I gave my first presentation on the opportunities for SEOs interested in appearing for voice search queries back in 2016, and recently at Search Love Boston, I got a chance to chat over breakfast with Will Critchlow from Distilled about the voice search opportunity. That conversation inspired me to question the data we’ve seen thus far about voice search adoption and really dig into what type of marketing opportunity there really is with voice-driven queries.
And here’s another confession:
I was studying new human-computer inputs and their adoption by consumers back in 2003 with the first wearable computer. I have since watched the adoption of consumer’s interaction with computers while out in the world living their lives.
My perspective is influenced by all of that, and you’ll see that in my Voice Summit presentation.
So here’s my take on the current Voice SEO opportunity.
Let’s first start with the challenge:
Current Voice SEO data is misleading
The data that’s been quoted in every voice SEO presentation is flawed. It’s either misquoted or includes voice actions (like setting a timer) along with true voice queries. Heck, even I misquoted it back in the day or didn’t dig into the voice search data enough. We all do it and need to do better.
Here are the voice search data points that are widely shared:
- 1 in 5 searches on the Android app are via voice (2016)
- 1 in 2 use voice technology on their smartphone. (Source🙂 BUT this is both voice action and queries.
- By 2020 50% of all searches will be voice search. Most people attribute this to Mary Meeker, but in fact, it was the head of Baidu search, and the stat included IMAGE search as well. S
- By 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen source.
- The adoption curve of smart speakers is trending faster than other technologies, and while smart speaker ownership is at 18% of the U.S. population in just 3 years, it is outpacing the adoption rates of smartphones and tablets.
Here’s the key takeaway:
All of the data above does not necessarily mean that those owners are using the device to conduct voice searches that are marketing moments.
How many marketing moments are there?
The reality is that the voice SEO opportunity is really small for most marketers. Of the studies we have access to, the average % of marketing opportunities (voice requests that are NOT actions) hovers around 17-25%.
There is one global study that was just focused on smartphone use that trended higher (more like 60%) but it was with a 6K sample size.
It all depends on your industry and market
There are some caveats. If you are in the industries below, there is more of a voice SEO opportunity for you.
If you are in the online grocery business, here’s the most recent data:
“56% of online grocery shoppers use or plan to use voice-controlled smart assistant/speaker”. Source: http://bit.ly/voicegrocery
“74% of consumers say text-based keyword searches are inefficient in helping to find products online.” Source: http://bit.ly/2NGYjWl
However, keep in mind that statistic above also speaks to image search abilities and opportunities. The prediction for voice shopping is 50% by 2020. At the moment it’s at 5%, so that prediction seems aggressive.
A lot of the voice shopping is directly into Amazon’s database. Neither dataset looks specifically at product discovery via voice on Google search vs Amazon.
“The growth curve of voice shopping looks a lot like the trajectory of mobile commerce seven years ago” – Moffett Nathanson’s Greg Melich
Here’s where there are good data and no controversy. People are definitely using their smartphones to find information about local businesses. Here’s the most recent data:
58% of consumers used voice search to find local business info in the last 12 months, and most conduct daily searches. Source: http://bit.ly/2KQS2cL
If you’re doing SEO well, you’re already well positioned for voice SEO
Here are the things that you need to tackle to appear well in voice search.
1: Follow SEO best practices
High-level SEO best practices include the following:
Make sure your pages load fast
The research we have suggests that voice search results are from sites that are screamingly fast:
To see your time to the first byte, I’d recommend using Google Chrome’s Lighthouse tool:
There are additional resources and tools that can help you assess and improve your page load speed, some of which come with pretty reports or videos you can share with your team to make the point:
Make sure your site does not have crawl or indexing issues
If you haven’t conducted a full SEO audit of your site, we can help you with that.
We use the following site crawl tools to troubleshoot technical issues for our clients:
2: Use structured data
- It helps the search engines understand who you are (noun/entity) and how you are associated with other nouns/entities.
- It also helps search engines understand if your content has an action associated with it (can the user “play” or “listen” to your content).
- It also in Google’s world lines you up with an automatic inclusion into the Google Actions in Assistant directory. This basically enables users on Android devices to play media directly from Google search or Google Assistant without opening a separate app. You as a marketer/website owner will get an email from Google asking you to claim your Google Assistant Action if you have news, podcast or recipe content that is marked up correctly (and if you’ve submitted your podcast RSS feed via Google Search Console). Once you claim your Action Directory page you’re all set.
- It can also help with getting a brand Knowledge box.
Here’s how you check to see if your pages have structured data on them:
And here’s some great Google resources to get started adding structured data on your site. Side note, when you do add the structured data, Google is more fond of JASON-LD as a format.
Side note, you’ll be tracking those interactions in your Google Actions Console.
3. Be on HTTPs
Not only is it a factor in ranking (most top ranking sites are on HTTPs), and ranking factor for voice SEO (70.4% of Google Home result pages are secured with HTTPS.) but the browser warnings scare away users.
37.6% of Chrome users do not continue through SSL warning are Google’s results from a study about users and their interactions with browser warnings.
Be careful though, a transition to HTTPs should be treated like a full domain move with an SEO on board. I’ve seen clients loose rankings due to a technical issue with their migration.
If you haven’t moved yet though you have to move for a variety of reasons and now for voice search reasons.
4. Have a low bounce rate and high engagement
Ah, this is where clean data is your best friend. You can view your bounce rate and engagement in most content reports in Google Analytics, but if the bounce rate seems too good to be true, it probably is.
All sorts of things can create artificially lower bounce rates, and we tend to see double hit counting as one of the culprits. If you have a sense that your metrics are not as accurate as you’d like them to be, contact us for a Google Analytics audit and assessment.
