“Hey Siri…,” “OK Google…,” “Alexa…” To consumers, using the personal assistant on their device of choice is a high-tech way to get answers simply by asking a question. But, to businesses, this represents the next frontier of search: voice search.
Voice search is a speech recognition technology used by digital assistants—like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa—that allows users to search online by asking questions aloud rather than typing them into a search field. It’s still a relatively new technology, so many companies ignore it or don’t think it’s relevant to them. However, thinking about how your business might be able to use voice search to better serve your customers is important for staying ahead of your competition.
According to Think With Google, customers are open to brands being a part of their voice search experience and to receiving useful information from them, including promotional messages, personalized tips, and, of course, business information like hours of operation and customer service contacts.
Here are a few ways you can start making voice search a part of your online strategy.
1. Create User-Centered Content in a Variety of Formats
Write site content with voice search in mind. FAQ sections are a great way to add valuable content to your site while also optimizing for voice search, answering common questions about your product or industry in one place. This format makes it easy to match the conversational tone inherent in voice searches (e.g., “What food should I eat to get more vitamin B12?”). If you already have an FAQ section on your site or you’re in an industry where Q&A content works well, then this is a great opportunity to build out voice search-friendly content with little additional effort.
Even though most articles on voice search optimization mention FAQ pages as the most voice search-friendly format, that doesn’t mean you need to convert all the content on your site to FAQ pages. A study by Backlinko revealed that “the average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words.” So, if you’re an expert in something, write a guide explaining it. Make use of headings throughout the page to call out common questions users might have—and then answer them. Just make sure the language you use is straightforward and avoids overly technical terminology or industry jargon. Voice search results tend to use simple language, since there’s no easy way for users to look up a word they don’t know.
2. Own Relevant Featured Snippets (aka Answer Boxes)
In the same Backlinko study, their research revealed that almost 41% of voice search results pull their answers from featured snippets. Featured snippets are a SERP (search engine results page) feature that occur at the top of page one for select queries. Taking over relevant featured snippets or answer boxes is not only an easy way to plan for the rise of voice search, but also a great way to increase traditional mobile and desktop traffic to your site. This is a complex topic that could fill several blog posts, so I’ll just cover the basics here. If you’d like an in-depth explanation, then Moz has a more detailed guide on optimizing for featured snippets.
First, find opportunities to optimize content you already have. Run your site through a keyword research tool like the ones offered by SEMRush, Moz, or Ahrefs. These tools generate reports that identify which of the keywords you rank for produce featured snippets. (Unfortunately, you can’t just pick any keyword to optimize for; there has to be a featured snippet already present that you can steal.) These reports make it easy to see which of the keywords you’re ranking for appear on page one of search results and present a good opportunity for optimization. When optimizing a page to take over a features snippet, make sure to use the same format as the current one—whether that’s a paragraph, numbered list, or something else. Cover the topic or question thoroughly on the page, but make sure there’s a one- or two-sentence summary, or a short list somewhere that Google can extract and use.
Second, find opportunities for new featured snippet–friendly content. Use a tool like AnswerThePublic or Quora, or your own site’s search data, to discover the common questions that people are asking about your product, service, or industry. Then create content around those questions, applying the same guidelines you used to optimize your existing content. For example, any one of the questions about the phrase “flavored water” in the screenshot below from AnswerThePublic could be used to create a short blog post, or added to an existing guide or FAQ section.
3. Make Sure Your Company Information Is Correct Online
This is critical for all brands to rank for mobile, desktop, and voice searches. Make sure your brand’s knowledge graph is up to date if you have one—that’s the box that appears on the right of the search engine results page for branded searches on desktop like the one for Nike pictured below. If any of the information is incorrect, verify your association with your brand and you’ll be able to submit a correction or add missing information.
If your company operates physical locations, it’s crucial that the information about them is correct if you want to rank for local voice queries. The business information management platform Yext recently announced a partnership with Amazon that gives Yext the ability to submit their users’ business listings information directly to Alexa, further reinforcing the importance of accurate location data for local voice search visibility. Whether or not you’re on Yext, you can and should ensure that all your map listings are claimed and that the information is accurate and consistent on Google Maps, Bing (the search engine Alexa uses), and Yelp. Fill out the listings with as much information as you possibly can, including holiday hours and social profiles. This can ensure that if anyone uses their personal assistant to look up information about your company or locations, the information they receive will be accurate.
If you’ve already done these first three things and want to do even more to make voice search a part of your online strategy, the next step is to go beyond optimizing the content on your site and start developing new ways to allow users to interact with your brand using their virtual assistants.
4. Build Actions for Google Assistant
Set up an account with Actions on Google and start creating ways for users to interact with your brand via Google Assistant. Google Assistant is a voice-controlled virtual assistant that users can interact with not only on Google Home, but also on Google Pixel smartphones and other Google devices. Below is an example of some of the actions Ticketmaster created to allow users to interact with their brand through Google Assistant, search for information about events, and purchase tickets.
Be creative. Depending on your product, there are endless possible actions you can build to make it easier for people to use your services directly from their virtual assistant.
If you’re an online retailer, you may be interested in Google’s recently announced Shopping Actions, which allows customers to purchase products from retailers and brands via Google Assistant and search with a universal cart. Here’s an example of some available Shopping Actions from Sur La Table:
Right now, this feature is only available to a small number of online retailers, but you can express interest in becoming a Shopping Actions retailer and be among the first to know when Google rolls this out to a larger number of businesses.
5. Prompt Users to Engage with Your Brand on Their Virtual Assistant
According to Gartner, Inc., seventy-five percent of homes may have a smart speaker by 2020, but using voice search on a regular basis is still new for most people. Even if they are comfortable using voice search regularly, people won’t know how they can use it to interact with your brand unless you tell them. And getting enough people to use your voice actions is important, because it helps you collect the data you need to improve your brand’s voice search experience even more. There are many ways to promote your new actions, including pay-per-click campaigns, devoted on-site landing pages and banners, or even product packaging. The most effective method for you depends on your resources and the industry you operate in.
Figuring out how your company fits into the voice search landscape is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to set themselves apart from the competition and become an integral part of their customers’ lives. Like most successful marketing strategies, a successful voice search strategy should start with a thorough understanding of the value your product or service provides for your customers and how they currently use it. Start by optimizing your current assets with voice search in mind. Then figure out how you can leverage voice search to make your product even more accessible to your users. Even if you’re not able to start developing your own voice search actions today, simply keeping voice search in mind as you develop your online strategies can help set you up for success in the future.