I have frequently read about the increasing popularity of voice assistant search, but had never really taken this type of query into consideration for any particular client until very recently when this technology had infiltrated my family home. In arriving at my mum’s house to begin my ‘favourite child’ duty of house sitting for her over the bank holiday weekend, I was bewildered when before she left for her coastal retreat, she asked the house itself what the forecast would be for the weekend. I was taken aback when her seemly deranged request was met by the robotic AI voice of Alexa coming from an Amazon Echo that she had recently purchased and placed strategically behind a photo frame of her favourite (and only) son.
Now to the average reader this will not be shocking, but as someone who has known my mum for over a good two decades, I understand that she is brilliant at a whole range of things. But technology isn’t one of them. And personally, I thought her technological ineptitude will have prevented her from ever purchasing one. Although it turned out that her real rational behind the purchase was to access her favourite radio station, why she chose an Alexa, instead of say a radio, made me realise how important voice search is becoming for businesses in today’s digital landscape.
If my mum, who is over the 50 year mark (I don’t think it’s wise to disclose anything more specific than that on the internet, in fear of strict reprimand), can purchase and use a smart speaker then this clearly is a popular market. And from a business perspective, ensuring that your digital presence is optimised for this type of voice search is becoming increasingly important. But merely having a website isn’t going to cut it and without optimising your website for use of mobile, and more specifically voice search, you risk being left behind in the oncoming mobile occupation. In this blog therefore, I will explore the ways in which businesses can optimise their websites to ensure they can appear in voice searches.
The importance of including local content
Voice assistant search is a relatively new, but increasingly popular way of navigating the web, tailored for providing quick and simple answers to a user’s question. Initially, the functionality of voice search was limited to offering hands-free ways to complete basic tasks on your phone, i.e. “Call Mum”. But as both the hardware and software has improved and developed over the past few decades, we have seen the growth in the increasingly sophisticated market of voice assistants. Today, voice assistants have emigrated to the shores of bigger devices such as laptops, TVs and even cars, as well as becoming even more deeply rooted and fundamental in mobile devices. The improvement of AI technology has resulted in a wealth of voice assistants that take into account the context of a search, rather than being another basic method of operating your phone – most notably due to Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update in 2013.
Taking in a user’s context is the basis for the first point I raise for businesses hoping to optimise their online presence for voice searching. What I mean by context in this respect is your voice assistant taking into account a range of factors which are unique to the time and place of the search. For example, if I ask Siri what the weather’s like today, it will respond with a local forecast, rather than telling me what the national forecast is. But more importantly for businesses, if I wake up late on a Sunday morning and want something strong to get me going and I ask Alexa where the closest coffee shop is, the voice assistant will use my current location to determine which results appear.
It is crucial therefore that local businesses have relevant information on their website that will allow voice searchers to find them. The primary bits of information you should include are your opening hours, your address – including your post code, and your phone number. A fantastic way to ensure this information is shown on Google search results in particular, is to create a Google My Business account, a free service where you can create a business directory listing. So when users are searching for local businesses, your company will be visible in a Google Local Pack - if they are relevant to the search query. This pack appears like a map, supplemented by links to local businesses. A voice assistant will be able to interpret this directory and read out your business’s details to the user. If you are the most relevant result, you will be the only answer the assistant reads.
Increasing the use of conversational keywords
In the absence of paid advertising, creating and publishing a regular stream of content is one of the most simple and effective SEO strategies. Once upon a time, digital marketers in particular would choose a particular keyword to focus on and create a piece of content which was crammed full of that keyword. With the improvement of search engine algorithms, sites like Google are now intelligent enough to realise that this content isn’t actually useful to the user. So, content had to become longer, more detailed and more useful. With the introduction of voice searches however, there may yet be another change in the way content should be created.
The importance in this point revolves around how users search through voice assistants. Using my mum as an example, she asked her Amazon Echo a direct question: “What is the forecast for this weekend?” Many within the industry believe that over 50% of searches will use voice assistants by 2020, which means literally millions more people asking direct questions when searching the internet. This is a very different way to search the internet compared to typing out a query on your computer. To maximise visibility, your content therefore should focus on answering these questions. Any successful business will know their customer inside out, and creating such content should stem from considering their intent – what would they want to know?
Content should be tailored to answering these types of direct questions, with the ultimate goal of having your content included in a Featured Snippet on Google. A featured snippet is a stand out block which appears at the top of a search results page. Its importance in this context is that the text in a featured snippet is typically read out by a voice assistant. Getting your content included in a featured snippet will mean that when a user comes to ask a question that your content answers, their voice assistant will read out your text. Including more conversational phrases in your articles and adding the queries themselves in your H Tags are great first steps to achieving this goal.
Ensuring your website design is responsive
At this stage we are almost there in terms of being optimised for voice search. Our business is much more likely to appear in search results if someone is in the area looking for a local service and our content is read out by voice assistants in answer to certain questions. But all this work will be for nothing if your website isn’t responsive. Although we’ve seen a rise in the insurgence of smart speakers in homes, the brunt of voice searches remains fixed in mobile.
When a user asks their voice assistant a question and then decides to find out more by clicking on a search result, what will the user be met with when they land on your website? If your website is unresponsive and therefore shows a desktop version of your website, the user will see a site which was not designed for such a small screen size and will therefore not function well. If it is responsive however, the components of the website will alter to fit the size of the mobile screen. The user will hence find themselves on a functioning website which is easy to navigate around on a mobile device.
Along with responsiveness comes the need for speed. Voice assistance is another avenue through which users can speed up their searching process and so if they choose to click on a site and it’s slow to load, their short temperament will typically result in them swiftly choosing another search result. There are a couple of great free tools that Google offers to help you find out whether your website is responsive for mobile and whether it has any page speed issues.
With these changes implemented, your business is that much more visible in the increasingly popular world of voice assistant search. The increasingly intelligent algorithms of search engines will be able to find your business, access your useful content and link to a website which is both responsive and fast loading. A fantastic all-round online user experience. All of which, I’m sure, would go over my mum’s head.