Woman on phone
When most companies think SEO they think about text, but voice enabled search is about to change the SEO game PHOTO: HO JJ

If you’re thinking that search engine optimization success comes from understanding keyword trends for search engines, you’re half right. But strategic success these days comes just as much from knowing how those keywords are spoken as how they are typed.

In short, succeeding at search optimization these days also means planning content for voice-enabled search.

Get Ready for Voice-Enabled Search

SEO tactics are starting to reflect voice-enabled search as consumers are beginning to use virtual assistants at home. Virtual assistants are devices and software you speak to, such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s Siri.

How words are phrased is an obvious influence on voice-enabled search. But now marketers are also factoring in the substance of the conversational back and forth. That means optimization for virtual assistants must also consider question logic to return relevant results.

Working With the Alexa Team

One way to walk through vocal logic is work with a team to review the flow of a consumer’s potential questions and action steps. I had a chance to do something like that when I attended Alexa Developer Day in Chicago last month.

Co-hosted by Intel, the daylong training session demonstrated tools used to create Alexa skills and the coding that instructs Echo devices on how to respond to queries. Training days in several cities are planned throughout 2017 and 2018.

The Value of Hands-On Experience

I think marketers should attend events like this. For example, in an earlier CMSWire post, I mentioned how I think hackathons can be helpful.

Developer days are perfect because you have a team of people dedicated to explaining how solutions are implemented. You can then better envision how to implement those solutions within your own organization and how to manage tasks within your own team. 

Designing Interactive Customer Experiences

At Alexa Developer Day, for example, attendees learned how queries from Echo users are processed from technical and procedural standpoints. We learned when to give a pause before asking a response question and how those pauses gets translated into code.

Attendees also learned how Echo users process information. Understanding the concept of mental leaps — a customer’s thoughts that arise when listening to virtual assistant responses — creates a concrete sense of what the customer goes through and what factors contribute to providing outstanding customer experiences.

More Talking, Less Typing

The trend toward voice-enabled search has important implications for digital marketing, since people are beginning to use virtual assistants as their starting points for queries, rather than typing into browsers.

A survey conducted by BloomReach last fall reported that 55 percent of the shoppers surveyed turned to Amazon’s website first when conducting product searches, especially for consumer products. By contrast, 28 percent of respondents used search engines as their starting point, a decline of 34 percent from the previous year’s survey.

Is Your Refrigerator a Good Listener?

The number of applications for voice-enabled search has been widening, with unique and unexpected devices sprouting up faster than dandelions. For example, Sears, which has seen its sales decline over the last few years due to the onslaught of online retailers, just announced a partnership with Amazon to sell Sears Kenmore smart appliances on Amazon.

Samsung also offers networked refrigerators as a means of leveraging its own Bixby virtual assistant. These kinds of consumer devices will impact how to plan virtual assistants, for example, when to program a delay before moving on to the next step or when to re-ask a question.

Alexa’s Fast-Growing Skillbase

The addition of IoT devices has also fueled developer interest in voice-enabled search. For example, Amazon recently confirmed that 15,000 Alexa skills had been created as of the end of June, up from the 10,000 it reported in February.

Voice-enabled search will no doubt continue to play a huge role for Amazon as a retail competitor, as I mentioned in my recent CMSWire post on the Amazon-Whole Foods acquisition.

Don’t Ignore Traditional SEO

Overall, voice search is becoming ubiquitous. Yet, the most widely used voice-activated technologies today remain connected to visual displays on smartphones and tablets.

That means people will still rely on search results from their browsers for some time to come so marketers still need to remain focused on tactics that will help keep their brands appearing at the top of traditional search results.

Staying Ahead of the SEO Curve

In some cases, the rise in voice searches will also mean the need to align search optimization practices between voice searches and search engines. For instance, Echo now defaults to Bing when it does not understand a query.

However, allowing web content to be discovered through, say, an Echo device as easily as a web browser will soon become a priority. We’ll explore what this means for on-page optimization tactics in a future post.

Meanwhile, time invested in planning voice search tactics now can position marketers at the cutting edge — where searches are headed and their customers are already waiting.