“Alexa! How will voice-commanded assistants transform the way people search and the world of digital marketing?”

Even though assistants, such as Alexa, cannot yet answer such complex questions (many would say thankfully), they have invaded our homes and are quickly becoming more prevalent as people of all ages and cultures become increasingly reliant on them on.

From searching for weather forecasts or movie trivia to locating the nearest Indian restaurant, voice search is steadily becoming the norm. During the Google I/O keynote in May, it was announced that one in every five searches made through the Android app is a voice search. Another Google study carried out by Northstar Research back in 2014 proved that a staggering 55% of U.S. teenagers along with 41% of U.S. adults use voice search on a daily basis; we can only imagine how much those figures have skyrocketed since then.

If the stats do not convince you of the inevitable dominance of voice search then take a minute to look at exactly who has invested in voice assistants; on the one hand we have the standalone devices such as Google Home or Amazon’s Echo/Alexa, and on the other, the built-in features available on most devices such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby. Facebook is also reportedly building its own voice assistant.

Arguably the biggest names in the industry are bringing voice-search to the forefront of the tech scene but how will this seemingly unstoppable wave change the way marketers utilize SEO and search marketing in reaching audiences more effectively and more efficiently?

 

“Googling” vs Natural Speech & Long-Tail vs Short-Tail

Keywords are the bread and butter of any SEO strategy and more broadly a pillar of digital marketing. The emphasis has always been on trying to incorporate keywords on nearly every element of a webpage, from the meta data and the URL to the actual text itself, forming a natural sounding sentence is far less important than including target keywords. This makes sense given as not only does the search engine ranking algorithm reward structured keyword use but also we neither type or search in the same way that we speak.

As natural sounding phrases take over from old “googling” language, long-tail keyword targeting will be placed at the forefront of any SEO strategy thus SEOs will have to start optimising for natural speech patterns and target complete sentences instead of keyword-laden, non-conversational queries. For example, instead of targeting the query “Mallorca holiday deals”, marketers will need to target the more long-tail and specific query “Find me the cheapest holiday deals to Mallorca for this summer”.  

Now this is a double-edged sword; on the one hand it is obvious that the level of specificity escalates immensely through voice search, greatly narrowing down the results making them much more relevant to what the searcher is looking for. In turn, facilitating higher CTRs for the results that are highly relevant and therefore rank strongly. On the other hand, until the voice recognition technology becomes near flawless, it is unquestionable that a lot of searches will be marred by mispronunciations by searchers, and misunderstandings from assistants. This means that marketers need to cater for as many of these misconceptions as possible – no simple task. In a nutshell, marketers will need to speak their customers’ language; both figuratively and literally.

 

Mobile becomes even more important

As if mobile was not already relentlessly taking over from desktop search, voice search could be the final nail in desktop’s coffin, with the majority of voice searching carried out on mobile devices. Over half of search queries globally come from mobile, Google is planning to roll out mobile-first indexing and now voice search dominance – all of these lead us to the conclusion that mobile should be even higher on the SEO priority list than before.

Google’s mobile-friendly test is the first place to start, and abiding by its suggestions is a must.

Another fundamental step in optimising for mobile is making sure that every inch of your site is crawlable and optimised for loading on a mobile. Flash should be avoided as the majority of mobile browsers do not support it, whilst the mobile site should not block JavaScript, CSS, GIFs or any other mobile-centric element.

As voice search brings mobile even more into the spotlight, loading time becomes even more important. It has been reported that almost half of mobile searchers wait less than 3 seconds for a page to load. Therefore mobile UX and load time are absolutely crucial in driving engagement, and one of the most significant ways of enhancing a page’s speed is by compressing all images, enabling minification of JS and CSS files, as well trying to reduce excessive inline CSS or JavaScript code that is not completely necessary.

 

Mobile = Location

In a domino like effect, voice-searching brings more mobile searching, and more mobile searching increases the importance of localized SEO even more than before.

As early as 2015, Google reported that not only “near me” searches were skyrocketing but also that upwards of 80% of those searches were being carried out on mobile devices. Most SEOs will already be familiar with the significance of local SEO but voice search will make it all the more important.

Ranking higher in terms of local results is a huge challenge by itself but there are some essentials that will always help your site rank higher. These range from ensuring a large number of positive reviews or incorporating a comprehensive ratings system such as TrustPilot, to registering and updating on Google My Business, providing an elaborate, inviting call to action based description.

At the same time, the same level of detail and work must be placed on adding relevant and impressive pictures or other media on the website. Above all, marketers need to step into the shoes of their (potential) customers and think: what was it that really convinced them to click on this when they searched for X near them? What was the ultimate convincing factor that made them click that particular result? Seemingly minor details can be extremely important to a user.

Now more than ever, searching is becoming humanized to the extent people are starting to properly speak to devices or assistants instead of typing odd, keyword-laden phrases which will allow the smartest marketers to truly connect with audiences in a more natural way. Instead of being confined to “robot language” people are now talking more, asking for more, setting more parameters for every search, and ultimately expecting more from results.

Customers are literally starting to speak to us, are we able to answer?