The easiest actions a small business can take to optimize for voice search include using a Web Speech API on their website, publishing then sharing short answers, and by claiming their business with Google Assistant and Alexa Skills.
Since the March 2014 introduction of Amazon’s Echo, the small business community has struggled with how to address appearing for voice-driven queries, continuing to focus on search engine optimization efforts through web search and using “mobile SEO” as their alibi.
Small businesses have a choice to either start exploring voice search, with a few starting points listed herein, or be left behind as larger brands continue master it into the new decade.
Today, studies have shown that 26.2% of the U.S. adult population now own a smart speaker, and predictions include numbers as high as 50% of all mobile searches being performed using voice by 2020 and 30% of searches will be done without even a screen.
1. Using a Web Speech API on Your Website
For accessibility and ADA compliance alone, businesses should experiment with “Read This Page” features, deployable in many circumstances using simple plugins, such as Responsive Text to Speech. In support of voice search efforts if your website offers a search box, don’t require mobile users to use a keyboard. Instead, ask your webmaster to add a Web Speech API, enabling them to incorporate speech recognition and synthesis into your web pages.
Your mobile visitor can now hit a microphone icon instead of a magnifying glass icon to search your website using voice commands. Thinking ahead: imagine eventually not having to touch a keyboard on a mobile device at all, whether they are trying to find information or complete an entire transaction.
2. Publishing and Marketing Short Answers
An unfortunate truth about small business marketing is that many are resource-constrained, leaving CMO’s and business owners with a bottom-line-driven mentality when it comes to web content. In other words, “if it isn’t going to immediately correlate to sales, don’t do it”.
Meanwhile, competitors are pumping out content like there’s no tomorrow, earning inbound links from others who reference that content, and now earning the coveted Position Zero in web search which often translates into the single answer that a Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri or Cortana enabled device will broadcast.
It’s the ambiguity of what to write, when to write and publish, and what to do after the content is live that has business owners hesitating and procrastinating on starting the process altogether.
Below is a fast-track content marketing action list for any business to get started with:
- Research common audience questions (try StoryBase or AnswerThePublic)
- Combine similar questions into groups and don’t create redundant content
- Create a marketing calendar (like this one) and publish one answer per week
- Include rich media such as custom photographs or a short 1-2-minute video
- Summarize the answer at the top of the page in under 375 characters (see 1st paragraph above)
- Socialize the summary (verbatim) through social media and media-sharing platforms
- Pick up Google Alerts to be notified when your question is asked online
- Set a goal of 20 mentions of your short answer before considering the task “completed”
- Measure traffic through web analytics, engagement via the calendar mentioned in #3, and inbound links through Google Search Console
3. Claiming Your Business with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
We recorded the amount of time it took to register our client’s business name within the Google Actions Console, and we were shocked to find that it took less than 5 minutes. We added a few simple questions that users might ask about the company and services, and then submitted it for review. Within 4 hours our client was up and running with a voice ‘bot’ that can answer common questions received by customer service personnel.
The entire process could be completed by anyone who is reasonably “web savvy” and does not require a programmer or a developer, unless advanced features are of interest, such as automated scheduling, event booking or transactions.
We found that the experience of going through this setup process often inspires curiosity into other ways a business can use Google Actions and Alexa Skills, and will immediately demystify voice search in general.
What Do We Know About How Users Interact with Assistants?
With the above three actions taken for a small business to immerse themselves into the world of voice search, it’s equally important to understand how users engage with these touch-free technologies. We invited 60 people in different demographic groups to participate in a study on how users interact with Google Home, Alexa, Siri and Cortana.
The goal was to understand the differences in searches performed with voice versus those made with a keyboard. Let’s briefly explore what we learned and discuss how to segment and measure who is coming in from a voice search versus a keyboard and how the interacted with website content.
- Users preface their questions with the 5Ws when making a voice search (who, what where, when and why), they do not when using a keyboard.
- Keyboard queries were shorter and more keyword-focused, voice searches were longer and more conversational
- Questions asked to an assistant were more personalized, such as “how can I find X” versus “buy X online”.
- Answers on voice often commanded a return response, versus a list of web results, such as a query for flights returning a response of “okay, when would you like to fly?”.
- Many longer queries resulted in a response of “I’m sorry, I’m not able to do that yet” or “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help with that”, frustrating the searcher.
Segmenting a voice query from a keyboard query became nearly impossible after Google stopped sharing most of the query data in 2017:
We found that the simplest way to capture and segment voice vs non-voice query data is through downloading Google Search Console search terms at the URL-level, and then filtering any query that contains the 5Ws or that contained the use of “I’m”, “I”, “me”, or “my”.
How Do We Address User Needs on Voice?
With query segmentation in mind, using conversational headlines and subheadings is a simple solution for addressing voice. See an example below (before and after with location detection enabled):
- Before: < h1 >Restaurants in Anaheim</ h1>
- After: < h1 > Here are Our Restaurants in Anaheim Near You</ h1>
Based on our study, the best way to give users the answers they need on voice is to get them to interact with the voice bot associated with the company.
Try starting with a statement on every page of the website, perhaps with a collapsible mobile footer that says “Voice Your Question: Say “Okay Google, Talk to ABC Company”, allowing the user to untether themselves from the device and have pseudo-conversations using Voice Search.
Also consider using this type of language in advertisements and marketing initiatives, driving customers to the Voice experience and helping solve issues they have that might span beyond questions about the company, but more generalized questions about the industry or providing tips and strategies.
For example, “Okay Google, Talk to ABC Company”, followed by “What’s the difference between product type A and product type B?”. Doing so, makes us more helpful than our competitors and, as Google has mentioned, provides a more delightful user experience.
In summary, small businesses should stop being afraid of Voice Search, experiment with 3 methods of addressing voice described above, and start improving web copy by making headlines and subheadings more conversational. There’s so much more to explore in Voice, it just takes 5 minutes to crack the door open and start looking at the ways we can help users on Assistant and mobile-voice devices today and in preparation for a device-free search environment in years to come.