Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Think your current search engine optimisation (SEO) tactics are enough to get you organic search traffic? With voice search gaining traction, the game is about to change.

The rise of voice-based smart speakers such as Amazon’s popular Echo and Google’s Home is exciting for consumers, but a potential nightmare for marketers. And so too the broader move away from text-based input towards the chat-friendly nature of a whole host of commonly available voice assistants, including Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Assistant (Google), Alexa (Amazon) and Samsung’s Bixby.

The way we search has changed

There are two reasons for the way we search now being different. These have to do with how people use voice to search and the way these searches are displayed – or read aloud, in the case of standalone speaker units such as the Home and Echo.

A typical typed search in Google probably looks something like this: “waterproof camera”. It’s short and sweet, since it takes effort to type. Voice searches on a smartphone are completely different: “I’m looking for a waterproof camera that is cheap and can post directly to Facebook”, for example. It’s longer and more colloquial, and the difference holds major implications for SEO strategies, since the data Google is looking for changes.

Not the usual first page

How voice-based results are displayed also differs. Search “Best pizza restaurants in Johannesburg” and Google’s Assistant shows you 10 picture-based results that scroll to the side. These are all organic, with no pay-per-click advertising options available (which raises questions about Google’s monetisation strategy, a different story altogether).

On the speaker-based assistants such as Home, it gets even trickier, with only the first result read, with an option to go through the rest if you want to spend the time to do so. This holds significant ramifications for people who rely on the customers using search in order to find them. It re-emphasises the fact that if you don’t rank on Google’s top results, your business is going to suffer, and this will be the case even more in future.

How to get voice ready

What to do about this new voice-based search paradigm shift?

First, get mobile ready and speed up your site. According to Google, more than 50% of all searches occur on mobile, and voice is responsible for 20% of all searches in the Google app. While a fastidious Google already penalises sites that are not mobile friendly, there is also an emphasis on how quickly your page loads. On mobile, if your site doesn’t pull up in three seconds, users will move on to the next. Therefore, the first consideration for anybody who wants to capitalise on voice search is to ensure that their page adheres to the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) standard. AMP allows your site to load extremely quickly, and once Google sees you are optimised, it will reward you for the effort. It is nonnegotiable for brands, and if you don’t do it now you will be left behind.

The big take-out:

If you depend on Google for sales or good-quality leads, invest the time now to look at what’s happening in voice and re-imagine the way you can go about SEO.

The second consideration is closely related to the way people search through voice and the SEO strategies that are needed to capture organic search. The type of content that companies have on their websites needs to be better optimised to respond to lengthier voice-based questions. This involves publishing long-form content, possibly in a frequently-asked-questions format, where there are explicit questions with detailed answers. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer doing a voice-based search and make sure you have content that can cover potential questions. If your website can show Google it is a good source of information about the topic users are interested in, it will significantly improve your chances of featuring in voice search.

Finally, people are more inclined to use voice search on mobile when they are looking for local businesses or services. Mobile’s strong conversation rate means they want to buy, and 80% of searches result in a sale, according to a study from Neustar. This means you need to optimise your site to appear in a location-based search, so configuring and verifying your Google My Business account is key. Make sure you can be found on Google Maps and encourage people to leave reviews, on both Google’s platforms and other social media.

Alongside this, there are more technical search configuration components to look after, including schema markup. This code, for the back end of your website, ensures that further information is displayed in search results. For example, items you are selling can include shipping time, more specific prices and further descriptions of the products. Schema markup can enhance Google click-through rate, and can also improve search ranking. 

The future is voice

The importance of voice-based search must not be underestimated, with Gartner predicting that 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen by 2020. While a number of companies now still receive a convenient amount of traffic through Google’s current organic search results, this will dry up when the use of voice becomes even more convenient and usage surges.

* Stewart is CEO of Rogerwilco

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