How Voice Will Dominate Future & How To Prepare Your Online Business?

voice search
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Although voice might sound like the new kid on the block, it has already been out there for some time and has been growing steadily right under our noses for the last couple of years.

All the way back in October 2014, Google and Northstar Research concluded that more of 50% of teens and 41% of adults surveyed used voice search[1]. And if we look at more recent numbers done by Edison Research and NPR, where they interviewed over 2000 people at the beginning of June 2017 the numbers of voice are even more impressive:

Here are some key takeaways:

  • 7% of Americans have a smart speaker at home in just two years, already outpacing the adoption rates of smartphones and tablets
  • 90% bought their smart speaker for listening to music, but 40% of the people are now using it for ordering online
  • 42% of Smart Speaker owners say that their smart speakers are essential to their everyday lives
  • 65% wouldn’t want to go back to life without a smart speaker

So how come audio consumption and interaction has been on the rise so quickly in the last couple of years and what impact will this have on your business? Let’s find out.

Why Voice Search Is Important For Businesses?

Let’s first start with the rise of audio consumption. Audio, compared to video or written content allows us to consume content passively. You can listen to a podcast while doing something else. You can listen to it while taking a shower, driving, or while working out.

Audio consumption is time arbitraged. Audio is on the rise, and in the coming years, it will only explode more. As a result, for any business creating content, communicating with your prospects, with your clients, bringing value to your audience and increasing the awareness for your brand, you’re doing all of that in a way that respects their time.

The reason while so many people hate advertising is that it takes away their time. Pop-up banners on your phone steal your time. You have to close the box, the close button is too small, and before you know it, you wasted five seconds of your time which means a lot to the end consumer. You wasted their time, and they have a negative memory about you and your brand.

Audio Is Important For Businesses

Every piece of technology that gives you back your time in exchange for your attention is the thing that the consumers are more and more drawn too. As a result, every business should be investigating how to implement an audio strategy into their overall content marketing strategy.

It doesn’t have to be difficult; you can re-use your existing content and create a podcast out of it for example . Using tools like Anchor makes creating audio content so easy that there is no excuse not to start doing it.

The second thing you should be investing your time and effort in is developing briefings and skills inside Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomePod (when it gets released), whatever Facebook comes with at one point, or any of the other tech giants.

Voice is going to be the way you search. In the next five years, you will be amazed at how much of your search behavior is done by voice. At the moment already one in every five searches is done by voice[2] . You want to be on the forefront and THE default “skill” for your target audience when they are looking for stuff to figure out or to buy online.

Search Is Changing

As the web and the content stored on the web is changing, so too is search changing. At the moment, the way we do searches is mostly still old-fashioned. This, of course, comes from the fact that most of all human knowledge is stored in written format. Books, articles on the web, blog post, etc.

The way search engines operate, is mostly nothing more than an old-school librarian who helps us to find the information written in that written form. It presents you the top results related to our search query and learns from how we interact with the answers (if we hit the back button in our browser for example very quickly, the result probably wasn’t what we were looking for).

With the explosion of cheaper storage, faster computers and faster internet over the last couple of years come a different way of creating content. Video and audio are on the rise and with this comes a different way of searching for content and interacting with it.

The semantic web (also known as knowledge graph or knowledge base) uses highly structured data, something that is the complete opposite of the way Google and other search engines tried to make sense of unstructured web pages from the beginning. With audio search, you’re also making use of this semantic graph. And this has a significant impact on search and SEO.

Why Is Search Changing?

Search Is Changing

As you can imagine this change has an impact on search. We’re breaking away from the unstructured way of search to a more structured way of finding our content. This is not something entirely new; Google Knowledge Graph was announced in 2012[3] already for example. The real use case, however, came when Apple introduced Siri, Amazon introduced Alexa, Microsoft Cortana and Google their Smart Assistant.

When you’re doing a voice search, you don’t want a list of all sorts of different titles, selecting one and then listening to an entire piece of content. When you ask Alexa what the weather in your hometown is, you don’t want a link to weather.com; you want a response that tells you it is snowing and 0 degrees Celsius.

