If you’re a small business owner, you know the importance of getting your website out in front of potential customers. The Internet has upended the field of marketing, and successful companies are devoting at least 40% of their marketing budget to web and search marketing.
But building an online presence for your business is hard work. One algorithm changes and suddenly your website drops in search rankings. The most important quality in search isn’t technical brilliance. It’s your ability to adapt.
With that in mind, here’s the next thing you need to focus on. It’s a sea of change from previous search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. And it’s the future of search.
What is Voice Search?
Voice search refers to any technology that allows users to conduct Internet searches via voice recognition rather than typing.
When we talk about Voice Search, we mean several searching technologies that big players such as Google, Bing, Microsoft, and Apple have developed. You’re definitely familiar with some of them: Siri was launched back in 2011, and intelligent home assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo were some of the most popular gifts the last two holiday seasons.
How Has Voice Search Changed?
To sum it up, it’s improved a lot. When Siri was first introduced, many people were impressed by the novelty of having your phone respond to your voice.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much it could do.
Voice recognition seems like a brilliant idea when you’re walking in the cold—why would I type something out when I can have Siri do it instead? But then your text gets sent to the wrong person or, more commonly, it’s full of typos and you return to typing things. Dictation got thrown in the dustbin. Until now.
With Amazon, Google, and Microsoft each offering their own voice assistants, competition drives the voice search arms race. When it comes to artificial intelligence and smart voice searching, voice assistants that actually understand you—not one of these four companies wants to be left holding the bag.
But before we talk about how voice search is changing the digital landscape, we need to talk about mobile search. Because that’s what voice search is all about.
Is Mobile Search the Next Big Trend in Search?
First, it’s not the next big trend. It is the trend in search (the next big trend is voice search. Which is why I’m writing this article). Over 50 percent of all searches were made on mobile in 2016 and that number is only expected to grow, especially in North America, where smartphones have above 65% market penetration.
So mobile search is already a known quantity and it’s driving many of the current changes in search. You already know about Mobilegeddon, but as a small business owner, you also should know about various other important factors that mobile search has brought to the table, like the importance of local SEO tools like Google My Business.
Why is Voice Search So Important for My Business?
Because experts say by 2020 over 50% of all searches will be made using voice recognition software. 40% of adults in America make one voice search a day. By conducting a quick voice search yourself (Hey, Google!) you can quickly bring up hard numbers that support the sea of change in search engines that’s happening right now.
And it is happening right now—most voice search users just adopted it recently. This probably has something to do with the 92% word recognition accuracy that Google Assistant claims today, much improved from the earlier parts of the decade.
One thing we also know is mobile and voice searches continue to be local searches. Customers are performing voice searches when they’re already out of the house, in their cars, or when they are preparing to leave the house.
What does that mean? The barrier to getting your potential customers’ queries turned into calls-to-action is much lower. Consumers aren’t using voice search to answer abstract questions or to satisfy curiosity for the sake of curiosity—they want answers about businesses and services local to them when they need those services.
This means that now more than ever a high search ranking is essential. When customers are looking on a screen they might take the time to check out the first page of ranking results. But if they have to listen to the full entries for those businesses, they will stop after the third or fourth.
We cannot emphasize enough how important ranking well for voice search will be for your business in the early years of the 2020s. Technology adapts too quickly for us to make accurate predictions beyond that—who knows what new device or trend will be changing the Internet landscape by then?
This leaves your SEO strategy with a key objective. So how do you get there?
Ask a Simple Question, Get a Simple Answer
The key technology behind voice search and voice assistants is natural language processing. It goes by many names but the goal behind all of it is the same: to understand search queries as if you might understand natural speech.
That means understanding the syntax and semantics of a given phrase, not just parroting a few key nouns.
When consumers search on desktops, they use only a few keywords. They’ve truncated their questions and probably remove the prepositions and articles. Typing isn’t as speedy as speaking, after all.
This made the job of a search engine optimizer much easier. In the early days of the web, you could just stuff your pages with as many keywords as possible. This led to the development of entire pages that ranked well but were unreadable. Total gibberish.
Search has changed since then. Google and other search companies prioritize informative content. And they want content that’s written in an accessible style, that sounds like a human wrote it for other humans.
What change does voice search bring to the table? The biggest is that while speaking is much faster than typing, it’s not nearly as efficient.
