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"Okay Google, Who Actually Cares About Voice Search?"
A Google Home device has been sold every second since 18th October 2017. That makes a pretty compelling case for the importance of voice search. But, who actually cares?
If you’ve even sneezed in the direction of the digital marketing industry, you’ve probably been spammed by countless articles about voice search. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, explaining best practices and offering optimisation advice. We’re not really ones for jumping on bandwagons though. So, instead of bringing you the same recycled discussions, we’re going to look at whether you should actually believe the hype or not.
Is voice search transforming SEO as much as some claim? Or is it just a passing fad? We can feel a debate brewing…
It’s a Revolution, Get Your Arse in Gear and Start Optimising!
We thought we’d start the debate with the most popular opinion among digital marketing buffs. Pretty much everyone in the industry is tripping over themselves to tell you how you need to optimise your site for voice search. So, what are people saying?
Voice Search Predictions
While doing a little research on the different opinions of those in the industry, you’ll find some exciting predictions about the future of voice search:
Now, this is certainly enough to get the juices flowing about voice search but it all feels a little pie in the sky. It’s all well and good making a claim about the future, but where’s the proof? At Netleadz, we’re sticklers for the numbers – so let’s take a look at what voice search is actually doing now!
Current Voice Search Usage
Now, this is the exciting stuff, let’s see what the data is saying about voice search right now:
This is starting to look a lot more interesting. The cold, hard facts are enough to illustrate the clout voice search is likely to have. But, its popularity was never really in question. It doesn’t take an egg-head researcher to notice the boom in people finding a friend in Amazon’s Alexa.
The War of Smart Speakers
We’re currently bearing witness to a new tech war waged by Google and Amazon. Both companies are fighting for dominance of the smart assistant domain with new and exciting products being launched on a virtually month by month basis. As Alexa and Google Home go toe to toe in the public eye, Apple are attempting to gain some form of foothold in the market. But their attempts, at least so far, are proving futile. The question is, why do we care about this drastic rise in smart speakers for the home? The answer’s simple… it means there’s a demand.
If voice first devices are making an impact on the everyday lives of consumers, voice search will become more natural for users. Google’s smart assistant is now available on more than 400 million devices around the world. These smart devices are now incorporating screens, opening yet another channel to tempt consumers.
So far, we’ve seen smart devices from Google, Amazon and Apple directly, as well as a number of third party compatible options from the likes of LG, Sony, Lenovo and JBL. This swift upshot in popularity is putting voice search at the forefront of everyday life. Marketers would be foolish to ignore this.
Amazon Echo Customers Spend More Money
Still not sold on the impact of voice search and smart speakers? Money talks!
The study found that the average Amazon Echo customer in the US spends around $1,700 a year in comparison to the average $1,000 of all other customers. If these stats are anything to go by, optimising for voice search could give your brand a jump in revenue.
The Rise of VR & AR
The future of voice search isn’t an independent phenomenon. To truly understand the effect this tech will have, you need to consider it in tandem with two other hot topics for marketers; virtual and augmented reality.
One of the current challenges of VR, for instance, is how to achieve the most appealing user experience. While the tech is great for gaming, it’s hardly a convenient mode of browsing the internet. Jabbing your finger at an interactive keyboard isn’t exactly intuitive. This is where voice search comes in to play. As browsing becomes so immersive, voice search is a natural inclusion.
VR and AR are still new and exciting technologies, soon enough they’ll be normalised. By the time this happens, they need to prove a worth beyond that of just gaming. As the Forbes Technology Council writes ‘being cool isn’t enough’. A seamless immersive browsing experience is imperative to mass market appeal. Voice search technology really is the answer to this.
Google is already showing signals of intent for how voice search and VR will work in tandem. Back last year, they launched their ‘Speak to Go’ web application. This allowed users to explore the world through the use of virtual reality and voice search. Users say an address and Google drops them in that location as seen by Google Earth cameras. In reality, this was just a simple gimmick to show off some new tech but it does have deeper underlying implications. This is Google’s initial signals of how it sees the future of search evolving.
The questions is, what does it mean for your SEO?
A New Approach to SEO is Needed
Today’s voice search is a far cry from the laughing stock of mobile technology it used to be. The general assumption is that the increased accuracy of voice recognition means voice search is significantly easier than typing a query. No one in digital marketing needs reminding of the effect convenience has on a searcher’s behaviour. So, what are people searching for?
Generally, voice search is more tailored towards a conversational tone. This means people are searching long-tail queries as opposed to high intent, shorter keywords. For example, people are searching ‘Alexa, how do I make moussaka?’ as opposed to the more traditional typed approach ‘moussaka recipes’.
Voice search is also predominantly used on mobile devices and is often tailored towards local searches. Around 22% of searches are for local content and information. Focusing on local SEO could get you to the top of the voice search rankings. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, local isn’t relevant for all businesses. Only those looking to gain a jump in specific locations should consider this. For instance, people looking for Netleadz need only search for ‘the best digital marketing agency in London’.