This is what the Knowledge Graph is built for. Its foundation lies in filling in the shortcomings of the human brain. Humans are great at pattern recognition, but we are terrible at data storage or facts. The Knowledge Graph is a way to help fill these gaps, but for it to do so, it needs to approach the giving of answers in a different way.

Search on audio is about giving the facts, and where those answers are coming from are less important.

This itself is a radical shift.

When we ask a question and are listening to the answers, we don’t care if the answers come from the New York Times, or Wikipedia as long as it is a correct answers. Of course, this also has a potential downside; who makes sure that the answer was listening to is correct? Who controls the truth?

This is where you as an organization, as a company need to look into. While this is an upcoming industry, you want to make sure that you’re the one true source of giving information before your competitors start to rank.

What This Means For SEO?

Means For SEO

So what does this mean for SEO? Voice search is going further than just keywords and voice recognition. It also needs to incorporate voice understanding and interpret meaning and content.

Look at how you’re using search engines right now versus how you’re asking question to a friend. It is easy to imagine that voice search will heavily rely on long-tail keywords that are happening naturally in the way a person communicates and interacts with a smart assistant, but also needs to look more at a person’s intent.

When you use your smart assistant to get you “a plumber to fix a leak in your kitchen” it will give you different results than when you ask for a plumber or an emergency plumber because it knows where you are.

Voice search will probably take into account your location, content from various plumber websites, but also external content and reviews on review websites, etc. to give you the most relevant results.

Content should not just be created with a set of single keywords in mind, but also use natural phrases as keywords.

If your content can provide a quality answer in a way that is structured enough so it can be “read” to the person asking the questions SEO will become more clear because you know how to carefully frame your potential customer’s searches in terms to get exactly what they want. But in a voice search future, most of the content will be more related to questions and answers.

So the rules are becoming easier. What is the question my customers are having and how can I give the most structured answer.

What Actions You Can Already Start Taking Right Now

voice and SEO

Although voice and SEO are still in its early stages and there hasn’t been much research done about it, taking the above into account there are already some ways a business can think of to have a look at their current SEO strategy and see what changes they can make to include people searching using voice.

Long-Tail Keyword Research

The first one is fairly easy to think of. It is the way you’re approaching keyword research and applying that to your content creation. When you start to create content optimized for voice, it’s always best to come up with natural sounding phrases that include long-tail keywords.

The best content optimised for voice should be able to provide meaning behind the query making use of natural phrases, sentence structure as well as specific keywords.

In traditional SEO, you were more focused on individual keywords without them forming any logical order or sentence structure. As a marketer, you need to consider more what users want and how they would formulate a phrase for that aloud.

Words like “who”, “what”, “where”, and “how” are mostly at the beginning of any sentence when someone is looking for facts. One of the easiest ways to start could be, adding a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page to your site. Adding relevant questions and answers about your business will help your website to rank it higher with natural searches and bring qualified traffic to your site.

An added benefit of this is that up-to-date content like this is also good for being included in featured snippets on search results.

External Content + Local SEO

External Content + Local SEO

It also makes sense to have a look at external content that could be a benefit to search results. Review websites like Yelp, Trip advisor and Google My Business (GMB) often make up the first results on search queries.

By checking your listings on these directories, you can improve your chances of bringing in customers via voice search. So make sure, the information presented is up-to-date and don’t forget to ask your customers for reviews.

Think about it, you’re on the go and asking your assistant “where can I get the best sushi in London?”, It would pull location data from the sushi shops around you, opening hours and related content regarding the keyword “best sushi” to deliver you the search results you want. And as researched by MOZ in their Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, online reviews make up 10% of most search engines decisions to rank search results[4]

An added benefit of this: whenever you’re having a strong profile on GMB it can help your website to show up on Google Maps and the “local pack” snippet. You know, the box that appears at the top Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and includes a map and a list of three businesses, their ratings and contact details).

