Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant… They’re all recognized names for the artificially intelligent virtual assistants we use every day. In just the first year of being readily available on the market, from 2014 to 2015, voice search skyrocketed from a statistical zero to around 10 percent of global search volume. That amounts to about 50 billion voice searches every month. Additionally, findings have indicated that over 40% of American adults are using voice search on a daily basis.
What can we expect in the near future for voice search?
Depending on the source, experts are saying that by the end of 2020 voice search will make up 30% to 50% of all online searching. It is no wonder that Amazon’s Alexa was their number one selling item over the Christmas season last year.
November of 2017 I had the privilege of presenting on chatbots at Information Development World. While speaking was a great opportunity and provided some excellent learnings, seeing other presentations and speaking with attendees was even more fulfilling. Voice search was one of the hot topics at IDW 2017.
Several of the attendees were Amazon employees that worked on the Alexa team. While they couldn’t share exact numbers, they did indicate that Alexa is one of their fastest growing employee segments and that Amazon is seeing Alexa as a main driver for future revenue.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with a soon to graduate MBA student. He disclosed that he was going to be working for Amazon upon graduation. When asked which division he was working for, he told me it was the Alexa group. He also indicated that they are hiring into the Alexa group so actively that he wasn’t sure yet which aspect of the Alexa product he was going to be working on.
This got me wondering… How many people is Amazon employing for their Alexa product? Last September Amazon disclosed that the number was 5,000 employees, though I can only imagine how much larger the pool is now that Alexa was the top-selling Christmas gift last year.
Amping up your site for VSO (voice search optimization)
When we do a voice search, we use different words than if we were typing the search on a keyboard; and that has implications for marketers who are concerned with SEO. Additionally, since these voice searches are being conducted using mobile devices, it is becoming increasingly important for websites to be mobile-friendly, or they won’t get their share of the valuable voice search traffic.
How can you ensure that your website pulls in those voice searchers? Here are several tips that will help you leverage martech and voice search marketing best practices to optimize your site for mobile devices.
#1. Take the test.
According to TheNextWeb.com, your first step should be to take Google’s “mobile-friendliness” test. This report will give you a basic “yes” or “no” on whether your page is friendly to mobile users. It will also show you the resources on the page that could not be loaded. If you want to gauge the usability of your entire site, log into your Google account to use the sitewide mobile usability report.
#2. Ask questions and keep it conversational.
Keep in mind that people often ask their virtual assistants questions instead of inserting in a couple of keywords. As you plan your new mobile-friendly SEO strategy, incorporate question words like “how,” “why,” “when,” “where,” and “what.” Around 10 percent of voice queries start with those words.
Write your webpage copy and blog articles the same way that people talk. Don’t say, “The difficulty lies in adequately enhancing performance for online-based platforms so that users may discover the specific information for which they are searching.” Instead, say “How do you optimize your website so users can easily find what they want?”
Speak the mobile user’s language, and you’ll be more likely to grab your share of the incoming mobile search traffic. To gain even more insight into voice-based search engine optimization, consider using a tool like Rank Tracker. Another tool that will help you generate phrases, questions to answer, and other ideas around a topic is: Answer the Public.
#3. Deprecate Flash.
More and more mobile browsers and desktop browsers are ditching Flash, according to a report from The Verge. The multimedia platform’s gradual demise is due to a heavy drain on battery life, a number of security problems, and other issues. The lack of support for Flash makes it tough for people to use your site from their smartphones if you’re including Flash-based content. And any difficulty you’ve built into your primary piece of marketing technology, your website, will hurt your user experience and the likelihood that Google will show your site in voice search results.
Instead of making your visitors work for it, remove this obstacle altogether and smooth the way for incoming mobile users. You can find other ways to present the content you want your users to see.
#4. Make it quick.
Did you know that 40 percent of mobile users will only wait 3 seconds or so before giving up on your website and moving on? That’s why it is crucial that you ensure fast load times for your mobile webpages. Talk to your web design guys and IT gurus about how to compress images and increase page load speed.
#5. Use local listings.
Many mobile users are interested in finding specific locations near them. They might ask their mobile AI to “find Chinese restaurants near me” or to locate “Realtors in Greenville, South Carolina.” To get a piece of this location-sensitive pie, you’ll need to include your business in Google’s listings. Make sure that all your information is present and accurate so that Google can help people find you. A helpful article from SearchEngineLand.com can give you insight into Google’s methods for ranking your pages in local search.
#6. Solicit local reviews.
Local reviews are like gold in the world of local search rankings. Through social media campaigns, discounts, giveaways, and simply asking for them, encourage your customers to leave reviews for your business on Yelp and Google. The more positive reviews you have out there, the more likely it is that mobile users will see your business and come to you for goods or services.
#7. Make your site AMP-friendly.
Another speaker at Information Development World was content strategist and content engineering expert, Cruce Saunders. In his session, he highlighted the importance of making your content voice-search-friendly. In particular, he indicated the importance of creating structured, semantically rich content. Interestingly, at this IDW conference in November 2017, it still wasn’t entirely clear what kind of content would be considered semantically rich in the eyes of Google and Amazon.
In the last few months, Google has shared light on which semantic layouts are important to their voice search algorithm. In hopes that I won’t put anyone asleep, I’m going to summarize what Google has been telling site owners: Make sure your website is AMP-friendly. That’s it. If your site is AMP-friendly, then Google says they have what they need to scrape your content and use it in voice search. Here is a helpful ClearVoice guide on setting up an AMP ready website.
At this point, Amazon hasn’t shown their hand as to the requirements they have for voice-search-friendly sites, but it can be assumed they’ll be utilizing much of the same semantic prowess that Google is. So, it is safe to say that if your site is AMP-friendly you’ll be good to go.
#8. Let the bots crawl.
Make it really easy for Googlebot and other search engines to crawl your site. This is how search engines discover new pages, find updated content, and identify web pages and content to add to Google’s massive index. Google offers plenty of information about how you can ensure that your website is crawl-worthy and easy for the bots to access. Google even supplies a “crawl errors” report where you can see if Googlebot encountered any roadblocks while crawling your site.
#9. Adjust Google Search Console / directory page settings.
Modifying the settings for the “directory page” items under your Google Search Console will allow you to specify to Google Assistant how your company’s name, description, and logo will be surfaced by Google Assistant. If you don’t set these up, Google will do it’s best to autofill them for you. While Google hasn’t come out and admitted this, some experts believe that if you’re proactive in updating these directory page settings it will put your site higher in the voice search algorithm used by Google. Google provides this easy guide to setting up your directory page.
Are you ready to jump in and start optimizing your website for voice search? Evaluate your site for mobile-friendliness and find ways to integrate a conversational style and question phrases into your content. Optimize your marketing technology stack: Drop the Flash-based content; speed up page load times; and work on garnering those local accolades. With time, hard work, and the help of some handy online tools, you can draw a whole new crowd of mobile users to your website.