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Voice Search - What Is It & Is It Relevant (yet)?

/ Technical
You might have heard of the Amazon Echo or the Google Home. In this blog post we'll look at what Voice Assistants, and Voice Search, could mean for your business.
A smart speaker in a home.

Voice and voice search is on the rise. Especially in the United States, where more and more people own a smart speaker, like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home. But what does that actually mean for your business? Do you have to implement voice into your SEO strategy? Or should you wait? To find out, we contacted Richard Conway, founder and CEO of PureSEO in Auckland, to talk ‘Voice Search’.

Hi Richard, thanks for your time. Could you tell us something about what we mean when we speak about voice or voice search?

Sure. Voice, or voice search, is in fact, nothing else than using a voice command to search the internet. So instead of using a keyboard, you use a voice assistant like Siri, Alexa or Cortana. And with the emergence of these voice assistants and smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, we're moving more and more towards voice interactions to browse the internet.

They even say that by 2020, 50% of all search queries in the United States will be voice generated. Which of course is a massive shift, and whilst it's probably not quite there yet today, especially not in New Zealand, it's for sure the future. And when you think about it, when you do a voice search, it's quicker and more intuitive than typing. It’s more natural. And so as time goes on, it's very likely that this is going to become more prevalent than typing.

I've also got two young kids, an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, and we've got these devices at home. And it's pretty natural for them to just speak to these devices. They don’t know any better. They even, being British, use ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ to the device, which is quite interesting. (Laughing)

They even say that by 2020, 50% of all search queries in the United States will be voice generated.

What does this evolution mean for businesses?

Voice search has the potential to change everything, so it could be a revolution as opposed to an evolution. According to Gary Vaynerchuk, even Google sees Amazon as a major threat with Alexa leading the way in AI & digital voice assistants because it could change the way people look for information online. Likewise, businesses both large and small, need to be ahead of the curve and adapt to technology and market changes as fast as possible. Those who get in quick stand to gain the most if trends pan out to be a more permanent way of modern life.

You mentioned that in the US, next year around 50% of all search queries might be done through voice. How about New Zealand? Can you say anything where we stand in terms of voice?

I don't know about the data, but I do quite a lot of speaking gigs. And I generally ask the audience who's got a voice assistant, and it's actually quite low. There's not a huge number of people owning one. It's probably around 20% of the audience, but that’s not a representative part of the population. Those people are geeks and really interested in these sorts of things.

I think as a nation, we're slow adopters of certain things and quick adopters in others. So I think we're quite a bit behind because you don't actually see much of these devices here. And when I go to clients, I bring the Amazon Echo Show and most people have never seen it. Whereas in the UK or the US, that would be completely different.

(Note: According to a study by 66.4 Million people in the US (26% of the population) own one or more smart speakers (total amount of 133 million smart speakers in use). The Amazon Echo is a market leader with 61% market share, followed by Google Home with 24%.)

Eventually everything will be suitable for voice.

Do you think voice will be the future for all types of searches? Or do you think voice will only be suitable for certain types of searches?

I think eventually everything will be suitable for voice, but it has started with local searches. Most of the queries now are questions starting with how, why, where, etc. These kinds of questions make up more than 27% of the questions that voice systems are answering at the moment. But I do think though, that at some point, voice search will be used for everything. Especially when connected devices, the Internet of Things, and stuff like that have become more mainstream. We're still quite a bit away from that though.

So even though voice search is still in its infancy here in New Zealand, does PureSEO already advise clients to optimise for voice?
Absolutely, it's part of our audit because a lot of things that you do for voice are also relevant to traditional SEO. So for voice, Google will pick up stuff out of Google ‘Position Zero’, or ‘Featured Snippets’. These Featured Snippets are used by Google for its ‘one true answer’ response to voice searches. But as these Featured Snippets appear above the regular search results, even if voice is not really relevant for you or your business at the moment, you would still have the advantage of appearing at the top of a traditional search result SERP.

(Note: According to a study by aHrefs, you'll get 31% less traffic if you do not appear in a Featured Snippet, even if you rank #1)

What do you advise companies when they want to optimise for Featured Snippets or voice?

Oh, there are many ways to optimise for that. First of all make sure your content is written in a natural, more conversational kind of way, try not to overcomplicate things and stay away from difficult jargon. You want to be as accessible as possible with your language. Both for your customers and for Google. Google has also recently pushed out updates ('Hummingbird') which place greater emphasis on natural language queries, considering context and meaning over individual keywords.

On top of that, try to answer questions with your content, as that is how people search through voice. So something like a FAQ page is always going to help. But also use lists, and make sure your website is properly marked up from a coding perspective.

Long-form content is another thing businesses need to think about. Not so much because Google prefers long pieces of text, but simply because a longer text could potentially have more answers. The average word count for ranking pages is around 2,000 words, where the average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words. So having more text will make it more likely to come up.

Building domain authority is also really important. So making sure that you have links coming into your domain from high authority sites - like the NZ Herald or Stuff (for New Zealand) - that have value, will build up the domain authority. And then by virtue of you having good content, high domain authority and properly formatted HTML, you will start to come up with featured snippets.

And how about Structured Data? Could you tell us what that is?

Structured Data or Schema Markup is a form of HTML data you can embed into your website's code, to help it become more easily discovered by search engines, and help optimise your website content for voice search. It’s basically a collaboration between all the different search companies to help web developers and webmasters to be found through Search Engines. In the US, has released Speakable Schema which is a particular type of mark-up specifically designed for voice searches - hopefully this will roll-out globally shortly.

How can companies measure the results of these efforts?

I don’t think you can get exact data on how you rank for search, but what you can do is look at the data for Featured Snippets, and that will give you a good indication on how you do in terms of voice.

In Search Console, you can also look at the kind of queries you're getting traffic from. So if there are lots of questions, then it's most probably coming from voice.

What kind of companies do you think would benefit most from voice and should really consider investing time and money in optimising for voice?

I would start with businesses that operate locally. So retailers, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, garages, all that kind of thing. Localisation and local searching will become more and more important with search so that’s what I would focus on first.

At PureSEO, we have clients that are interested in it because it is relevant to them. Companies like Bridgestone... I mean, when someone has a flat tire somewhere in the middle of nowhere, they want to know where the nearest tire centre is, right?! We also have quite a few clients who just want to be ahead of the game. And as a company, we are always looking at what’s coming next and making sure that our clients are there before anybody else.

But as I mentioned before, even though voice search is still in its infancy in New Zealand, it will still give you the benefit of appearing in the Featured Snippets, which means investing in voice will give you immediate benefit anyway, no matter what kind of business you are in.

How about privacy. Do you think privacy concerns could hinder full adoption of voice and voice assistants? Do you also think that this will be more of a problem here in New Zealand than in, let’s say the United States?

No, not really. I think in essence everyone’s worried about privacy, no matter where you are from. But to be honest, I think it is a lost battle. I really do. The amount of data out there is insane and all the tech companies have got massive amounts of money squirreled away to pay lawsuits and to pay fines and things like that. Because ultimately, that's how they make their money, isn't it?! Serving the right ads to the right people - at the right time. So yeah, I think it's probably a lost battle. And I'm an optimist. (Laughing)

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Not really, but if I would have to say one thing, it would be for companies to focus on getting into those Featured Snippets. That will give you the benefit today because you will appear at the top of traditional search results. And then by doing that, you are also preparing yourself for voice search at the same time.

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