“Alexa, make me a cup of Earl Grey, no sugar, then please fetch me my slippers and today’s newspaper.” OK, that’s not quite possible, at least not yet. But have you noticed in recent years just how much you have started using voice commands or searches instead of manually typing?
You live in a world of convenience that you want to be increasingly convenient. You have a busy life, trying to maintain an ideal work/life balance, so you may often be multitasking at any given time. That means if you want to know the weather, or the latest news, or where to buy the latest computer game, then you want accurate results and you want them quickly.
You’ve seen the opportunities that tools such as virtual teleconference apps offer, now it’s time to look at voice search technology.
Everything associated with voice commands and searches is increasing dramatically. Smart speaker sales exceeded 150 million units in 2020. 65% of the 25-49 year-old demographic uses a voice-enabled device at least once per day. And 30% of web browsing sessions over 2020 were screenless.
So the ‘voice revolution’ is already here and is spreading. What does that mean to your ecommerce business? How does voice search work for an ecommerce business like Di Bruno Bros. and how can you harness and optimize it to ensure that you are gaining real benefits?
You are likely already an expert at SEO best practices, optimizing your website content to ensure that you get a good ranking on search engines when consumers use certain search keywords or phrases. Voice search optimization is simply the verbal extension of that practice.
When you optimize for voice searches, you are optimizing your landing pages so that they appear (verbally) when a potential customer undertakes a voice search. Once optimized, it means that your pages can be read out loud by the voice search device being used by the customer.
If you use voice search in your ecommerce store, then you are enabling your customers to search for products within your online store without any manual keyboard input by solely using their voices. If you are already using a voice assistant such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, then voice search queries for ecommerce work in much the same way.
Voice search uses AI voice recognition that merges the fields of computing and linguistics to allow people to search for things without typing. The AI identifies the words and phrases a person uses as well as the phonemes that help distinguish one word from another. By simply clicking on the microphone icon on the device they are using, a customer can initiate a voice search.
When people do a manual search by typing, mistakes happen. Maybe someone spells the name of a brand or product incorrectly in their search terms. When that happens, the search engine’s AI usually identifies the mistake and suggests what it thinks the customer means. Voice search AI can also do this, suggesting what it thinks the customer may have mispronounced.
Also known as a ‘conversational agent’, a dialogue system is a type of computer system that can have a dialogue with a human. Most dialogue systems consist of at least three modules:
A module that recognizes human speech and can distinguish words, phrases, phonemes, etc.
A module that produces synthesized speech in order to reply to commands or queries.
A module that manages any dialogue.
By using NLP (natural language processing), your voice search system uses a combination of computer-based linguistics with machine and deep learning to better learn and understand your voice and your voice patterns. Depending on the complexity of the system you are using, this means that performance will improve over time.
As more and more households purchase smart speakers and/or virtual assistants, the use of voice search is also increasing. But perhaps more important is the rise in the number of people accessing the internet from mobile devices. Over 2020, the number of unique mobile internet users rose to 4.28 billion.
The first thing to consider is a person’s average typing speed, which is about 40 wpm. But that is on a traditional QWERTY keyboard, and your typing speed is likely a lot less on a mobile device’s keyboard. Now consider speaking the same ‘script’ you just typed: you will be able to say those words around three times faster on average.
So, a voice search is significantly faster, but it is also easier, as you can be doing other tasks while carrying out your search. Your thinking processes are the same; you still think about key words or phrases to find what you are looking for but you are doing it quicker and with less effort.
One of the keywords of our digital world is convenience. We have apps to order takeaway food, to watch films, to find a handyman, etc. And ecommerce apps have long made our often busy lives easier. Don’t think of voice searches as something entirely new but more as a natural progression as technology has evolved and adapted. It can even benefit the sorts of small businesses that utilize a fulfillment center as a way of getting goods to consumers.
