Now is the time to optimize your content for voice search, technology’s newest 600-pound (and growing) gorilla.
A six-year-old has a conversation with her family’s voice-activated assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, about cookies and dollhouses. Not long after that, a $170 dollhouse and seven pounds of cookies are delivered to the house. The parental control gets activated, the dollhouse is donated, the family enjoys the cookies and everyone has a laugh.
In the UK, a woman’s African grey parrot, Buddy, mimics his owner’s voice and orders a set of gift boxes—even responding “Yes,” when Alexa asks for confirmation. Luckily, the owner is able to cancel the order when she’s notified of it. Some detective work reveals the feathered culprit, the appropriate controls are put into place and once again, a good laugh is had by all.
Ask…and Alexa Will Find
As these stories show, smart speakers—along with newer desktop computers and other mobile voice technologies—have become an accepted part of our daily lives (intentionally or otherwise). And as the tech continues to improve, Alexa, Google Home, Cortana, Siri, Watson, Viv, Bixby and other voice-activated assistants are turning into online searchers’ and shoppers’ best friends. Voice-assisted shopping is expected to jump to $40 billion by 2022, up from $2 billion in 2018, with general household speaker use estimated to grow more than 40% in the same time frame.
When that happens, people will be doing a lot more than shopping with voice. Even now, in voice tech’s relative childhood, NPR’s Smart Audio Report found that smart speaker owners are using their voice-activated assistants for all sorts of reasons.
Convenient—Voice search is easy (and safe) to use when driving or walking.
Time-saving—People talk more quickly than they type—three times faster, in fact, according to a study by Stanford University.
Informative—Searchers tend to give more information to the voice assistant because it’s more like a conversation, and the results of the search are often more detailed, too.
Easier for users with mobility or vision issues—Challenged by vision problems or arthritic fingers, some users have trouble reading screens or typing on a keyboard or phone. Voice assistance is an easy way for these users to interact.
Voice-activated speakers help people get instant information, make multitasking easy and slide into our daily routines with a minimum of fuss or learning time. Basically, you just talk to them exactly as you would another human being. According to Google, 41% of people who own a voice-activated speaker say it feels like they’re talking to another person, or even a friend.
As such a natural fit, it’s not surprising that voice search is also changing the way people look for and discover brands, products and services. However, since people search differently with their voices than they do typing a search into a computer, with voice as part of the equation, SEO becomes a whole new ball game.
The Effect of Voice Search on SEO
Let’s say you’re looking for a hotel in downtown Detroit, Michigan. You travel with your dog, so the hotel needs to be pet-friendly. And because you like taking him for walks along the riverfront, you’d like to be close to Detroit’s RiverWalk, a pedestrian-friendly section of the city’s riverfront. Oh, and free breakfast and attached parking wouldn’t hurt, either.
How would you search for that on your laptop or phone keyboard? It’s a lot to type, so if you’re like most people you might start with, “dog-friendly riverfront hotels downtown Detroit.” You get a list of top results—some suitable, some not—and proceed to either click on each individual result to do your comparisons, or add the other details as needed to refine your search.
But because querying a voice-activated assistant feels more like talking to a person, we’re more casual and informative with our smart speakers. We tend to use more natural language, we ask complete questions, we add more information to our searches—and we’re even more polite. Have you or someone you know ever talked to a voice-activated assistant like this?
You: “Cortana, please find me a dog-friendly hotel with a swimming pool and a free breakfast and a parking garage near the Detroit RiverWalk.”
<Cortana gives you your result>
You: “Thanks, Cortana.”
Us, too. But it never hurts to be kind, right? (Plus, we know our Terminator movies; it doesn’t hurt to be in the machines’ good graces, just in case.)
Here’s another example. Wouldn’t it be great to use a voice command to turn on the oven and turn off the microwave while you’re busy getting ingredients out of the refrigerator?
Whirlpool has your back with a line of appliances that integrate with Alexa. If you look at the instructions for the Alexa integration, it’s actually quite interesting to browse the commands. Notice how they’re couched in plain, conversational language: “Alexa, ask Whirlpool for the current fridge temperature.” “Alexa, tell Whirlpool to turn off the microwave.” “Alexa, tell Whirlpool to set the oven to 375 degrees.”
