Voice search is growing, a statement appearing time and time again throughout the web. It has fundamentally changed the way people search and it’s here to stay.
With a simple command, users can conduct searches for information, products, services and local businesses.
It’s such a hot topic that our Head of Search and Strategy Stuart Shaw spoke at one of the UK’s largest SEO conferences a few weeks ago to talk about the details of voice search and why it’s important for brands.
While voice isn’t likely to surpass traditional search any time soon, it has spurred us to explore how local businesses can optimize, adjust their marketing strategies and understand the potential voice search could have on their bottom lines.
The opportunity for local businesses
To get information about a local service near to us, we pull out our phones and we search for it:
- ‘Plumbing services near me’
- ‘Local pizza delivery’
- ‘What are the opening times for…’
- ‘Is so and so open today?’ etc.
In fact, a recent study by Brightlocal highlighted that 53% of people owning smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa & Google Home are performing searches like these for local businesses every day in the US:
Putting that in context for the UK
A recent YouGov study showed that people in the UK owning a smart speaker had doubled between Q3 2017 and Q1 2018 to 10% of the total population.
A study by radiocentre predicted that this growth could reach as high as 40% by the end of 2018.
Looking a little deeper, we could say that per household there is more than one occupant. In fact on average there’s actually 2.3 people per household, according to the most recent UK gov statistics:
Source: Office of national statistics
So, if the 40% of UK households prediction is correct, that is potentially 11 million households exposing voice search content to 25 million people in the UK.
Who’s leading the smart speaker market?
Three-quarters of the market share in the UK in Q1 2018 was taken up by Amazon’s Alexa. This, of course, will change but right now this is where the biggest opportunity lies for local businesses optimizing for smart speakers in the UK:
Source: Office of national statistics
Although voice search is still in a stage of infancy, and we have only talked about smart speakers, it’s clear to see just how relevant this technology is to brick and mortar businesses.
And, it’s constantly evolving…
Here’s a timeline from Stuart’s presentation, highlighting significant changes in voice search, and it’s becoming increasingly accessible for more and more people to conduct a voice search every day:
3 Biggest steps to optimize your local business for voice search
1. Take ownership of your digital footprint
Although voice assistants seem all-knowing, they rely heavily on information they can find around the web about your business.
A big part of optimizing for local SEO is ‘citations’ which are online references to your business name, address and phone number (NAP).
Voice assistants use these citations from trusted sources to provide information to users that are conducting local search queries.
So, where should I cite my business?
Each voice assistant relies on different and sometimes multiple data aggregators for answers to local search queries:
- Search: Google
- Business listings: Apple maps
- Reviews: Yelp
- Search: Bing
- Business listings: Yelp and more recently Yext
- Reviews: Yelp
- Google Assistant
- Search: Google
- Business listings: Google my Business
- Reviews: Google my Business
- Search: Bing
- Business listings: Bing
- Reviews: Yelp
So, these data sources are the most important places to make sure your business is correctly cited, up-to-date and optimised:
- Google My Business – Create a listing
- Apple Maps – Create a listing
- Bing – Create a listing
- Yelp – Create a listing
2. Utilize schema markup
Schema is a type of on-page data markup that allows webmasters to provide search engines with data about their business in a more structured way.
The structured format allows search engines to understand the contents and context of web pages much easier (less algorithmic interpretation) and, subsequently, the engines can better understand the relevance of pages to particular search queries and present richer results.
Schema is only going to play a bigger part in ranking for rich results and featured snippets which are heavily used in for voice search content.
What does schema markup do?
Search engines experiment with how they display rich results all the time and by having your site marked up, you have the opportunity to be featured in new rich results.
For example, Google experimented with a ‘prominent knowledge panel card’ shown on mobile devices which displays when users conduct a branded search for the business. In the knowledge card you can see ‘place actions’ such as ‘find a table’ or ‘book an appointment’ which would direct searchers into an appropriate webpage to conduct the action.
These rich results went on to influence the structure of Google My Business which is now heavily used by local businesses. The point here is that the business websites shown in the example image below were ‘future proofed’ and optimal which qualified them for this rich result.