Voice search is different to traditional SERPs. We don’t see a collection of top ranking sites, often there is only one reliable source offered. Getting this top spot could be huge for a business. This makes it even more important to register for a Google My Business listing and optimise for long-tail keywords. Now, this all sounds well and good, but it’s hardly a call-to-arms for voice search. What is this telling us which we don’t already know?
Google is Taking Voice Search Seriously
In our opinion, this may just be the strongest piece of evidence to support the so-called voice search revolution. For many years, Google have employed a panel of ‘quality raters’ who regularly judge the value of SERPs based on a specific set of criteria. This looks at the type of results a searcher should expect from their query. In an exciting turn of events for SEO geeks, Google has done the same for voice search. This is done to decrease the percentage of inaccurate results. These guidelines are a huge drive forwards by Google to improve the quality of results.
When Google takes this type of action, it means they want this technology to improve quickly. This is no longer an ‘early adopter only’ situation. This is voice search standing on the precipice of mainstream and Google giving it the shove it needs to take the jump.
Complex queries will be asked more regularly – this means we should create content targeting overall topics as opposed to specific keywords or phrases
Audio-only content needs consideration – as this technology grows, we could become audio-only consumers of content, this creates new questions concerning the presentation of content
Shorter interactions – voice search is predominantly aimed at delivering content quickly, this means we will have less time to make an impression on the user
More pressure on top spot – there’s usually only one answer to queries asked by voice search, this means a more intense fight for getting the top position
More focus on local – as voice search leads to a percentage increase in local searches, the weight Google gives to these results are likely to increase
Jayson DeMers doesn’t stop here, he has a few parting words of wisdom to readers of Forbes. If you’re jumping on board with the voice search hype, this is what he says you need to be doing:
Revamp your strategy and redistribute funds to cater for a voice search focused approach
Stop fighting for keywords, pick the topics which matter most to you and create content for this
Invest in a local SEO strategy (frankly, we think you should already be doing this)
Voice Search is Just a Fad... You Don’t Need to Consider it When Optimising for SEO
Now it’s time to turn the tables. There are plenty out there who believe voice search is just a fad. In fact, a recent study found that 62% of marketers are unlikely to implement a specific voice search strategy in the next 12 months. Let’s put it honestly, this tends to be the late adopters who prefer not to invest money until they see genuine, measurable results. So, what are they saying?
You Don’t Need to Change Your SEO Strategy for Voice Search
There’s not much of an argument about the rising popularity of voice search. The numbers speak for themselves. The question comes in how much of an impact voice search will have on a business’ conversions and site traffic. Or, is it all about awareness? Realistically, none of the data surrounding voice search discusses the percentage of conversions which have come as a direct result of this format. Many businesses are considering this as a touch point less relevant than most.
As discussed above, the short interaction time gives businesses a tough time of driving clicks to their site. This isn’t enough to justify companies parting with their money or overhauling their SEO strategy.
We’ve Already Done All We Need to Do – Our SEO Strategy is On Point
There’s one small truth about voice search optimisation which stands out like a sore thumb. So many of the best practices and action points being discussed are common SEO strategies already employed by businesses. Local SEO, natural/conversational language and long-tail keyword targeting are all vital for climbing the SERPs in any highly competitive market. This adds fuel to the claim that voice search actually requires no action at all. We’re going to put it out there though, taking no action while all your competitors jump on board with a trend is often a disastrous approach!
There’s No Way to Track Progress
Of the arguments against voice search, this is one we can understand. The ability to track your voice search analytics is not yet at the level needed. Google has hinted at adding voice filters to their search analytics but this has not yet been rolled out. So, any time or money invested in this is done so without any measurable evidence of its implications. That’s a frightening prospect for any investor.
Having said this, taking a leap of faith is what new technology is all about. If you don’t buy a lottery ticket, you’re never going to win. But, we wouldn’t ask any business owner to part with their money with the only support being an optimistic anecdote about the lottery. When you look hard enough, you can see the facts…
So, What Do We Think About Voice Search?
It’s nice of you to ask. We can’t agree wholeheartedly with either of these arguments. Of course, we were just setting ourselves up for some smart-arsed response to the debate. Here’s what we’ve got for you…
A Step Beyond Mobile
Not long ago, we were banging the drum to all brands that you ‘must optimise for mobile’. This is old news, if you’re not mobile friendly already, you’ve probably been left in the gutter of the SERPs. Yet the drum banging may well commence once more. This time, it’s not for mobile but voice search. It’s likely that Google will (at some point) view voice optimisation in the same light as mobile. If you neglect it, they neglect you. But, what does this really mean?