You want digital services. Of any type, to be both swift and efficient. You already have the convenience of online shopping across multiple platforms—now you can enhance that communication with voice searchers. Voice searches can be of huge benefit to businesses like Hyphen that are focusing on B2C selling.
Access from mobile devices now represents 55% of all internet traffic, and that figure will continue to grow. With many people finding manual typing on a mobile device awkward, the attractiveness of using a voice search is obvious. A simple click of your microphone icon and you are able to carry out a search for anything you want.
Using the voice search option has several differences from a traditional manual search. It also offers a number of advantages, both to the user and to any business utilizing voice search capability.
Understanding those differences can help marketers decide on moving to integrating a voice search option for your ecommerce business and can also make that move easier to do efficiently.
One of the major differences between traditional and voice searches are the words and phrases you use. Whereas with a traditional search you may use a small number of words such as “Jeep Wrangler”, “New”, and “Newark”” to find a good dealership, you may use more complex phrases such as “what are the best deals on a Jeep Wrangler in the Newark area?”
Of course, with longer search phrases being used, that means you have to have a slightly different SEO strategy that targets long tail keywords. Thinking about what keywords may appear in a voice search is crucial in honing your voice search SEO game and driving consumers to your site, especially for questions that concern price or location.
58% of people who have used a voice search in the US did so to look for a local business. And of that 58%, 74% had carried out such a search at least once per week. A voice local search can thus highlight your business if you have optimized it to focus on geographical aspects of your business location.
Going back to our example of searching for a new Jeep Wrangler. You own a Jeep dealership and want to attract customers. Your initial geographic keyword may be New Jersey. Now while NJ may be one of the smallest states in size, it still has almost 10 million residents. So adding more precise markers such as “Newark’ and your district (Fairmount) narrows it down and helps consumers.
One of the main points of a voice search is convenience coupled with speed. For that reason, results are designed to be delivered in an easily digestible format and with the most relevant results, of course, presented at the top of the page. One of the reasons for this is that people may well be doing more than one thing at a time when using a voice search.
If, for example, you do a Google voice search, you get a similar result as with traditional searches, only quicker and with a likely more precise answer. And those voice search results will most often be read out to you for added convenience.
Ask yourself why you have an SEO (search engine optimization) strategy? To increase your ranking and to maximize visitors to your suite (and thus purchases of your products). Optimizing your voice search strategy is designed to achieve exactly the same results as that carefully thought out SEO strategy.
With voice search traffic continuing to increase, it makes perfect sense to look at how you can optimize results from voice searches, especially when it comes to attracting customers in your immediate geographic area.
According to Gartner, almost a third of browsing sessions in 2020 were predicted to have been screenless. So, it appears that every aspect related to voice searches is increasing, from sales of smart speakers and systems to actual volumes of voice searches carried out. And those figures will likely continue to rise, especially among the 18–24 demographics.
With more than 58% of adults having used voice search at some point and 33% using it at least monthly in 2019, integrating voice search capability is no longer a matter of choice—it is essential in order for your ecommerce business to compete and prosper.
When you consider that global ecommerce sales totaled some $4.28 trillion in 2020, $2 billion does not sound significant. But you need to remember that this is still a relatively new route for ecommerce and that it is growing steadily.
What shows how quickly this area is growing is the increases in volume in the last three years. From more than a billion searches per month in 2018, that has grown to just under 13 billion searches per month in the last year. That figure only includes voice searches made on mobile devices and thus excludes searches made via virtual assistants, desktops, etc.
As AI and associated machine learning and NLP improves, people are more comfortable with opting to use voice search over traditional methods. Hand in hand with those improvements are better understandings of how to optimize search features for voices to make them more efficient. Combined with enterprise SEO, this can make a significant difference.
What you really want to know is how adopting a vice search strategy will affect your bottom line. How well voice search performs for you depends on a number of factors, but some analysts predict it could grow your overall ecommerce revenue by as much as 30%. But with continuing growth across all areas of voice commerce, that figure could be even higher.