In other words, as Gary Illyes – web trends analyst at Google puts it:
“If you want your sites to appear in search features, implement structured data.”
The biggest benefit and ‘thing it does’ is help Google understand relevance much more fluently. Another few quotes from Gary Illyes helps explain this:
“Add structured data to your pages because, during indexing, we will be able to better understand what your site is about.”
“And don’t just think about the structured data that we documented on developers.google.com. Think about any schema.org schema that you could use on your pages. It will help us understand your pages better, and indirectly… it leads to better ranks.”
Why it’s important for local businesses
Schema is a tool which search engines and subsequently voice assistants are using to paint a clearer picture of a business website’s central topic and the services the site can offer users.
With structured data present, it is much more likely that your business (if relevant) will be identified as a good candidate for answering local voice search queries.
Using local business schema will:
- Future-proof your website for richer search features (which voice search content is heavily influenced by)
- Reinforce your online digital footprint
- Bolster relevancy signals & geographic accuracy
- Help drive more conversions both online and offline
- Indirectly help your website rank better (important for voice)
So how do you take control?
There are hundreds of schema types which can be utilised for hundreds of business and content types.
There are also multiple ways of marking up schema in your page source code. By far the easiest is using JSON-LD. Using the example from above the marked up code looks something like this:
Types of local business data that can be marked up:
- Business name
- Phone number
- Main email address
- Business opening hours
- Geo-location information (latitude and longitude)
- Company logo
- Business description
- Social profile links
- Site name
Bear in mind there are guidelines for usage summarized below:
- ‘Data must not deceive or mislead experience for search users’
- ‘Use only the most specific types and property names defined by schema.org’
- ‘Marked-up content must be visible on the page where the script is added’
See Google’s policies for structured data for more information.
Once you’ve gone through SchemaApp, copy and paste the output code into relevant pages before your closing </head> tag or, if it’s content specific schema (such as the review rating above), paste the code before the closing </body> tag in the HTML of your page.
Finally, check your mark up with this structured data testing tool which will highlight any errors once implemented.
Note: Avoid using Google Tag Manager for this markup, apply the code natively where possible.
3. Produce content relevant to voice search needs
There are great ways of optimizing specifically for voice search using your on-site content.
The simplest is to explore the realm of user intent and uncover the types of questions people may want answering, when it comes to your business.
That doesn’t mean you need to create 1000s of pages that are optimized specifically for voice search terms. Instead, search engines such as Google pulls answers to voice queries directly from page content, even if it is a snippet that makes up a small section of the content.
Work long tail queries into long-form content
Conduct some long tail keyword research and look for questions people ask about your local business and work them into your content, where it is relevant to do so. I highly recommend Answer the Public to scale your efforts here.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
This is a query I searched recently that could be relevant to any local business:
‘Does tesco take american express?’
Here’s what was shown at the top in a featured snippet (the content that will be read out if conducting a voice search with Google Home):
And here’s the content that Google has pulled out from halfway down the page from choose.co.uk:
FAQ pages can be perfect for voice search
Written correctly, an FAQ page can serve voice search queries really effectively and if you struggle to work in your long tail optimisation into relevant pages, an FAQ page is a great way to get around it:
- People use voice search conversationally, which you can naturally replicate on an FAQ page without the content appearing out of place
- It appeals to long tail voice & traditional searches which widen your reach
- Voice search often seeks concise information, under 30 words, which an FAQ page can clearly communicate
- Creating a dedicated page specifically with this key information in mind could help with higher placement in SERPs for voice searches, which is vital for capturing that first click/interaction
However, you look at SEO, voice is the future and it’s growing exponentially and it’s being integrated into more and more of our everyday tech. Local business marketers should be making specific efforts to capitalize on voice search to maximize their online and offline conversion.
The caveat here is not to let your standard SEO practice fall behind. Having a fully mobile responsive website, fast site speed and good quality local backlinks, among many other optimizations, are still, and will remain, vital for ranking in local search and will greatly impact your voice search efforts.