Crawlability is crucial for SEO. Google’s super cool robots need to be able to rummage around your site for good quality content in order to get you ranking. If Google’s bots can’t get to your site or understand the content there, you’ll be penalised (or at best ignored).
Your website should be accessible for voice search. For example, have you considered appropriate schema markups? This is a way of highlighting key data on your site for Google. Think about tickets, product prices, event details or even key information on a specific person. Schema markups are a way of notifying Google of this. If you think of it in relation to voice search, someone could ask a specific question and Google may rely on your site for the sourced answer.
The Featured Snippets Paradigm
We’re a little proud of that title, it almost sounds scientific. The truth is, it’s a lot less pretentious than that.
There’s been a huge drive towards optimising content for Google’s featured snippets. Lovingly titled ‘position zero’, these feature boxes will deliver your content a huge number of clicks if you target the right keywords. These generally appear when your content answers a searcher’s question accurately and succinctly.
Due to the question and answer nature of voice search, these featured snippets are usually offered as Google, Alexa or Siri’s answers. So, chasing after these featured snippets are an effective way of incorporating voice search into your SEO strategy without having a detrimental effect on your current approach.
The Importance of Question and Answer Searches – FAQs, Quora & Reddit
The key here is to find the questions being asked by your potential consumers. Sites like Quora and Reddit (as well as relevant industry forums) can be invaluable for this. Explore these platforms for questions being asked related to your sector. This gives you an ideal platform for drafting up a comprehensive FAQ page.
When doing this, consider the importance of long-tail keywords. Think conversational, natural language. Unfortunately, traditional keyword research won’t give you as much help as it ordinarily would – people speak differently to how they type search queries. It’s still worth taking a look at keyword research but use this more for inspiration.
Ensure your answers are in natural, conversational language too. If possible, group similar question topics together to allow for a more coherent structure and relevancy.
It’s About Good SEO, Not Necessarily a Voice-First Approach
We hate to be the guys to burst the voice search bubble, but we don’t believe it’s likely to overtake the importance of traditional browsing any time soon. At this stage, a voice-first SEO approach could prove ineffective – your current rankings are more important.
With that said, we’re not saying you should ignore this completely. With the onset of emerging tech, our browsing habits are set to change dramatically. Voice search should be included within your SEO strategy, but not as the sole focus. There are best practices which will give you the best chance of ranking. Give these a try, just don’t live or die by the voice search sword… yet.
Above all, don’t let yourself fall behind and suddenly rush to play catch up. This will make it immeasurably more difficult to exploit opportunities amidst the onslaught of added competition.
There is No Such Thing as a One Size Fits All Approach
Much of the discussion around voice search seems to overlook one of the most important aspects of any business’ online strategy. There is no such thing as a one size fits all approach. Every business is different, as are their priorities.
If you’re a vegan ice cream store in Shoreditch, working on a local SEO strategy for voice search will be important. If, however, you’re an envelope manufacturer in Stoke, there’s less of a chance you’ll need to invest in this. Besides, the lack of a clear conversion route will always cast question marks for some businesses.
The best way to resolve this, is to ask yourself what the most important touchpoints for your brand are. Considering whether being found through voice search fits into your funnel is vital. This will tell you whether redistributing funds to cater for voice is a viable approach for your business or not.
Google Allows Digital Marketers to Browse Analytics Through Voice Search
Just a fun little nod to any digital marketers reading this. Google has made its analytics searchable by voice. If clicking through a tonne of options to find what you’re looking for is the bane of every meeting, you needn’t worry. Do a short ‘Okay Google’ style search on your analytics dashboard and you’ll see the results you need in an instant.
This may make our lives easier as marketers, but don’t you think it’s a cunning move by Google?
Appealing to the marketers to get their buy in. This screams out to us that Google wants marketers to optimise for search. Cheap move, or has it already worked?
Too Long, Didn’t Read (A.K.A. Our Conclusion)
Can’t be bothered reading all of our info on voice search? It was a little meaty! We’ve tied this particularly exciting SEO based present in a sweet little bow for you…
We think voice search is important, but it’s not yet a revolution. The important word here is ‘yet’. A solid SEO strategy in place will help, but there are an abundance of tactics to employ which can get you ahead in the game. Now is the time to start making these movements and broadening your strategy. Just don’t buy in to the hype of a voice first SEO approach, your traditional SEO strategy should take priority. Just don’t neglect it altogether!
Bonus: 5 Things You Should Optimise Now!
Focus on featured snippets to optimise for voice search
Get favourable Google reviews as part of your local SEO strategy
Maximise content aimed at your customers’ decision-making processes
Use structured data markups
People are not robots – adopt a more conversational tone in your content
Does all this talk of voice search feel a little overbearing? We can offer clear and direct advice on how best to optimise your site to cater for your consumers and business priorities. If you’d like unbiased, honest advice and guidance, get in touch today. Let us take your business to the next level.