Improve Customer Experience with Personalized Content
As the technology learns to differentiate between users, voice search capabilities can help enhance your digital marketing strategies, too, providing information about individual users that can help businesses personalize their content and lead to a better customer experience, which can lead to a greater likelihood of repeat business.
Although the full adoption of voice search may not have happened yet, it’s a good idea to start thinking about your business’s voice content strategy now so you’re fully prepared—especially when it comes to SEO.
To illustrate, let’s take our fictional Detroit riverfront hotel as an example. If you’re the owner and you know your pet-friendliness is a definite selling point, voice technology will make it possible for you to use more detailed SEO—longer keyword phrases, of three words or more—to meet searchers’ criteria.
Instead of “Detroit riverfront hotel,” you could use, “Pet-friendly riverfront Detroit hotel,” and even add more to your keyword phrases, like “free breakfast” or “free parking”—whatever you think potential guests will be looking for. Questions that your current customers and/or prospects act can also be great idea-sparkers for keyword phrases to work into your content.
Since voice search responds to queries posed as complete questions (“Alexa, what time is it?” “Hey, Google, will it snow today in New York?” or, from a mobile phone, “Siri, where is the nearest tire repair shop?”), your SEO phrases can be framed as answers to the questions you know your searchers will ask.
Getting to Know Voice Search: Helpful Resources
A great place to start becoming familiar with the structure of voice search is by studying guides for the major voice platforms. If you’re an old hand at voice search this step may feel too basic, but keep in mind that for a number of people it will be a first encounter. Reading the guides with a newbie perspective can help you understand how users will be approaching voice search. Here are a few excellent online guides:
- Apple’s guide to Siri
- Google’s guide to Google Assistant
- Microsoft’s guide to Cortana
- CNET’s list of commands: Siri, Cortana, OK Google
- Google’s Evaluation of Search Speech – Guidelines (this is a bit more high-level; opens as a PDF file)
And because humor can tell you a lot about the ways people use voice search (and maybe even help you add some humor to your own content to help engage searchers):
- 201 funny answers from Siri
- 70+ funny Google Now voice commands
- 131 funny questions to ask Cortana
- The best Alexa easter eggs
Finally, Backlinko, a popular marketing blog with an SEO focus, has one of the most comprehensive voice search guides we’ve ever seen. Definitely worth checking out.
If you’re thinking, “This is all great, but voice search has a way to go before it’s the standard, so why bother with it now?” you do have a point—but it’s one that’s becoming harder to defend as more people invest in voice-controlled devices.
That’s why now, before the rest of the market realizes the potential of voice search, is the time to start thinking about including a voice search strategy in your digital marketing plan. Because when you’ve optimized your content for the words people say, rather than the words they type, you’ll be top of the voice-activated assistants’ “minds”—and far ahead of your competitors when a searcher says, “Alexa, where can I find…?”
Need some guidance in optimizing or creating content for any situation? We’re ready to help, since storytelling is in our DNA. Contact our Marketing Director, Jeremy Sterling, at email@example.com or 734-546-5434 for more information.
- “Hey, I didn’t order this dollhouse! 6 hilarious Alexa mishaps,” by Gia Liu, digitaltrends.com, March 5, 2018.
- “Voice Shopping Set to Jim to $40 Billion By 2022, Rising from $2 Billion Today,” by OC&C Strategy Consultants, prnewswire.com, February 28, 2018.
- “Speech Is 3x Faster than Typing for English and Mandarin Text Entry on Mobile Devices,” by Sherry Ruan, hci.stanford.edu, undated.
- “5 ways voice assistance is shaping consumer behavior,” by Sara Kleinberg, thinkwithgoogle.com, January 2018.
- “The Smart Audio Report,” (PDF) by NPR and Edison Research, nationalpublicmedia.com, June, 2017.
- “Why Your Brand Should Have a Voice Search Strategy,” ui.digitalmarketinginstitute.com, undated.
- “SEO: How to Optimize for Voice Search,” ui.digitalmarketinginstitute.com, undated.