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PHOTO: Adi Goldstein

Marketers who want to join the voice search party need to first determine which voice avenue their customers travel. They need to provide structured data on which voice assistants rely, they need to beef up their company FAQs and, ultimately, they must work hard to determine the questions customers and prospects will ask in their voice-generated queries.

State of Voice: More Talking, More Searching

Why should marketers be looking to get into voice experience now? Simply put: people are asking their smartphones for information more and more every day. Google recently reported seeing more than 15 times the number of queries asking for Google Assistant’s help to send messages and read incoming texts out loud compared to before when voice could only be used for a few things. “In places where people are coming online for the first time, millions are discovering that voice is a more natural way to interact with technology, overcoming technological hurdles that previously seemed out of reach,” blogged Manuel Bronstein, vice president of product for Google Assistant. 

Further, more than 39 million people across the US own a voice-activated smart speaker, according to a Hero Digital study. In addition, ComScore says that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches

“The shift to voice search creates new questions around search strategy,” research authors for Hero Digital wrote in their report. “How do you achieve the coveted position of the voice search result? Should your strategy differ depending on device? Do the results from Google Assistant better match SERPs vs. other smart speakers because Google is a major search engine?”

Those are good questions for marketers to ask when it comes to voice. Here are some strategies marketers should consider as they try to beef up the voice game.

Related Article: 5 Examples of Voice-Powered Customer Experiences

Provide Voice Assistants With Information

Simply put, voice assistants need to know about you. Voice assistants work off structured data, according to Marc Ferrentino, chief strategy officer at Yext. “You want to make sure that these voice assistants have information about you,” he said. 

Voice assistants work off the Google Knowledge Graph, Google’s knowledge base that is designed to enhance the search engine's results with information gathered from a variety of sources. How does Google show the knowledge? With their infobox that sits next to the search results. Google surfaces information from the Knowledge Graph to answer questions in Google Assistant and Google Home voice queries. Check out this video to learn how to get information into the Knowledge Graph. In addition to Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple each have their own Knowledge Graphs.

“The first thing that a brand should do is to make sure that all of these data systems have all the detailed information about your brand — your locations, your products, your services,” Ferrentino said. “And the more information the better. Because in this new world of voice search, there are a lot of conversational topics, things that are happening that are really complicated searches. And so the more information you have about your brand, the more of those long-tail searches that you'll be able to capture.”

Related Article: Searching for Brand Success With Voice Assistants

Moving to a World of Questions and Answers

What’s the big story ultimately here? Ferrentino believes it’s the move from a world of search and results to questions and answers. “That's probably one of the biggest changes that's happening right now,” he said. “A marketer isn’t optimizing necessarily searches for keywords and results. They're optimizing for questions. They're really trying to figure out what is the intent? What is the intent we’re trying to capture in the form of a question?”

Marketers need to optimize for understanding the questions for which they want to provide answers. Make sure that when those questions are asked that they are at least in the running to potentially be an answer. 

Related Article: What Do You Need to Build a Voice Assistant?

Get Intimate With the World’s Questions

At present, there’s no direct way to get voice search volume directly from the search engines or digital assistants, according to Greg Goodman, senior director for partner strategy at DialogTech. However, you can measure questions being asked of them through services like www.answerthepublic.com. You can also use the phone conversations coming into your brand to assess what questions are happening to fuel your content strategy to capture voice. “When armed with this data you need to begin tailoring your content so it ‘answers’ these questions,” he said. Design FAQs to Q&A style.

The most common place for brands to gain presence in voice search is through informational queries (who, what, where, how, etc), Goodman said. They can win these by being the featured snippet in what is known as “Position 0” in organic search results. This is the snippet in larger font at the top of a search result page. “In most cases, this snippet of content acts as the ‘script’ a digital assistant will read when answering a voice query,” he said. 

Related Article: How Voice Is Changing Customer Experience Practices for the Better 

Get Your SEO House in Order

There are some technical requirements needed to be selected as the “answer” for many voice search queries, Goodman said. For instance, ensure your site is secure and loading reasonably quickly. “Unfortunately there’s no hard fast rule for this, but we advise clients to use services such as https://testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com and target less than a three-second load time per page,” he said. Further, take advantage of Schema Markup to denote that your content is in fact answering a question. You can get the required code for this at schema.org.  

Know What Google, Amazon Want

As with most SEO initiatives there’s no silver bullet for capturing voice queries, according to Goodman, but there are universal guidelines to ensure your site is well positioned for winning voice search queries. For transactional queries (i.e. people asking to buy products on Alexa or Google), brands need to ensure the following initiatives are taking place:

  • For Alexa, identify which products are identified as “Amazon’s Choice.” These will be the products Alexa suggests to buy in voice commerce.
  • For Google, if you are a retailer, enroll in shopping express. If you’re a manufacturer, ensure your products are represented on your retailers' ecommerce pages.
  • Ensure there are at least 15 reviews for the product targeted for voice search.
  • Ensure there are six bullet points for the product description.
  • Ensure products are categorized as distinctly as possible.
  • Leverage a feed aggregator service to optimize products for multiple ecommerce platforms (i.e. Salsify, Clavis).

Decide Where You Want to Be With Voice

The first step a marketing team needs to do with voice experiences is decide where it wants to be, according to Dustin Coates, Algolia's voice search go-to-market lead. Do they want an Alexa Skill or Google Assistant Action? “This can be great for media companies, or great for branding, but users also expect to be able to interact with mobile apps and sites through voice,” Coates said. “Start thinking from the very beginning about how users are going to ask for information. Workshop it with colleagues, speaking out loud. And make sure that you’ve got content that covers the needs.”

Related Article: How to Get the Customer Experience Right in Voice Interactions

Let Customers Navigate in Natural Language

Not all brands will have customers on Alexa or Google Assistant, but nearly all customers are on mobile, Coates said. If customers arrive to a brand’s app or mobile site, and users can’t find information through voice, they’ll leave disappointed. “The best brands build voice experiences that let customers navigate in natural language to accomplish their needs,” Coates said. “Brands can get away today with forcing users down a specific path: ‘Do you want to see this information? Say yes or no.’ But customers are quickly expecting much, much more. Customers want to drive the conversation.”

FAQs Are Cool Again

Ferrentino said FAQs have become cool again because if voice assistants can’t track down information from the Knowledge Graph they will turn to a site’s FAQs. Make sure the FAQs are marked up with the proper schema. Manage FAQs in a much bigger way than you were before, Ferrentino suggested. “Every company has an FAQ on the website, but most likely it is limited,” he said. “It's got maybe like six questions or 10 questions that they're not actively managing, and it sure as heck is not schema marked up.”

According to SEO data provider Moz, Schema.org is the result of collaboration between Google, Bing, Yandex and Yahoo! to help “provide the information their search engines need to understand your content and provide the best search results possible at this time.” Organizations that add Schema markup to HTML “improves the way your page displays in SERPs by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed beneath the page title.”

Create a Voice Skill or Action

The most advanced maneuver of all in voice experience may be voice skills or voice actions. Creating a voice skill for Alexa or an action in Google Assistant would be an experience that would be optimized for a first party experience for your brand. “A lot of brands are playing with different skills and different actions,” he said, “and are being really smart about it.”