5. Be mobile friendly
It’s important to keep in mind that while you might pass Google’s mobile friendly test, Google also takes into account how mobile usable your site is and that includes things like whether a user can navigate your site with their fingers, and whether they can zoom in on images.
It’s more effective for you to look at your site’s results in the Mobile Usability report in Google Search Console.
6. Know your audience context and intent
The most important tip here is think about (or ask) your users what else they are doign when they are looking for your product and service via voice. Most of the time they will be in the middle of doing something else.
For instance, I just evaluated a client’s podcasts and their reviews highlighted that most podcast users were listening to the podcast during their commute but it was too long and detailed to work effectively in that context and therefore they gave up on being a podcast listener.
Don’t let this happen to you.
7. Develop a brand voice
Most of the brands that I’ve worked with have have not documented their brand voice.
I first became obsessed with brand voice documentation when running the social media team running the handles for the NY State of Health during their Healthcare exchange launch. I had a team of 10-12 people on the handles from 8 am to 8pm monday- Friday and 9am- 1pm on Saturdays handling NYers health insurance questions and all of them needed to sound like the brand.
Magic like that is only going to happen with massive amounts of thought and documentation.
A brand voice document helps ensure
- Customers have a consistent experience with your brand
- Your brand is something that everyone understands, can articulate, and effectively share with others.
- Your marketing and sales (or your customer service team( is on the same page about who the brand is and how it should act and sound regardless of who is “behind the brand” on the handle.
- It lets you ensure that your brand “sounds” the same across social, paid, voice, AND SEO.
- It prepares you for the future moment when Google will play YOUR brand’s voice back to a voice searcher (my prediction).
Here’s a great resource to get you started on how to develop your brand voice.
8. Answer their questions (featured snippets)
You also need to create content that will truly answer their question based on the intent of their keyword, not necessarily the keyword itself.
For instance, I had a global media client who provided Amazon SEO services who wanted to rank for a particular term where all of the results where from amazon.com – in that instance clearly searchers wanted help with an amazon specific product but if you looked at eth keyword out of context (without looking at the search results) you would think that it was a term with marketing opportunity.
In another example, they wanted to rank for a term with a services landing page where the results were all DIY blog posts – the intent was clearly to learn about the topic and execute on the marketing themselves.
The intent matters – and getting it right for voice even more so as you need to rank in the top 5 for that keyword before even being considered for a voice search result – and to get there your content needs to work for the searchers.
9. Be found locally
If you are a global business with local offices, or a local business, you need to execute on what I call “brand” SEO and THEN execute on a whole other list of items critical to local SEO. Check out my blog post where I break down all of the elements required for good local SEO.
Don’t those tips above look familiar?
It’s the stuff you should be tackling anyway if you’re running a strong SEO program.
But…here’s one new audio SEO opportunity I think most are missing
10. Optimize your audio assets
And honestly, it’s a new announcement for Google so it’s possible that most clients and organizations are just not aware.
According to Google Podcasts Product Manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen, in the future, Google will have the ability to:
“transcribe the podcast and use that to understand more details about the podcast, including when they are discussing different topics in the episode”.
That means that while there are steps today that marketers should take to optimize their podcast landing page and episode, we should prepare for Google surfacing particular content from within the episode to answer a searcher’s question.
Think about these questions:
- If a user is dropped into the middle of a podcast, would they get enough context from that starting point?
- Are you structuring your interviews in a way that would support that user behavior? Google currently does something like this with celebrity video answers in Search.
- Are you optimizing your existing podcast for search?
New to podcast optimization? Google has provided technical resources around how to optimize your podcast content that you can find here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/podcast
ONE thing everyone can do to prepare for future voice opportunities
The adoption curve for using voice via a speaker or a phone to look for information is aggressive, so even if you do not provide the specific products/services mentioned above, maybe you want to start preparing now so that you’re prepared for when your audience starts searching for you via voice.
Prepare now: Develop your brand voice
There’s still work to be done to be ready – particularly documenting your brand voice. This type of internal document can not only guide your team now as they share information for your brand across your site and social handles, but you can also NOW document what your brand should “sound” like once you have the opportunity for Google to play answers from your brand in search.
Not sure where to start developing your brand voice? I think these are some great starter resources.
Or contact me – I’ve helped other brands tackle this challenge, and I’ve even helped clients implement and adjust their brand voice via their social handles.
Here’s the OTHER new SEO opportunity most are not talking about
And that’s because it’s not sexy.
Remember that data point that was mentioned above? That by 2020 50% of the searches will not be text searches? That data point included image search.
There’s a HUGE number of people starting their journey with image search. Here’s the most recent data from Sparktoro about where people start their searches:
That’s right – taking a picture of an item with your phone’s camera and using that input to search for something similar. And we’re not talking about scanning a barcode, but instead actually just taking a picture of a particular easy chair you love or a painting – and having Google find more information for you about it.
For product searches in particular, I think that’s a HUGE opportunity that most business are not taking advantage of. And it’s relatively easy if you’re following good SEO practices to be found for those queries.
Here’s the image SEO checklist:
- Make sure your image filename is optimized for a keyword
- Add descriptive alt text to the image
- Add text on the page (like a caption) that can help the search engines identify and image.
- Choose next generation image formats (JPEG or using PNG-8)
- Optimize your images
- Reduce your file size (free resizer here)
- Use image sitemaps
And here’s more guidance from Google related to image optimization:
- Image Publishing Guidelines: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/114016?hl=en
- Image Optimization: https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/performance/optimizing-content-efficiency/image-optimization
As usual, SEO is rapidly changing but for most marketers voice SEO is not quite there enough for it to be a priority.
Everyone can easily be prepared by:
- getting their SEO house in order and
- documenting their brand voice
Both of those actions will position you well if your target audience suddenly starts a search for you via voice.