If you're in the SEO business, you will have noticed that digital assistants and voice search are being hailed as the next big thing to knock the status quo. Search Engine Optimisation is all about getting found online, so it's no wonder that discussions are dominated by a mild sense of panic;
"How will my business cope when users are only given one search result?"
"Have I just wasted all the money I invested in SEO?"
"What are we going to do?!"
It seems people sometimes forget that this is all part and parcel of the SEO industry - the technology available to us, the approaches we take and even our remit itself are in a constant state of flux - that's what makes digital marketing such a dynamic industry. Voice search is just the latest in a long line of challenges and changes we've faced, and it definitely won't be the last. As long as we understand what we're dealing with, this will just become another element of an already multifaceted world.
But why do we need to care about voice search? Well, voice search is here to stay. I probably don't have to tell you that Google Home and Amazon Alexa are becoming more common in people's homes right now. In fact, it's been predicted that in the next few years, over half of UK homes will have some sort of digital assistant. With the devices themselves available at reasonable price points, and the language recognition software improving all the time, digital assistants are going to pop up in more and more homes, and that's in addition to the likes of Siri and Cortana. Not only that, Bright Local's study found that 58% of consumers have used voice search in the last 12 months. A whopping proportion of people have the technology and they are already using it - it's time for us to sit up and pay attention. If you want your site to be visible to voice search users, who are presented with a single search result, you're going to need to think about how you invest in your SEO and there might be some adjustments you need to make.
So, what are we going to do about voice search? This is where reason and logic swoop in to save the day. At the most fundamental level, we aren't going to do anything differently. We need to look at how our users are behaving and optimise our content and sites accordingly. That's the essence of SEO. For voice search in particular, there are two vital pieces of information that we can use to direct our SEO approaches and make the most of early opportunities.
People ask full questions when using voice search
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that voice searches are usually fully formed questions. None of us are going to blurt out "Ok Google, weather London June 11". Instead, we'd ask "Ok Google, what's the weather going to be like in London on June 11th?". Research tells us that this is the standard user behaviour for voice search, so how do we optimise our content accordingly? Target long tail keywords.
In some cases, these are comparatively easy prey because they're so specific that they aren't relevant to other businesses. Obviously, that's not always the case, and it will vary from industry to industry, but optimising your content for these terms is a sensible response to the rise of voice search. Invest in a bit of competitor analysis, get some help from Google Keyword Planner, and you'll have some juicy long tail keywords to work with.
Once you've got them, optimise or write your content using natural language that directly answers the questions users are asking. Google loves a bit of natural language. But you should also be writing with featured snippets in mind; more often than not, digital assistants will read the featured snippet to users, so you're aiming for position 0 more than ever before.
Remember that clear, instructional information is most likely to nab that featured snippet spot. Your content needs to directly answer the user's question in a straight-forward way, that's engaging and interesting to read, or that featured snippet is out of your league.
Voice search users are probably looking for something local
Almost half of voice search users are looking for local businesses every day, and the top three things that consumers want to do through voice search are make reservations, find prices and find out what products businesses have. Those sound like some pretty local services, right? Traditional SEO and Local SEO are usually 2 different disciplines under the SEO umbrella, but voice search may be the thing that really ties them together.
If you've never thought local before, now is the time to look into it. It is a slightly different discipline, and it might not suit every business out there, but if your business can have a local spin, it should. Research this stuff - there are tonnes of Local SEO specialists who can help you optimise for local, because the more users engage with digital assistants, the more they're going to be given local results. That's a portion of the market you can't afford to miss out on.
Google My Business is going to be essential here, so set up a profile, and make sure you use it to the best of its functionality. Simple things make a big difference; your information has got to be up to date, and it should include things like opening times, pictures and reviews. Plus, make sure all locations for your business are featured - the more physical sites you have, the more potential for local reach, which means you can generate more leads.
Think simply and don't get overwhelmed by how 'different' voice search supposedly is. Obviously, there's no getting around the fact that voice search has reduced our playing field. In SEO, the game has always been to aim for the top three results, or at the very least the first page of SERP results. But with voice search, we're all fighting for number one and suddenly nothing else will do. As if that wasn't enough, digital assistants reading out featured snippets mean that there's a real chance traditional metrics like click-through-rates could suffer. But only if we sit back and do nothing. If we take on the challenge, then all is not lost. If you answer the questions that users are asking, and make sure your business shows up where it counts, then you're well on your way to take on this 'SEO game changer'.
Eric Plouffe is the Head of Marketing at UnGagged Conferences happening yearly in London and Las Vegas. With 20 years experience in Digital Marketing and Web Design, Eric is passionate about marketing myth-busting and pushing past conventionally held SEO wisdom. You can see him at UnGagged London 2018, as part of London Tech Week.