Speech Technology  – March 29, 2018

By Phillip Britt

Keeping up with the changing whims of search engines has always been a sisyphean task, but now a new obstacle has been tossed into the always evolving SEO mix: voice search. There is some good news, however, for brands and marketing agencies look to optimize content for voice search. Much of what they need to do to optimize content for voice search is simply to hone in on many of the same rules they have used to achieve SEO success in the past.

The need to optimize for voice search is essential for many brands. According to Matt Lawson, director of marketing, performance ads at Google, one-fifth of searches in the Google app are now by voice. “And that’s just a preview of what’s to come,” he said in a company blog post.

He and other experts expect digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home to continue to gain in popularity, along with voice capabilities available in autos and the use of voice searches through mobile devices. As the devices gain popularity, so will voice-enabled search.

“More and more brands are asking for it,” agrees Nicholas Papagiannis, vice president and search director for Cramer-Krasselt, a Chicago, Ill.-based marketing agency. But though companies tend to realize the importance of optimizing content for voice search, they don’t always take the extra step to create content around voice search behavior.

One of the primary issues for voice search is to ensure that the brand or company is the first answer provided, says Eric Hedekar, a research analyst for STAT Search Analytics, an enterprise SEO software platform. Whereas the top ranking is also important for a text search, someone typing in the query can scroll through a list to look at different options for a hotel or for a consumer brand, for example. With a voice search, only a single answer is provided. “It’s a really competitive environment to rank No. 1. The challenge is to become the top answer.”

And, just as ranking at the top for a text search, companies and brands have to continue to fine-tune their efforts in order to keep that top ranking.

Four Tips to Optimize Content for Voice Search 

Hedekar offers the following advice to optimize content for voice search:

1. Devise content that will answer typical “how to” and other typical questions people tend to ask. Cramer-Krasselt did this in a campaign for Rightturn, LLC, an online tire company. Papagiannis said the agency-developed content around tire safety and tire maintenance. As a result, when someone asked: “How often should I change tires?” or something similar, the response would start with “according to Righttire.com…”

2. The responses should be easy to pronounce – not for a human, but for a speech-enabled device. Typically, that means content at a relatively simple level – about ninth grade level. “There’s very little value in complexity,” Hedekar says.

3. Think in terms of natural language when optimizing content for search.

4. Use simple, proper grammar in developing content.

Papagiannis adds that volume of content is important so that a company or brand has answers for a wide variety of questions that people might ask.

What Marketers Need to Know About Voice Search

Additionally, each digital assistant works a little differently, so companies need to decide which device they want to optimize content for, according to Papagiannis. “Each assistant has its own strong points (e.g. some say Echo offers a great product search experience, but not necessarily a good experience when looking for general information). The list of assistants continues to expand, and the web offers some great takes on which one’s best. From a marketer’s perspective, it’s important to think about:

  • Your targeted personas, their user journey, and how voice search plugs into—and throughout—their sales journey.
  • The kind of information your target may be looking for via voice search.
  • How personal data comes into play on their phone.
  • Brands must figure out what their primary goal is (e.g., is it impressions, website clicks, or is it product sales).

The Future of Voice Search

Voice search will continue to evolve. John Pollard, former founder of Jotts Networks, a voice-to-text app that Nuance acquired in 2006, foresees the day, which he says isn’t that far off, when not only will someone be able to search with voice, but artificial intelligence will enable the response to be more than just a list of answers, but will include answers that are relevant for the searcher.

For example, a person could ask about nearby restaurants, the voice response would provide a couple that are not only nearby, but also fit a customer’s preferences (i.e., Italian, Mexican), along with ratings and reservation openings from Open Table or a similar service.

“It will become much more personalized,” Pollard says. “It’s going to happen a lot faster than we think. There have been tremendous strides in AI.”