Almost overnight, voice search has become a significant part of the marketing landscape. Many businesses, however, don't have a plan to take advantage of what it has to offer.
The development of smartphone technology has turned Siri and Cortana into household names. These voice-activated personal assistants are key parts of the interfaces for Android and iPhone devices, and every day, millions of people use them to find services they need.
In fact, 71 percent of 18 to 29-year-old Americans use smartphone personal assistants, and about 40 percent of all voice search users have taken it up in the past six months. The technology is exploding, but are online businesses ready for it?
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Voice Queries Should Be a Key SEO Concern
One of the most important aspects of voice search is the way people use it. Finding services using Siri is not like typing search queries into Google. Instead, smartphone users tend to ask questions for their personal assistants to answer. They don't type in "frozen yogurt Baltimore," they ask Siri where they can find some frozen yogurt in Baltimore. It's a big difference.
The past year has seen a sharp rise in the number of search engine queries based on words like "who," "what," "when," and "how." This is something that businesses need to respond to. Instead of focusing on short keyword searches, voice search makes it vital to consider longer questions. Marketers need to find out how phone users are phrasing their queries and base their SEO campaigns around these questions.
This isn't as easy as it sounds. It's not possible to tell which Google queries are coming from voice search, but you can get a good idea of the way people use questions by analyzing your:
- Customer service queries
- Social media feeds
Voice Search Optimized Sites Will Be Rewarded by Google
One thing is certain: if voice search continues to rise in popularity, Google will make sure that its algorithms reward sites that answer customer questions as efficiently as possible. Google's own speech recognition error rate has plummeted in recent times, from over 25 percent in 2014 to just 8 percent in 2016, and the firm is investing billions of dollars in perfecting speech-based searching.
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But how can online businesses respond proactively to this development?
- On beyond keyword-based marketing. It seems likely that Google's algorithms will reward searches that align with what customers want, and that raw keyword-based marketing techniques will become less important. Although keywords remain (and are likely to remain) a major part of how the search engines work, how satisfactorily your content addresses user queries will ultimately determine your site’s favorability.
- Connect with customers on an emotional level. Instead of gaming keywords, successful firms will know how to connect with customers on an emotional level. That's what Google is aiming for. Context-specific search results that synchronize with what users want and feel.
Content that meets these criteria should work well.
A Huge Opportunity for Local Businesses
Voice searching is not something for small businesses to fear. In fact, if local companies use the technology wisely, they can capitalize on a wave of localized searches and capture huge numbers of new customers. When people make voice queries on their phones, they tend to be local. They ask things like "where is the nearest burger restaurant?" or "how can I get to the park?" If your company can be the most common answer to questions like this, voice search holds huge potential.
Considering all this information, what exactly can you do to capitalize on this growing trend as a local business?
- Listings. Concentrate your marketing resources on perfecting your listings on Google Maps and sites like Yelp. Ensure that all of the information is accurate and up-to-date, and manage your reviews to showcase your services.
- Site content. The content of your site also needs to be refined to stress your location. Think about the language that local people use to find businesses. Do they refer to streets or neighborhoods in a certain way? If so, include it in your text.
Language. If you run a business catering to tourists, be sure to include some foreign language content as well. Everyone is using voice search these days, and it's not all about English language speakers.
Long-tail keywords. Long tails are harder to rank compared to head keywords but convert well. And because customers in the actual buying stage ask very specific questions, a clear understanding of your website and product/service should help you figure out which long-tail keywords to target.
Mobile Optimization Is Vital
With the rise of smartphone voice search, mobile optimization has become a no-brainer. It's simply got to be done, so if you haven't already redesigned your site to be mobile-friendly, start doing so right away.
Some tips to get you started with mobile optimization:
- Use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test. This is a simple site Google created to analyze the mobile-friendliness of your website’s design. Google has made it clear that mobile-optimized websites will be privileged in search results in the future, and they have provided tools to help businesses adapt, so be sure to use them.
- Less is more. Do away with all the fancy Flash and pop-ups. Mobile users may not have the Flash plugin available on their devices, and pop-ups can be difficult to work with on small screens.
- Optimize your images. Image files that are too big will take a while to load. Image compression tools such as TinyPNG and TinyJPG can help you save bandwidth and accelerate your site’s loading speed.
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Adapting to voice search is something that every business will eventually have to do. Right now, small and mid-sized companies can give themselves an early-adopter advantage by designing their content around voice queries, perfecting their local listings, and ensuring their sites are mobile-optimized.