SEO is not enough in the age of voice

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With so many technological innovations now transforming our lives, it should be noted that the ideas for these innovations have existed for decades in science fiction novels and television. The capacity to talk to a computer (and have it talk back) was a staple of Gene Roddenberry’s, Star Trek, where the Starfleet computer was voiced by Roddenberry’s wife, Majel. The 1970 movie, Colossus: The Forbin Project, featured a supercomputer that was intended to prevent war and proclaimed itself “the voice of World Control.” And before Google’s self-driving cars, the 1980s brought us KITT, an advanced artificially intelligent, self-aware, and nearly indestructible car from the TV show, Knight Rider.

Today’s voice applications may not have quite this level of panache and power, but there is no doubt they are transforming aspects of our daily lives and quickly making their way toward widespread, mainstream adoption. According to Location World, 40% of adults now use voice search once per day, and 60% of these people started using voice search in the last year. Comscore predicts that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. And a survey from Stone Temple Consulting found that over 60% of people use voice search at home, and 58% use voice search to look something up on their smartphone.

A major driver of this growth is the fact that Google Home, Alexa, Siri, and Cortana come within 8% accuracy in understanding the human voice. Voice search has become a convenient, user-friendly, effective experience and consumers are embracing it. In 2016, Amazon’s Echo became its most popular product during the holidays. Voice search is one of the most important technology/computing trends of this year and next.

We are finally getting into semantic search capabilities – and this has profound implications for brands, which need to adapt beyond SEO to participate in (and reap the benefits of) this emerging voice-powered landscape.

Seamless, fast, and convenient

The rules and possibilities of SEO were created for the method of a user typing a query into a browser-based search engine. Voice search is a different animal – people often use voice search while they are in the midst of doing an activity, like driving or carrying a load of groceries.

For example, if someone needs a locksmith and uses voice search to find a nearby business. If the voice query is, “I need a locksmith to get into my house,” a brand like HomeAdvisor could present two highly rated locksmiths within two miles of their house. The most helpful response is the response that knows the location of the request, recommends a service provider rated highly by a neighbor then goes even further by automatically offering to call the business and even set up an appointment.

The Stone Temple survey found that the top three rationales behind voice query usage were, “it’s fast,” “the answer is read out loud back to me,” and “I don’t have to type.” Furthermore, 60% of voice search users want more answers and fewer search result options. When typing something into Google, it may not present an obstacle if dozens of options show up in the results. However, with voice search, people don’t want multiple results – they want one or two quick answers. Understanding these use cases and behavior preferences is key to succeeding at voice search optimization.

Conversational long tail keywords

Another factor brands need to consider is the nature of the search queries themselves. Voice search usually involves long-tail search terms of five words or more, instead of one or two or three typed words. Voice search users conduct semantic searches in full sentences and this makes it possible to create more specialized content. Marketers need to consider that apps, landing pages, or strategic content should be more conversational and anticipate what type of sentences people may ask within a context of a topic. It’s important to understand the natural, colloquial language people use around a keyword or search term and optimize around those words.

For example, someone may say, “I want to order kung pao chicken delivery.” There is a full story in that request, including where the person is located, a specific menu item, the ratings of nearby restaurants, if the user has ordered from there before, and if the restaurant offers delivery. Another example is if someone asks, “Tell me how much a Tesla S costs?” The search response is a price. If the user’s next question is, “What colors are available?” or “Where can I buy one near me?” the voice search browser understands that the subject is still a Tesla.

Adapting beyond SEO means accounting for this back-and-forth question and answer process. Marketers need to understand the entire conversation around a keyword or search term so they can determine the best search results messaging. Brands can get a sense for conversational long-tail keywords through focus groups where they ask participants how they would inquire about their brand or product. The more contextual information gained from these focus groups, the better the brand can optimize the search results.

Personalized messaging

Because voice search provides so much rich context, brands have the opportunity to create various tailored advertising tactics. One method is to create specific landing pages for a search result, which is much easier to do today through platforms like JSON, which also allow for data-driven personalization of the landing page. Another tactic, requiring the brand to have a voice query customer’s IP address, is to use past purchasing or browsing history to create personalized search result messaging.

Accuracy is important. AI can seem like a sentient being, which makes it startling if it doesn’t come back with the right response. Voice search is the wave of the future and no longer just a far-off concept dreamt up by science fiction writers. In today’s highly competitive market, brands need to set themselves up for success by understanding changing consumer behaviors around search and the unique aspects of voice-enabled technology. SEO alone is not enough.

Good marketers understand the climate, environmental analysis, demographics, and primary, secondary, and tertiary targets and evolve their advertising methods to make maximum impact with their campaigns.

John Francis is the director of digital strategy of Hawthorne, an award-winning, technology-based advertising agency specializing in analytics and accountable brand campaigns for over 30-years.

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