Christmas saw an explosion in sales of digital assistants, with Amazon Echo and Google Assistant making their first foray into many UK homes. Demand was so unprecedented that the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot completely sold out during the festive period. Although it’s some way from reaching tipping point, the current popularity of digital assistants is powering rapid growth in AI enabled voice search, which brings with it new priorities and considerations for local search marketers.
According to comScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. One of the biggest implications of the voice search and digital assistant trend is that it makes having a screen optional, based on the increasing move towards smart home hubs. Speaking at the launch of AI system Viv last summer, Dag Kittlaus co-founder of Siri (now owned by Apple) and CEO of Viv said: “it’s a race to a single interface for the user. Why have multiple interfaces, when you only need one? The concept of a single intelligent portal into everything digital, which is a big step beyond Google, is a winner we believe.” So at some point in the conceivable future, it’s likely we’ll have one ultimate personal assistant ‘who’ will provide us with all the information we require, without us potentially ever needing to read a word. This creates new challenges for local marketers, as businesses will need to rank highly enough in local search results to be selected by digital assistants.
Competition to be the ‘best source’ of information is only likely to get more fierce, and although the transformation won’t happen overnight, now’s the time for local marketers to be optimising their strategies for AI voice search. If you’re keen to learn more, here are some pointers on how to ensure your business is increasingly recognised by voice assistants…
Use conversational language
Traditional search taught us to communicate with search engines in crude, keyword-heavy, truncated phrases; a far cry from natural speech. But voice search is changing this and increasingly moving towards conversational language, involving proper questions and answers. There’s the expectation that in the future, voice assistants and bots will be able to converse with us in a human way; in some places this is already happening.
To aid this, local marketers need to move beyond keyword-laden copy, and instead make sure their website incorporates natural language. So the focus will be to write for humans first, and search engines second. Since digital assistants often read web copy aloud in response to a user query, it’s important that copy reads well, is clear and makes good sense.
Look out for natural language queries within your web analytics
PPC approaches will also need to adapt and target keywords that incorporate natural speech patterns. For this reason, long-tail keywords and phrases will become critical, and particularly those that have local intent and a good amount of contextual information. Also, within local search, voice queries are increasingly likely to contain the important phrase “near me”, which shows that the searcher is looking for a local business. According to research, mobile voice searches are three times more likely to be local than text, so optimising for local search and mobile will also help businesses to rank for many voice searches.
So for example, through traditional web-based search a user looking for a tradesman to sand the floors within their home might type in “floor sanding + Bournemouth”; but with the advanced capabilities of voice search, the same query might become “show me the best floor sanding companies near me”, or “recommend the most affordable floor sanding companies near me”.
At the moment there’s no way to easily tell which users are arriving at your site through voice search, but Google is rumoured to be developing a feature within Google Analytics. Looking out for queries using natural language will be a good indicator of someone who’s arrived through voice search, as well as providing useful intelligence for your SEO and PPC strategies.
Moving forward, home hubs such as Amazon Echo will be able to provide companies with myriad information about the user’s daily life and habits, interests, purchase histories, disposable income and more.
Get your location data and profile information in order
Voice assistants will be reliant on the accuracy of data available to them. For businesses wishing to appear in local or “near me” searches, it’s critical that location data is up-to-date and accurate, for all locations, and consistent across the web.
Furthermore, making your Google My Business (GMB) profile as complete as possible is a must, offering plenty of specific information about the attributes for each location. So if your location has wheelchair access, wifi, or outdoor seating for example, this is information a voice assistant will draw on. Updating your GMB profile should be made a part of your routine maintenance.
Build positive reviews
Ranking factors are likely to become more complex with the rise of voice search, but it’s too early to make any detailed predictions. They could become impossible to measure, but it’s more likely that indicators of relevance such as keyword matching, popularity and proximity etc, will continue to be important. Reviews are also likely to continue in importance and be referenced by voice assistants, and cultivating positive reviews should remain a firm priority. It can be helpful to have a way of encouraging satisfied customers to leave a review for your business, as well as responding to negative reviews on a frequent basis.
But the bottom line is that if you’re wishing to discover more about voice search and ensure your local search strategy is properly optimised for it, there’s no better way than to be using voice search yourself. Search the questions that you think might bring users to your site and see what currently ranks first, to get a sense of what is working well for your competitors. It’s only through trial and error, and practical application, that you will properly understand the intricacies as they evolve.