Hey, Alexa! How Do I Prepare for Voice Searches?

Sept. 5, 2019

A marketing expert and an audio marketing expert share how a shop can stay ahead of competition and become voice-search ready.

Only 4 percent of businesses with a physical location are voice search ready, according to a study by Search Engine Land. 

Yet, voice search is “unquestionably” on the rise, says Justin McKinney, director of SEO for Wpromote, a digital marketing agency that has worked with brands like Proactiv, Forever 21, The Home Depot, Samsung and more. In fact, at Google I/O, a developer festival held in May, Google announced a 4 times increase in Google Assistant, Google’s next generation way of searching with Google that is similar to Siri, active users in 2018 versus 2017. 

So, with a rising trend, the question begs: Are you part of the 4 percent? 

Consumers are shifting how they search for information. Today, they have more options to do so than ever before, and voice search devices are an increasingly popular one. In 2019, roughly 74 million Americans will own a smart speaker, according to a study by eMarketer. 

Searching with the adoption of voice assistance is becoming more popular, says Andrew Begnoche, director of operations for Holdcom, a marketing company focused on marketing through sight and sound with digital content. However, with that popularity comes some obstacles for small businesses. 

Before You Start: A New Set of Challenges

Businesses need to be wary of what information is going to be passed along through an audio search versus old-fashioned typing and searching on Internet search engines.

“There are different SEOs for a company to master now,” Begnoche says. “There is not a different set of rules, but a different set of results, that come from voice searching and a lot of that comes from keywords in online reviews.”

So, a business could experience trouble if a voice search engine gets pings back from a popular forum, like Yelp, for example. Businesses have to be aware that negative reviews on different sites could be detrimental to whether a voice assistant, like Alexa, picks their company as the answer to a voice command. They need to address negative reviews in a timely fashion and make sure reviews are gaining a more than 3 stars, to prevent those from floating around online.

Know what the technology means for the future of the business 

Currently, 20 percent of Google searches are done via voice command, according to research by Taylor & Francis Online. 

If your business is not keeping up with the trend, it might fall behind—and soon. McKinney says that businesses should try and get ahead of the changing ways people will be finding products and services. 

Marketing Charts predicts this percentage to grow to 50 percent by 2020. As users of devices that allow consumers to voice search—like Google Home or Alexa—become more comfortable with the devices, people will use their voices more. According to the Marketing Charts report, 58 percent of people use voice search to accomplish tasks they used to do by typing or swiping and 44 percent will use their phone-based voice assistant more. 

“[The importance] is flying a bit under the radar at the moment,” Begnoche says. “But, my dad is 88 years old and he is all about using Siri because he can’t type on his phone.”

Discover which kinds of results voice assistants tend to provide

Voice search means businesses will need to master using SEO differently, Begnoche says. For example, brands will need to tighten up the reviews they are getting on their organization and clean up any negativity. The voice assistant can pick up on the negative language and read it back to the customer.

He says it is likely customers will inquire after the dealership’s reputation in the voice search and the device might find results from sites not regulated by the company, like industry forums or Wikipedia.

McKinney says his team has found that factors, like the succinctness and reading level of the content, play a role in determining if the website is used as a voice assistant answer. 

New schema types (code that can be added to websites that gives search engines more context and information about the page), like HowTo and FAQpage schema, automatically create Google Actions when applied to a webpage, so leveraging that schema helps the smart speakers find and speak aloud the right content. A product page can use product schema to display the name, price, in stock status and review average directly within the search results page as opposed to having people need to click through a website to find that information.

McKinney also recommends that dealerships produce plenty of  “how to” topics on their website’s blog so that they can rank for upper funnel terms that potential customers search for before actually committing to a specific dealership. 

Practice searching the business on your own

The most important exercise a business can take when it comes to voice searches is to have someone sit down with the device and ask questions that consumers might ask, Begnoche says. 

“Then the next step is for the staff to dive into those results and make sure the dealership is represented by high-quality content on most Internet sites,” he says.

Depending on the keywords used on the website, the shop might be prone to come up in a search locally if it uses words like “near to you” or specific locations. 

“For example, at Wpromote, we’ve developed a machine called ‘Bixby, Fetch!’ to automatically ask questions to smart speakers, record their responses, and then transcribe those results back into text, where it can be further analyzed,” McKinney says about the hardware and software that helps companies reverse-engineer why smart speakers answer questions they way they do.

He says that for customers actively looking for a dealership, having a strong local search presence is key. The “local 3-pack” are the three results that will show up on a mobile Google search. According to Link-Assistant, before an update, up to seven businesses would have been shown in local listings when someone searched for a product, business or service near them. Now, only three businesses will show up in the listing. The results come up as a map and displaces the answers as a three-point list of businesses. 

Smart speakers will pull the dealership results when customers ask questions like, “what is the best car dealership near me?”

To make the cut, shops should have complete profiles on sites like Google My Business, Bing Places, Apple Maps and Yelp.