While some claim 2017 will be the year for voice search, the technology has been around far longer than most of us could even imagine. Back in 1952, Aubrey was the first to be introduced, with the ability to understand a man’s voice speaking numbers one through nine.
IBM’s Shoebox. Image via IBM.
Since then, we’ve seen IBM’s Shoebox, Harby, and Apple’s MacInTalk, all of which were able to understand basic words and numbers, until Apple bought Siri and integrated it into the iPhone 4S in 2010. For the first time, iPhone users could ask their questions out loud and get back fairly accurate and helpful suggestions.
But where is voice search today, and how can startup businesses benefit from this growing technology? Let’s check it out.
Voice search as we know it
While Siri was the first to truly get users’ attention, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant weren’t far behind, offering virtually the same services for Microsoft and Android devices. And, that’s not to mention the latest Amazon Alexa and Google Home which, simply put, are speakers that can be linked to a smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing users to make voice commands such as ordering a pizza or a taxi without picking up a device.
The introduction of these new virtual digital assistants meant that in 2015, voice searches on Google Now, Siri, and Cortana alone grew by 50 million a month. Now, this statistic is increasing at an exponential rate. In fact, Google recently announced that 20 percent of all searches to its search engine are voice-initiated. Microsoft also shared that 25 percent of searches on the Windows 10 task bar are voice searches.
This surge of voice searches can be attributed to a few different factors, some of which include:
- The ability to search for something while your hands and eyes are busy
- Results are generally faster
- The process is much easier than using text commands
- It cuts out the need for multiple complex menus on mobile devices
Thanks to advancements in the artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) technologies that power them, voice commands can be accurately processed, offering a better user experience all round.
But, what does that mean for startup businesses, and is it going to change the way they should be creating their marketing strategies?
This leads us to SEO, or search engine optimization.
The future of voice search
According to a recent Google study, more than 50 percent of teens and more than 40 percent of adults use voice search at least once a day, and that’s not likely to stop anytime soon.
Clearly, voice searches are an important factor to consider for startups putting together their digital marketing strategies. While many believe that voice search will not override other traditional forms, more than 30 percent of all searches are predicted to be voice-activated by 2020.
While statistics clearly show that it is here to stay, they don’t truly tell us where the technology will lead in the future.
Large enterprises such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are launching new products at an increasing rate. It is more important than ever that startups and small businesses optimize their digital strategies to stay ahead of the game and understand how users are interacting with their devices.
What voice search means for search engine optimization (SEO)
SEO is one of the most cost effective tools if you’re a startup putting together your marketing strategy. But SEO best practices are changing all the time, and Google is hesitant to reveal too much about how exactly companies can achieve high search result rankings. Entrepreneurs have to be willing to adjust their SEO strategies on a regular basis if they want to keep up. Voice search is expected to be one of the largest SEO trends in 2017 and beyond, according to a recent survey of 39 SEO experts.
Voice search opportunities for startups
Voice search is expected to bring some awesome opportunities for startups to gain visibility.
Because the technology powering it is getting extremely good at identifying user error, devices are able to better understand intentions and requests. This means that voice search results are offering more relevant responses to their queries the majority of the time.
Increased visits to brick and mortar stores
Voice search is particularly beneficial to businesses with physical storefronts, as it is predominantly used on the go, making local SEO more relevant than ever.
As a result, if you optimize your content effectively, you’ll find yourself with more customers walking through your doors.
Despite voice search being very new to the modern marketing world, as a startup, you do not have to make a huge financial investment to truly benefit from it. The strategy is not dissimilar from a text-based approach—it just needs to be adapted. Read on for tips on low-cost ways to optimize for voice search toward the end of this article.
As long as you have the right team, stay up-to-date with industry news, and push yourself and your team to learn as the technology becomes even more widely adopted, you shouldn’t have to spend a cent more than you do now.
Early adoption for a future-proof strategy
As I mentioned above, voice search has only skimmed the surface of what industry leaders expect it to become. It is a trend that will be adopted by more and more consumers from various generations, with a multitude of devices.