Just as you want to know how to create sales opportunities from cancelled B2B events, you also want to know how to achieve higher sales and revenue.
So you’re coming round to the idea. The ongoing growth is impressive and you can see that adopting voice searches makes great business sense. The technology is already there, but how do you go about optimizing your own voice search so that you get the best results possible? You want your business to grow and perform well, and knowing how to break any growth ceiling can be part of that vision.
You’re probably already doing SEO optimization for traditional searches and digital marketing so know all about the quest for Google Position 0. That’s when Google selects featured snippets of information and places it in a box at the top of any search results, thus generating more traffic to your web page and, hopefully, leading to that traffic converting to customers.
It’s just the same idea for voice searches. You want to provide direct answers to direct questions. Going back to the earlier example, “What are the best deals on a Jeep Wrangler in the Newark area?”, if you have provided an answer such as “Bob’s Jeep dealership in Newark’s Westside offers the best deals in the state on new and used Jeeps” then that position 0 could be yours.
As already mentioned, a voice search can differ greatly from a typed search. While people may use only three or four words for a typed search, a voice search is more likely to be conversational and people will often ask a question as they would in real life. So with a voice search, someone might ask: “Where can I find the best deals on Jeep Wranglers in Newark?”
But there are other differences you should be aware of and think about when developing your strategy:
Device and search engine. While many voice searches are made from a mobile device, many also come from increasing use of smart speaker systems. You may automatically think of Google Home as being the primary search engine, but both Alexa and Cortana—the Microsoft virtual assistant—use Bing, so most smart speakers use Bing, and that means Bing could grow in importance to businesses looking for a high ranking. Android phones and iPhones can use a variety of different search engines, too, including Bing.
Subjects. Voice searches are often used for ‘local’ subjects but people—for now—are still using traditional searches for some subjects such as healthcare. So consider what you are selling/providing. That doesn’t mean you should neglect voice search if you fall into the traditional category, because you know how quickly things can change.
Semantic SEO is all about focusing more on topics that may come up in a voice search rather than traditional keywords. That means that you have to think about what a customer’s intent might be (to buy a new car), how and when they may make a voice search, and how phrases used can relate to each other.
This is all based on the idea that people will vocalize a search in a different way as to if they were typing. It is also closely tied to Hummingbird, Google’s change in search algorithm use (as of 2013) that places more focus on natural language, context, and meaning over the old use of keywords. That algorithm also looks more at the overall content of your site.
It’s always been the case that you want to provide a smooth and satisfactory user journey and experience, and that is no different when it comes to voice searches. But while the aim is the same, the journey is a lot different. Making changes or additions to your site structure can help merge the voice search user’s journey.
And when you look at these features, also consider the benefits of link building SEO and how it can fit into your new strategy.
Navigation. Ensure that your ecommerce navigation matches the common questions string used in voice searches.
Schema. By adding schema markup, you add depth to your existing structured data. You could then alert the relevant search engines to special events, new products, discount prices, etc.
XML. Ideally, you need an XML sitemap that users can easily navigate but also allows the same function for search engines. This can help any relevant information be accessed quickly in response to a query.
You will have realized by now that a voice search may differ in several ways from a typed search. Any voice search strategy has to reflect this. It is about more than a simple voice/type difference though, it is also about understanding that consumers may even vocalize the ‘same’ query using different words.
With a market as big as the USA, you have to be aware that some products may have different names from region to region. For example, if you were selling shoes online, some regions may call a certain type of shoe a “sneaker” while other regions will call them “tennis shoes”. If you were selling nationally, then you would want to use both terms in order to reach customers.
Page speed is a crucial factor, whether for traditional or voice searches. People want to access answers quickly and, if your site and pages are slow, then they may just choose to go elsewhere. If your page is slow, it will also prevent search engines from accessing the required information quickly and they will not rank your site highly.
