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Voice SEO


2020 is the year of voice searching – this is how to make the most of it

Welcome to 2020, the year when – according to a Forbes feature in 2018 – half of all the online searches in the world will be made through voice. Remarkably, that is one of the few predictions about this most unpredictable of years which is looking accurate. A survey conducted by Adobe in the middle of last year found that the figure was at 48%, so by now we will almost certainly have broken through the 50% barrier, and the implications for all of us who work in digital marketing are enormous.

We certainly can’t say we didn’t see this one coming. While voice recognition software has been around since the dawn of the Internet, it was often hapless and a source of public derision until the introduction of IBM’s Watson in 2010, a voice recognition question-answer computer system that became famous when it successfully competed on the TV show “Jeopardy”. The following year saw Apple launch Siri, which was followed by Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa in 2014, then Google Assistant in 2016. With all of these tech giants vying for market share it’s unsurprising that the quality of results has risen over the years, with Google Assistant now achieving 90% accuracy on its responses to questions.

In combination with the increasing speed of voice recognition technology, which 5G will only accelerate, it’s hardly surprising that voice is now surpassing old fashioned keyboard searches. What you need to focus on now is the impact this has on you and your employers or clients.

The most obvious thing you need to understand is also the most important – when humans write, whether with a pen or a keyboard, they use different language than when they speak. It has taken big tech years to (almost) master this, using Natural Language Processing, but marketers don’t have that time or the vast teams of software specialists to help them figure it out. You need to know your audience and be intuitive about how they think, speak and ask questions.
That last point is important because a crucial thing to observe is that, in voice searches consumers really do ask questions. Many text searches are fragmentary, partly due to it being time consuming to type and partly through a gained understanding of how keywords work. This means that while a text searcher might type “24 hour pharmacy central Sydney”, a voice search is far more likely to be phrased as a full and more naturalistic question, such as “where can I buy painkillers in Sydney now?”

This has many implications. The first is that the FAQ section of websites, after falling out of fashion for a while, may become increasingly valuable as a place where you can attempt to anticipate, match and answer many of the questions which could drive a consumer to your brand. Benu Aggarwal of Milestone even suggests incorporating them into every major section of your website, according to Search Engine Journal.

Concision is important, however. Backlinko studied the average length of answer provided to a voice search, usually called a featured snippet, and found that it was 29 words. Marketers who can design answers which can match this or are trimmed down even further will be most successful. Don’t forget that it’s a winner takes all game: voice searches will often return just one answer, rather than a whole set, so you need to be ahead of the competition more than ever.
If you want to answer a question at greater length, or even take on several linked questions, your blog can be another piece of prime real estate for answering commonly asked questions and keeping those answers current (and of course you can repurpose that content for other forums). Once again, there are plenty of resources that you can draw on while attempting to build such content. One SEO tool which has been popular for a while is Answer The Public, but it may have even greater value in a more question-driven search universe – simply type in a root keyword and it will return a map of all the questions commonly asked in regards to that keyword.
You can also draw on the increasing amount of research available around voice searching. SEO Clarity conducted a detailed study of Google’s Answer Box which identified that over 20 percent of featured snippets are triggered by 25 words, with “How”, “What”, and “Best” at the top. This means that content which answers queries with informational intent like this, mirroring the same words, will score highly with search engines.
Another way in which SEO marketers will need to adjust to the longer questions being asked is by redoubling their efforts to use long-tail keywords. SEO experts like Neil Patel have been advocating for marketers to put more effort into long-tail keywords for a long time now, with Patel even saying that they are “your path to overtaking the competition.” Now that they will more closely match the conversational style of voice searching, they are even more significant.
One more interesting implication of how voice search is used is that the longer phrases generally used often reveal more intent than a shorter search. Looking back at the example given earlier, the text search “24 hour pharmacy central Sydney” will bring up a lot of general information from various pharmacies, including chains and local businesses. The smart marketer who has anticipated and incorporated the term painkillers into his SEO, however – alongside opening hours and location – can slip ahead of the competition.
This segues into one final and very important point – the increased importance of locality. According to Search Engine Watch, consumers are three times more likely to search locally when searching by voice. This is certainly true in America, where Small Biz Trends found that 58% of consumers found local businesses using voice search, and it is likely to be increasingly true in Australia too.
Your marketing strategy needs to take this into account and be fully optimized for queries which are driven by a need for products or services nearby. Using Google My Business should be an essential port of call if it isn’t already, but the work doesn’t stop there. If you have more than one brick and mortar location, you need to create a whole set of location pages providing accurate address, phone number and store hours descriptions. As Hubspot argue, “local SEO is critical if you want your business to stay relevant” and voice search will make this even truer.

The most challenging thing about voice searching is also the most exciting – it is still developing, and fast. People are still learning more about voice search capabilities and dispensing with old prejudices and reservations. As they get used to it, they are likely to find new ways of communicating with it, very possibly posing search terms which are a hybrid of a natural question and the more abbreviated fragments we use for text searching. At the same time, all the tech giants competing so feverishly in this space are likely to continue flooding the market with new features. All of this means that if you move fast, you can still get ahead of the competition by optimizing for voice search – but you’ll have to work to stay there. We’ll be there to help you.

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