looking lost, holding a phone
The field of voice-enabled search is evolving so rapidly that we’re asking marketers to hit a moving target PHOTO: J Stimp

Succeeding at search optimization these days increasingly depends on planning content and keywords with voice-enabled search in mind.

In a recent CMSWire post, I wrote about how the increasing popularity of voice-enabled devices and software — such as virtual assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s Siri — is increasingly influencing traditional SEO keyword tactics. This post will address that trend at the tactical level to discuss ways that marketers can adapt their SEO methods to incorporate the unique demands of voice-enabled search.

More Voice Assistants and More Advanced Communication

First let’s look at what’s happening on the consumer front: Today’s customers are increasingly utilizing voice assistants on both smartphones and smart home devices to ask questions and receive information. That means that websites must be mobile-friendly — able to address needs and get tasks done on the go — just to remain competitive.

Meanwhile, at home, the growing adoption of smart home devices is rapidly adding nuance to the quality of the information that can be searched for and served up. For example, when I attended Amazon’s Alexa Developer Day, I learned how Amazon can program its Echo device to assess pauses in questioning and determine whether more information should be offered, or if the user is no longer interested in receiving more answers.

4 Tips for Improving Voice-Enabled SEO

The field of voice-enabled search is evolving so rapidly that we’re asking marketers to hit a moving target, but here are four tips that I think marketers can use to integrate voice search requirements into their overall search engine optimization strategies more effectively:

1. Consider the customer’s ‘micro-moments’ of need

Channeling the personas of your customers to understand how they would typically phrase their questions in conversation is one way to define and address their so-called ‘micro-moments’ of need — those reflexive but intentional times when your customers just naturally turn to their devices to act on their needs to buy something, do something or learn something.

2. Understand the colloquialisms your customers use

Channel the voices of your customers — literally, in this case — to get a handle on how they would typically phrase their questions and what replies they’d find useful to receive. Think in terms of long-tail keywords but emphasize context: How do search words naturally get incorporated into conversational questions? What search terms are customers using that might not have been on your radar before?

For example, the Alexa Developer Day team demonstrated how Alexa responded to the question, “What’s it like?” The device returned weather information, having been ‘taught’ that the phrase is associated with weather. It takes time for devices to interpret context, but knowing what people typically say and how they typically say it is a vital part of understanding how helpful information and content can best be served and used. 

3. Think through sequences of more than one question

Marketers should invest the time to think through the sequences that take place in phrasing multiple conversational queries. For example, a phrase like, “How do I get to the store?” might first require an answer to the question, “What grocery stores are on Lincoln Avenue?”

Amazon calls these sequences ‘elicitations’ and defines them as the concept that an Echo needs a certain answer before it can move on to answering a follow-up question. Marketers should map out how elicitation occurs and then think about how content goes with each question.

4. Take advantage of landmarks and well-known locations

Marketers should capitalize on the recognition value of landmarks and well-known locations when thinking of keywords for voice search. Familiar thoroughfares or popular landmarks located along the way to a destination can strongly influence how questions and answers are conveyed. 

For instance, if Water Tower Place in Chicago or Grand Central Station in New York City are near a restaurant, people might mention those landmarks while hunting for a suitable place to eat.   

New Devices, New Global Markets

To plan, marketers must also be aware of new ways people are going online as new devices with internet capability enter the marketplace. Already we’re seeing that competitors in voice search can arrive from unexpected sources. For example, Samsung has launched its virtual assistant, Bixby, to try to catch up in the adoption race between Google Assistant, Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa.

Meanwhile in China, web-services giant Baidu has launched its own assistant called DuerOS, which promises to feature a rich trove of conversation-based skills. In a recent interview, Baidu COO Qi Lu, formerly a key architect of Microsoft’s AI strategy until his jump to Baidu last fall, noted that while Baidu lags Amazon’s ecosystem, DuerOS is perfectly positioned to dominate the Southeast Asian market, starting with China’s 731 million online users.

Clearly, this level of global interest argues for voice search as a key and growing element of overall search. As machine learning continues to bring the convenience of virtual assistants to consumers, the challenge for marketers will be to create the right creative content that speaks in the customer’s language to the tasks at hand.