Content Structure

Content Structure

When your pages include structured data, it means the pages are marked up with properly formatted Schema language. Structured data is a little bit of extra code added to a web page that help search engines understand not only the content of your site but the context. It is a combined initiative driven by Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex, and this combined effort led to the creation of Schema.org.

Without this Schema markup, or structured data with a page, Google and other search engines and apps only see a page of text, and they can only rely on much less important meta-data like title, description tags, image alt tags, etc. to understand what the content is about.

If a search engine understands the context better, it should be able to give more relevant answers to the people querying the search engine. Structured data markup can be implemented for a wide range of topics and page elements. At the moment there are 16 core types of content (entities) that can be marked up with Schema / JSON-LD, according to Google’s structured data guide[5] :

1. Articles
2. Books
3. Courses
4. Datasets
5. Events
6. Fact Check
7. Job Postings
8. Local Business
9. Music
10. Paywalled content
11. Podcasts
12. Products
13. Recipes
14.Reviews
15. TV & Movies
16. Videos

And there are a few beta features that Google is testing for marking up for search results such as:

1.Software apps
2.Top places list
3.Live coverage

For a more in-depth view on schema.org, and structured data in general; Yoast has a fantastic detailed article available on their website[6]. The key to remember here is that structured data drives intelligent search and that intelligent search doesn’t mean that the user should ask more intelligent questions, but that the answers are more intelligent. Voice search is at its best when you’re able to simply speak to a device and get the best response or action you want.

Briefing And Skills

Briefing And Skills

The last thing you need to start looking into as a company is not directly related to SEO, but it is important for the future of voice nonetheless. You need to start investing in “briefings” and “skills” on the smart speakers that are out there.

As a business, you can utilise these skills to help your customers and promote your brand. You want your brand to be seamlessly integrated into their everyday routine. If they want to know about your business, your brand or the problem that you’re trying to solve with your product or service, Alexa, Cortana and all the others should be there effortlessly.

This could also mean thinking about different verticals in which your business could extend, for example, if you’re supermarket chain, you could create a recipe skill, which gives the option for the people looking for recipes to order the ingredients straight away from your store.

And with the ever-increasing ease of use and creation of these skills, anyone can create one. For Alexa, it is already as simple as taking a known task and simplifying the steps into a voice command. If you can create a command that is memorable, easy to say and valuable to peoples’ lives than there is a bright future ahead for your business.

Monoprix in France recently already did this by creating a skill for the Google Home[7] . Amazon allows for straight ordering via their store, etc.

When you’re creating a lot of content for your company, it might also be worthwhile to invest time and energy in building a “briefing”. A briefing brings your content straight into the home of your subscribers, it gives a new distribution channel and helps to keep your brand top of mind too.

Conclusion

Although it is impossible to predict the future. The future of search seems to be moving more and more into a Voice Search world. This shift means that the way information is presented will have to change with it. We’ll want the answers to the questions delivered in the format that best meets our needs.

SEO is all about helping someone find a solution for a problem that they are actively searching for.

While with traditional SEO you’re focusing a lot on the visitor, to present the most valuable solution to them (and they don’t go back to the SERP within 1 second). Voice Search at first needs to focus on the AI behind the search engines itself.

Your content needs to be better understood by them, so when someones asks a question using natural language, the machines can present the best and only answer they need.

We all know these changes are around the corner, so now is the time to get ahead of your competitors, start optimising your site and make sure your business is on the forefront when your customers are asking questions related to your business.

What steps are you already taking? How much effort are you already spending on optimising for Voice Search and an audio future in general? Drop a comment below!

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Author: Hans van Gent

Hans is a bit of a renaissance man. Next to his work as Head of Digital at livecommunication agency The Oval Office, he’s running a startup called Inbound Rocket that helps small and medium enterprises get better-qualified leads from theirwebsites.In the spare time he has left, he mentors founders about Customer Development andapplying lean startup mechanics for branding and marketing.Recently, he’s named one of the top 20 Content Marketers to follow by Small Business Trends, and he also knows how to write his own code. Find him on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook And Slideshare.