You need more words to say the same thing. And you’ll probably do so by asking questions. All of the major players have encouraged this natural tendency by having their voice assistants respond like a human might. You address them by name and you ask them questions. Instead of:
Best Thai restaurant Montreal
Now you’re asking:
Hey, Siri, where is the best Thai restaurant near my work?
Placing Your Business in Context
When voice search becomes the dominant paradigm, phrasing becomes more important than ever. Your customers will be looking for relevant contexts to their lives. Instead of focusing on the what of your business, clients will be asking about the when, where, why and how.
This provides new challenges but also untold opportunities. More than ever before, your website needs to read as natural and it needs to provide answers to questions your audience is asking.
What sets your business apart? What makes it the best? Has it been recognized in your community? Do you have online reviews on Google My Business and Yelp? All of these will be relevant going forward with the push towards local voice search.
Questions in Need of Answers
For as many challenges as this provides, it also provides you and your business many opportunities. The move to voice search and natural-language queries means the importance of long-tail keywords. Suddenly, the real money in AdWords campaigns and landing pages is in specific keywords with four or even five or more words in them.
This means that your advertising dollars can go a lot further. You’re no longer spending a fortune on the most competitive keywords—in fact, long-tail keywords represent 70% of all web searches. There are fewer searches made for these longer keywords, and that means you’re competing with fewer businesses for the same ad revenue.
Doing the right research becomes more important than ever. Part of your SEO strategy means knowing who your customers are, how they’re using the Internet, and what they’re looking for. Having this knowledge in your back pocket helps you write accessible and engaging content that’s more likely to land your site in the top rankings when your customer asks a voice assistant for the best local businesses near them.
Three Simple Strategies to Think About
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering how on earth you can revamp your existing strategy to make your website relevant in 2018 and beyond.
We know, it’s a lot to keep up with. (We’d recommend you hire someone else to do it, but we’re biased.) But don’t fear. There are three strategies you can use to make the content on your website relevant for voice searches, and most of them will benefit your website for all search queries, not just voice-related.
Lock Down Your Local SEO This factor was already extremely important in advertising your small business online, but it’s going to be more relevant than ever before.
Local directory citations in Yelp, Google My Business, and Bing are some of the top ways to get your website to rank well in local searches. All the organic SEO in the world won’t do much for your small business if you can’t get your site in front of customers near you!
Write How You SpeakText is more formal than speech. This is something that’s been evident in human society for ages. Just ask your favorite local writer a question—they can produce the most beautiful prose but when called on in real-time, they’ll stutter. Text has its benefits: it allows you to convey more complex ideas using fewer words.
But when potential customers use voice search to look up your general contracting firm, they don’t necessarily want the most complex ideas! In fact, we’re willing to bet they’re asking something like: “who’s the top-rated remodeler in Montreal?”.
When you write in a simple and casual way, you reach the maximum audience. That doesn’t mean turning off spellcheck, but it does mean using simpler clauses and as many question-answer pairs as you can fit on your website. Unless you are in the business of providing academic text editing, consumers won’t be turned off by simplicity. And neither will search engines.
Speech has a natural cadence to it. It ducks and winds. People speak using variable sentence length. And while you might have a rich repository of polysyllabic technical terms, save them for your white papers. That’s for a different audience—customers who are already invested in what you’re selling, or people working in the same industry.
Use FAQs and Other Question-Driven Formats This is the one strategy that won’t bring the immediate SEO payoff that the first two will. Consumers using mobile or desktop won’t usually ask discrete questions, but voice search users absolutely will, and the statistics show that isn’t a demographic you can ignore.
Adding a Frequently Asked Questions section to your website is an easy and intuitive way to add keyword-rich snippets of text without bogging down your content with stilted or unnatural-sounding junk phrases.
And it’s easy to do. If you have a product or service that needs selling, that’s your answer. Now, reverse-engineer a question.
Hire the Best SEO Marketing Firm, See Your Rankings Soar
If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post and still can’t tell the difference between long-tail queries and local search, there’s no shame in asking for help.
Running a small business is harder than ever before. When you team up with LinkNow Media to take your website into the next decade and beyond, we focus on what we do best so you can focus on what really matters to your business.
With over 9,000 clients all on a no-contract basis, we’re one of the fastest-growing media and marketing companies in North America. Let us show you how we can take you to the top of the search results. Give us a call or send us an email—we can’t wait to get started!