going to be answering.

To do this, talk to your customer service department. Or, if you’re a solopreneur, review frequently asked questions. Focus on creating content that clearly and concisely answers these questions.

If you don’t have any content appearing in featured snippets, take a look at competitors who have content being highlighted when users ask questions you want to be answering. Focus on what keywords they are using. This can be done by using a tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs, which can also help you identify target long-tail keywords.

You’ll want to specifically create long-tail keywords that mimic the way people speak. It’s important to keep this in mind because these types of keywords differ significantly between voice searches and SERPs.

Moz shares an example as to how these differ: If you want to know the who the CEO of Microsoft is, you’ll type “Microsoft CEO” into a search engine. However, when you use a voice search, you’re more likely to say, “Who’s the CEO of Microsoft?”

To optimize your content for voice searches, conduct your keyword research according to the way people speak. Answer the Public is a great tool for this. Or, you can simply do voice searchers yourself and see what content comes up for your targeted keywords. It’s also helpful to look at the related questions on the Google SERPs to find additional keywords.

Neil Patel explains that with the Google Hummingbird update, which was released in 2013, the company started redefining searches by focusing on context and user intent versus just keywords.

This forced marketers to change their strategies from stuffing keywords to focusing on quality content and natural language. This repositioning to include more natural language is what makes long-tail keywords so powerful. Expect further shifts in this direction as voice search becomes increasingly popular.

Updates on Google Search by Voice

Google has hinted that voice search reporting will soon be part of search console analytics. However, no time frame has been announced as of yet. Though the promise was made back in 2016, it was reiterated at the SMX Advanced 2017. Most likely, Google has already collected the data but is still looking for ways to parse the queries.

Final Thoughts – The Rise of Google Search by Voice: How Small Business Owners Can Prepare

With the rapidly growing popularity of voice searches, as well as the cultural acceptance of people demanding information from their IPAs in public, it’s important for you to be optimizing your content and securing your place at position zero. This is even more necessary for brick-and-mortar establishments that can take advantage of local searches, which are particularly popular via voice search.

Voice search is not a fad, it is here to stay. So, make sure your voice is the first to reach your target audience instead of just becoming an echo in the empty chambers of the internet.

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Maddy Osman

Maddy Osman

Maddy Osman creates engaging content with SEO best practices for marketing thought leaders and agencies that have their hands full with clients and projects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website, and read her latest articles on Twitter: @MaddyOsman.