Voice search isn’t going away. In fact, it’s a hot-button topic within the digital marketing community and it is playing a major role in both mobile search and Internet of Things interaction. So just how does it matter to you, and how can you ensure that your search marketing strategy is equipped to handle the changing consumer dynamics that come with vocal, conversational search?

Why does voice search matter?

Amazon is expected to ship more than ten million of its Echo personal assistants in 2017, more than 20% of Google searches on mobile are by voice, and it is expected that more than 200 billion voice searches will take place by 2020. In short, voice search is here, and it’s here to stay.

The growing trend that is voice search is forcing brands to think more carefully about how their web presence can accommodate voice search and, in particular, the more conversational search terms that voice search has given rise to.

Changing consumer habits

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Consumer behaviour has evolved as mobile search, and the notion of the ‘constantly connected’ consumer has forced brands to think about how they are engaging with their audiences at the right moments, and in the right way.

The search behaviour that we have seen consumers to move to has been characterised as ‘micro-moments’ search environment, whereby users are motivated by specific moments of need or desire for information.

Micro-moments play a role in the journey a user makes to a purchase, subscription or registration on a website, so it’s vital to provide the right information when needed.

That moment could be the realisation of a problem (an “I need somebody to fix the boiler” moment or an “I’m going to need a bigger car” moment), it could be a moment of distraction (an “I need a holiday” moment), a moment of confusion (an “I need to find out the facts” moment) or it could be a moment of inspiration (an “I really want to re-decorate the kitchen” moment). These moments represent key touchpoints for marketers to engage with potential customers.

The introduction of voice search has also changed not only how people interact with search engines, but also what they actually search for. Data in the United States suggests that 22% of all searches made by voice are for local information (or ‘near me’ search queries), indicating the very ‘mobile’ nature of voice search and the role that voice search and mobile actually plays in driving in-store footfall.

 “Conversationalise” your keyword set

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Think about your current keyword set - the one that has probably served you well since you first started thinking about search and how it could aid the discovery of your brand and your products.

That keyword set was devised on the basis that users were forced to type their query into a search engine using a desktop or laptop keyboard. And when users are forced to do that, they behave in a certain way. The type short keyword strings, they avoid the connectives between words, they get straight to the point, and the probably misspell certain words. In short, they communicate very differently through their fingers than they do with their voices.

Think about your keyword set and instead of thinking how somebody would ask for what they keyword relates to via Google, think about how they would ask somebody in your call centre for an answer to that query.

Think about how many different ways that one query could manifest itself when it is turned into a conversational query. Whilst a relatively simply query could serve multiple customer needs with a web search, it could be very different when that search interaction is taking place via voice.  For example, a search for “trains to London” could be made by a user looking for a number of different answers, such as:

  • Train timetables to London.
  • The first, last or next train to London.
  • Fare prices to London.
  • Live arrival / departure times.
  • How to buy train tickets to London.
  • How to get to London from a particular point of origin.
  • Different train operators serving London.
  • Disruption of train services to London.
  • Information about industrial action affecting trains to London.

With a visual web page, you can probably serve all of these queries with one page and one keyword, but that’s not possible with voice search.

So your keyword strategy cannot simply rely on short-form terms like “trains to London”. Instead, you would need consider optimising your site for terms such as:

  • “What train would get me to London by 6:00pm?”
  • “When is the next train to London?”
  • “Book the cheapest fare to get to London tomorrow.”
  • “When does the train next from Leeds arrive at London Kings Cross?”
  • “Where is the best place to buy train tickets to London?”
  • “Is there a delay on my train to London this afternoon?”
  • “Is there a strike on the train company service to London today?”
  • “What underground line goes to Paddington Station?”

Suddenly, we have a whole host of different keyword strings and combinations that reflect the diversity of human speech and human needs, and you need to consider optimising pages to serve these queries.

Not only that, but voice search adds the element of follow-up questions which we don’t typically see with text-based search. Whilst Google does adjust our search results based on what we have searched for previously, text based search is handled one query at a time, generally in isolation to one another. But voice search removes that isolation, instead introducing a sense of dialogue that over time will become much better at contextually connecting different requests for information into a useful conversation. For example:

“When is the next train to London Kings Cross?”

“How do I get from there to Heathrow Airport?”

“How long will it take to me get there?”

“Which terminal does flight BA123 fly from?”

Whilst Google is not quite at that stage yet, the enhancements that are being made in Rankbrain to really understand user context and demands means that conversational transactions such as this will become an important part of the online information exchange.

New and improved pages

This new era is likely to mean that brands will need to invest in new pages and new content. Whilst the days of keyword-stuffed product pages are largely behind us, it is nevertheless true that much of the content written on the web has been produced in an age where text search ruled the roost. That is now changing, and that potentially changes the content that we need to start producing.

It’s also wise to think back to the sorts of questions that your customers are likely to ask in your stores or to your call centres. Typically, they aren’t going to ask for the “best home speakers”. What they might ask for is “an internet speaker system than connects to a Sky TV box” or for a “speaker system that works with Spotify”. Can your current pages serve that sort of context?

Taking our rail example above, many of these contextual questions could be addressed by an information page for each station or rail line, showing timetables, live departures and arrivals, and onward connection data for example.

Again, think about what your customer is asking and looking for. This isn’t necessarily new advice in the world of SEO, but its advice that you need to heed in the context of changing consumer habits.

What are your FAQs?

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A good way to address this explosion of keyword strings that you now need to consider is via a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. This allows you to take the most common questions and address them in a conversational form, and display them in a way that is easy for both users and Google to access.

If possible, try to group common questions on the same page and aim to publish the answers to natural sounding questions, rather than the disjointed SEO-keyword phrases you’re probably used to using.

If you’re struggling to compile your keyword list, try tools such as Answer the Public to get an idea of what people are searching for, look at your internal analytics, and if possible, ask the people in your stores or call centres - the people for whom “voice search” is a part of everyday life.

Don’t forget structured data

Structured data markup is a useful tool that helps to signpost voice search devices to your content, increasing your chances of featuring in voice search. You are probably already using structured data markup from schema.org on your site, but make sure that it’s up to date in order to help search engines accurately parse your content and understand its context.

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