Ensuring that your landing pages are optimized for both manual searching and voice searching will be increasingly more important. If you do not have an IT team who can carry out this task, you can choose to use the Google service to identify issues (and then make changes) or you can outsource the work to an agency to do it all.
So, you will now understand that how people phrase a voice search differs greatly from how they phrase a typed search. A voice search will be more conversational and also more likely to be phrased as a question rather than a ‘chain’ of keywords. If using a voice search, a user may say something like “Where can I buy a new Jeep Wrangler in Newark”.
When optimizing for voice searches, you must take this into consideration and also think about how they will ask a question. There are certain words they may always start a question with:
If people are putting questions in voice searches, you want to give answers that are relevant and thorough. By answering directly, you drive more traffic to your site and can help reduce churn rates.
Once you have a good idea of how to optimize voice searches, it is time to consider the actual SEO marketing strategies you will employ. Unless you are a total newcomer to SEO tactics, a lot of this will be very familiar and you should find it fairly easy to adapt to a new strategy. You may want to consider engaging with a leading SaaS SEO agency in some cases.
As with traditional searches, you want to identify the key words and phrases you will use. The question words (who, where, etc.) are ones you should automatically be including. You should also think about what is known as “fillers”, words/phrases such as “on the”, “of the”, “to”, etc. You include these because a voice search is more conversation than a typed one.
Of course, you also want to research the more traditional keywords related to your business (“Jeep”, “Wrangler”, “Newark”, etc. for our example) as they are the bones of what the user is searching for. And the last aspect to consider is long-tailed keywords. But from marketing cars to marketing SaaS, consider the words that are industry specific.
Due to the conversational nature of most voice searches, you want to ensure that you target relevant long-tail keywords in your SEO strategy. By targeting specific ones, you stand a better chance of your site being presented to the user above other sites that have a less thought out strategy.
For example, searching for “car dealerships in Newark” will give a lot of results covering different car makes. But if you have used a long-tail phrase like “Best Jeep dealership in central Newark”, then you are providing a direct and informative answer to a specific question.
If questions in searches are going to be more conversational, then your answers and content should be equally conversational (without being overlong). With a typed search, your SEO would usually consist of single words or short phrases. With a voice search, you need to think about providing more detailed answers to the questions being asked.
Keep your detailed answers clear and concise—there is no need to write a paragraph when a sentence will suffice. Also, think about making your content marketing compelling and informative, that addresses the most commonly identified queries, and also helps consumers to overcome any pain points they encounter.
Increasing use of searches from mobile devices goes hand in hand with both increasing use of voice searches and people looking for local businesses. If people are using voice search from a mobile device, then there is a good chance that they are on the move or away from home and are looking for a quick result that is close to them. Local SEO is therefore crucial.
Highlight and optimize your presence by making sure that directions and maps to your actual location are viewable and accessible to both users and search engines. That can also mean offering a different user experience for mobile searches as opposed to desktop or home system searches and ensuring that speed is optimized as mobile users want quicker results.
Knowing that many voice searches are looking for a local business and convenient solutions means that a Google My Business listing is a great strategy to improve results. Listing there lets Google’s search engine know where exactly your business is located. That means that when users do near me searches for something in that area, your business should show high up the rankings.
Your ‘My Business’ listing should include all the pertinent details to ensure any result identifies you accurately. That means business name, address, and phone number should be included. Be sure to put your business in the correct category and added details such as area code can also benefit your ranking.
While voice searches may be the relatively new kid on the block, as the technology improves and use increases, it will become increasingly important to your ecommerce marketing strategy, especially for vibrant online businesses such as Solo Stove. Getting on board now means you can optimize your voice search and strategy to ensure you maximize the traffic to your site.
Nick Brown is the founder & CEO of Accelerate Agency, an SaaS marketing agency based in Bristol. He has over 12 years experience in digital marketing and works with large companies advising them on SEO, CRO, and content marketing. He has written for sites like Hubspot and PandaDoc.