The big increase in the use of voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri over the past few years should be a wake-up call: People are increasingly using their voice instead of their fingertips to find information online.
In fact, a 2019 study found that 36% of consumers own a smart speaker and about 75% of those who own one use it every day.
While many voice assistants are still used primarily for basic tasks like checking the weather and playing music, more people are turning to them for local business information, says Steve Wiideman, president of Wiideman Consulting Group, a search marketing agency in La Mirada, California.
“Based on our client data, we estimate that already about 15% of searches involving the retail and service industries are started by voice,” Wiideman says. He expects voice search will continue to grow, especially as more people see the value of hands-free searching. “At some point, consumers are going to be frustrated if a business isn’t up to speed on voice search when they’re looking for information,” he adds.
So, how can you optimize your website for voice search? Here are five tips:
1. Verify and complete your online business directory listings
When a consumer asks their voice assistant what time a business opens or to find a specific type of business in their area, it relies on information from online business directories, Wiideman says. Google Assistant, for example, relies on Google My Business listings, while Alexa uses results from Yelp and Siri uses Apple Maps Connect.
That means it’s extra important to ensure all of your company’s information in those free online business listings is accurate and complete, Wiideman says. Businesses should fill in all of the details they can, including phone number, hours of operation and description of what they offer customers.
“Respond positively to customer reviews,” Wiideman says. “Anything you can do to flesh out your business profiles online may help improve your voice search results.”
2. Enable voice search on your website
Many businesses have a search box on their website that can only facilitate text searches. Because so many searches happen via mobile phone—often while people are out and about—allowing people to search your site by voice only makes sense. “That way they don’t have to pull over to the side of the road,” Wiideman says.
It’s relatively easy to replace a text-only search box on your website by using a voice search API and placing some code on your site. Or you can hire someone to do it for you.
3. Aim to be the featured snippet on Google
One study found that 70% of all answers provided through a voice search come from the search engine results page (SERP) features—which are the results that appear above the organic Google results. This includes the “Featured snippet” box and the “People also ask” questions and answers box. This makes it all the more important that businesses try to get high search placement for key questions related to what their business does—in hopes of landing in a SERP feature.
That may be incredibly difficult for highly competitive, general search terms. But small companies can find “long tail” or niche topics they can specialize in and create content around. The goal, Wiideman says, is to create pages that answer top questions related to whatever niche topic the business focuses on.
For example, one law firm that Wiideman’s company consults represents many clients who are in accidents with trucks. So, to fetch the top result for that topic, it created a general page about truck accidents on its website and included a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on the page. It also created several offshoot pages answering search queries such as What to do after a truck accident and Legal steps of a truck action claim.
4. Focus on page speed
One study found that how fast web pages load can affect your odds of generating a voice search result. So focus on ways to speed up your website, such as using Google PageSpeed Insights and compressing the size of graphics that may be slowing it down.
5. Secure your site with HTTPS
Likewise, the study found that 70.4% of Google voice search results (via its Google Home speaker) are from sites that are secured using the HTTPS protocol. It essentially ensures your data is encrypted and uses other security methods.
The future of voice search
The top voice assistant makers, including Amazon and Google, are also allowing businesses to customize their own voice search interfaces—such as allowing customers to book appointments directly with a business through Alexa or to get answers to frequently asked questions.
While those may require some investment and coding work, businesses that take advantage of those capabilities earlier may give a business first-mover advantage.
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