A person using a voice search assistant on their mobile phone
Use of voice search and virtual assistants is on the rise. PHOTO: Shutterstock

The age of IoT is upon us, and it seems as though we’re in constant anticipation of the next game-changing channel or device.

From Alexa Skills in our living rooms to wifi-beaming kiosks in our streets, audio marketing, branding and customer support opportunities are sprouting up faster than you can say omnichannel experience.

But as we edge closer to 2018, one dimension of the audio marketing world is gaining notable traction; voice search.

Okay Google, