Monday, August 28, 2017

Voice Search Creates Disruption in SEO

In the previous post I pointed out that over half of all searches now start on Amazon. To further complicate matters in the world of SEO, voice search has become a huge factor. Global Web Index reports that 20% of mobile users employ voice search and more than half of 18-34 year-olds use it every day. Benu Aggerwal adds that 50% of all search is now mobile with 82% of mobile users searching for a local business, 50% of those visiting a store within 1 day and 18% making a purchase within 24 hours. In her SMX West presentation she also has a nice graphic on how search has changed since 2008.
Whether the user is on a mobile device or using a virtual assistant like Amazon Echo/Alexa, Google Home or others there is a common driver. Users who are speaking tend to voice a conversational question, not to voice a keyword search. That has a number of important implications for how marketers must optimize for search today. Increasingly marketers will use AI to understand context and intent. Experts agree that it will be a “winner take all” market. The first search result in voice is likely to be the only one listened to, so just being on the first page is not enough.

Keywords are still important but conversational keywords tend to be different from text keywords. Conversational search strings are longer and tend to be in the form of a conversational question using conversational wording. Creating FAQ pages to extend the conversation is a good idea. Those pages need to correspond to Google’s Answer Box for the subject.

Google’s Answer Box is important because it precedes organic search results. It keeps searchers on Google, giving the search engine even more influence. In addition, it is often the only source for answers to voice queries by one of the virtual assistants. An example suggests both the influence of the Answer Box and the necessity to optimize for both keyword and conversational search,

When I conduct a specific search for ‘definition of SEO’ the first capture is what I get. It is the standard Search Engine Results Page (SERP). But when I use a conversational type of search ‘what is seo and how does it work’ I get a result with the Answer Box. If a brand’s FAQ is the link in that answer box, the brand owns that item in the search. (Note: this is a good classroom demo. We have probably all used the AB but how much attention do we pay to the source of each answer?)

Finally, there are a growing number of partnerships between virtual assistants and branded sources. Amazon’s Echo with the Alexa voice service was first on the scene, Its major goal appears to be controlling the smart home. It can work directly with products like selected brands of light bulbs and thermostats. In addition, Alexa offers a ‘skills’ kit that allows homeowners to create their own apps for their system. Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods offers new vistas. At the moment writers are focusing on the integration with Amazon Prime, although it seems obvious that services will be offered through Alexa.

Google’s Home has successfully played catchup to the Echo according to some experts.  In addition to interfacing with smart home devices it offers many services like an alarm, calendar and shopping list. It is able to access Google customer data and to learn from use, both of which offer personalization opportunities. A major development will occur in September when users of Google Home will be able to purchase Walmart products through their device.

Search specialist seoClarity offers a checklist of activities for voice search optimization. Most of those are familiar to us from discussions of mobile and of search marketing. The most technical item on the list refers to schema markup. A schema is a common vocabulary and on the web the accepted schema (managed by open-source improve search results by helping the search engines understand the meaning of a specific word or phrase on the website. Although that sounds a bit complex it only requires a basic understanding of HTML to implement schema markup on a site.

Of course, advertisers can try to make direct use of the voice assistants, Last spring I posted a series of Related Links that described a Burger King ad that triggered the Google Home. The first voice assistant spam? Not surprisingly Google didn’t like it and shut it down. BK tried again, seemingly without intervention from Google. Wonder if Google was amused when the ad won a top prize at the Advertising Grand Prix?

A suggested word for your students about the thorny subject of SEO. Yes, it is complex and requires technical understanding. While that makes it harder to learn, it also makes it an excellent career choice. Busy brand marketers, and a lot of agency people also, don’t have time to learn it, so experts are much in demand. Students who want to take this career path should learn enough to gain themselves an internship (or multiple internships in various aspects of search) and they are off to the races! I’ve been watching former students who work in search for many years, and they tend to become specialized before their career goes very far. If your students think all of SEM/SEO is too much to learn, they are right! And the way the world of search is working takes that into account.

Infographic with updated stats and additional content

Related Links
Amazon, Walmart and Conversational Commerce 
This is voice search 102 but it is interesting; note link in Related Reading about optimizing for voice search 
Download page - New data on voice search and Google's Answer Box 
Commentary on Google's new line of voice-activated products 
Unilever is using voice search, co-creation in move away from traditional ads 
Will tech companies own customer relationship through voice search 
Related to the Answer Box; the Featured Snippet 
Voice search will be a major factor in 2018
Growing impact of voice search with link to report that has good charts
Voice commerce on the horizon
IAB report on "interactive voice"

 Optimizing for voice search
More on optimizing for voice search
Status of voice technology
Parrot obsessed with Alexa


  1. Thank you Mary Lou. this is helpful info to know!

  2. Thanks, Carey. The digital world just keeps spinning faster and it is an effort to keep up!