The only way you, as a startup business, can create a future-proof strategy is by using it yourself to fully understand its current capabilities, and optimizing your own SEO strategy to better suit your chosen audience’s needs.
Top 4 tips for optimizing for voice search on a budget
Since the beginning of the search engine era, consumers have been typing in specific words to generate the results (or find the answers) they want. While that has not changed, they’re now doing it with voice, and voice searches are different in nature to their text-based counterparts because they are quicker to initiate and do not require typing on a small mobile device keypad.
From how we make commands to the types of devices we use, voice searches are changing the way startups need to approach their digital endeavors. But, they don’t have to take up a significant chunk of your marketing budget.
Here are four tips you can use today to optimize your marketing strategy for voice searches:
1. Ensure that your local listings are updated
To make sure that you appear at the top of search results when consumers use voice commands, you must create listings on directories such as Yelp, Yahoo, and Yellow Pages, among others.
If you’re a business with a physical storefront, making sure your address is present on all social media websites is essential. For example, customers out running errands might ask Siri a question like like “Where can I find the nearest printing shop?” Having your local online listings up to date means that if they’re asking the question in your vicinity, it’s more likely that your print shop will appear in their search results.
These listings must be active, up-to-date, and they must match one another. Variations between listings can lower your search rankings and encourage search engines to identify your listings as different businesses.
2. Make your keyword strategy conversational
Voice searches focus on specific semantic questions. They are different to text-based searches and therefore do not necessarily fit in with your current content strategy. Voice searches are often more urgent because the searcher wants and expects information quickly.
Search engines categorize these needs for urgent information into four types:
- I-want-to-know: the user is researching and is not ready to make a purchase
- I-want-to-go: the user wants to visit a local store to research a specific product
- I-want-to-do: the user has a “how to” question and needs help getting something done, whether it is before or after a purchase has been made
- I-want-to-buy: the user is ready to make a purchase and needs help making a final decision
You should be creating content that answers all the above types of user requests. You can do so through your blog, social media channels, or frequently asked questions (FAQ) pages.
With this in mind, your long-tailed keywords need to be even longer and more specific. Think about what a customer would say to search for your services and choose your keywords accordingly. For example, a text search might read “voice search and SEO,” whereas your voice search would sound more like “how does voice search affect SEO?”
The best way to find out what your customers are searching for is to analyze your customer care queries. Start by documenting the exact words they use on the phone. Then do your keyword research with those words in mind to create your new strategy.
3. Ask your customers to leave positive reviews
Aside from keeping your listings up to date and using the right keywords, you must encourage your happy customers to leave positive reviews, as this will increase your Google ranking.
You should also register with Google My Business and create a unique description, with the correct categories and imagery.
4. Be mobile-friendly
Number one of the top reasons why 2017 is the year for mobile is that almost all voice searches come from smartphones, so it is important to optimize your digital presence for mobile usage.
Start by doing Google’s mobile-friendly test; by classifying as mobile-friendly, you will automatically rank higher on mobile devices as well as voice searches.
Lastly, the proliferation of the internet means consumers are used to getting the information they want within seconds. Your website will have a high bounce rate if it does not load quickly. Compress your images and content to improve page speed and keep your customers engaged.
Stay up to date with the voice search industry
What started as a basic experiment in the early 50’s has flourished into a form of virtual digital assistance that is empowering consumers to get answers to all their queries within a matter of seconds.
Voice search is taking over the way we communicate with our devices, and as a startup, you must understand how your audience is communicating with search engines to best optimize your marketing processes.
The key to your business’s success is to stay up to date with today’s new and improved SEO best practices. Search Engine Journal and Wordstream are just a few online resources that can help you stay up to date. Hubspot, Moz, and Forbes can also be useful for regular blog posts and news regarding the SEO world.
Get to grips with the voice search revolution today to catapult your startup business to success.
Ibrahim is a Digital Marketing Executive with an MSc in Marking and Advertising from the University of Hull. He works at Soap Media with clients to build their online profiles through valuable and insightful content to like-minded people. Focuses—general knowledge, marketing, SEO, automotive, logistics.