Voice Search: What’s Old is New… Again

There’s been so much buzz about voice search lately…from reports predicting that “50% of searches will be voice [searches] by 2020” to popular news services such as Forbes publishing articles with titles like “Why You Need To Prepare For A Voice Search Revolution”.

At the surface, there appears to be good reason for the hype. It seems as if new smart devices are being released to market every day, and the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution is embedding connected functionalities into everything from refrigerators to light switches.

Of course, Amazon and Google are pushing hard to get smart speakers into everyone’s home. For example, during Amazon Prime Day 2018 you could purchase an Echo Dot for just $30. They’re practically giving these things away.

With all of this going on, some agencies are pitching a “new” service to potential clients: “Voice Search Optimization” or – this is one of the favorites – “Voice Engine Optimization”. Indeed, it seems the market has been primed by the hype as we often hear the question, “Do you optimize for voice search?”

Indeed, does the meteoric rise of smart devices all around us warrant an investment for your business into a new voice search strategy in 2018? And will this strategy increase your bottom line?

In our opinion: probably not. Or at least, not in a way that is truly “new”.

Here’s why:

3 reasons you shouldn’t drop everything to invest in “Voice Search Optimization” in 2018:

1. Smart speakers and voice assistants aren’t useful for much (yet), apart from calling your mom, getting a quick fact or controlling your TV.

2. While voice search use is definitely increasing, the oft touted numbers can be misleading. Why? Those numbers include users asking for quick facts, weather, jokes, etc. These are things that Google can serve up directly from its database, which means it doesn’t need a website to provide users with the answers. In other words, these kinds of queries don’t represent true business opportunities.

3. Long-tail keyword and topic research, often brought up in discussions of how to take advantage of voice search, are nothing new. These are strategies that SEO agencies have been undertaking for years.

Long-tail keyword research is how you attract targeted traffic and how you avoid competing with big websites on short-tail, non-converting “head” terms. It also helps identify similar topics that should be discussed in combination with the primary keyword or topic. This is called topic modeling, which has also been a key SEO tactic for years.

What we know about voice search right now:

Here are a few things we know about how voice search functions in relation to traditional search. You can see that voice search is basically a different way to “display” results from traditional desktop and mobile search, but they’re all being driven by similar optimization strategies.

1. Answer boxes feed voice search results.

Answer boxes are a feature of Google search results pages (SERPs) that attempt to quickly answer a query that’s typed into Google:

Answer Box Definition

There’s no clear-cut path to achieving an answer box for a certain query, but there are strategies we’ve helped clients execute to successfully appear in answer boxes. For example, structured data (or schema) markup, hosting your website on a secure server and building a robust inbound link profile can all help your site secure that coveted answer box.

In general, if your site appears in an answer box, it will be featured in the voice search result. There’s a branding opportunity in voice search since the domain name will usually be read aloud – but it’s not likely to drive actual traffic to your site since the user’s question will have been answered.

2. Optimized Google My Business listings are an important factor in appearing local long-tail voice queries (e.g., “Where can I get coffee in downtown Milwaukee”).

These optimized listings are important for voice search, but they’re equally important for desktop and mobile search.

For the example query, the same 3 results are read aloud on a Google Home, and appear on a desktop search and using the Google app on a phone:

Local Map Pack for "Coffee in Milwaukee"

By the way, when you have an optimized Google My Business listing, it can look like this on desktop search:

Google My Business Listing on Desktop

And like this on mobile search:

Google My Business Listing on Mobile

3. Some voice search platforms, such as Amazon’s Echo, pull local business data from 3rd party business listing websites like Yelp.

Creating or optimizing your local business listings on these 3rd party websites can help your business to get considered for a local voice search. But again, that is a strategy SEOs have been using to help sites gain maximum visibility in desktop and mobile searches for years.

Moral of the story

Pretty much every time we’ve read an article or attended a webinar on “Voice Search Strategies”, the bases covered are very similar (or exactly the same as) strategies you’d use in traditional SEO.

And yes, since voice capabilities make it easier than ever to perform searches, it makes more sense than ever to invest in the three legs of the SEO stool:

  • Technical SEO (to ensure search engines can crawl and index your website efficiently),
  • Topic / keyword research and content optimization, and
  • Link building and local SEO.

That’s why in our view, these will continue to be the main strategies behind search engine optimization of any kind (voice search being just one) in 2018 and beyond.

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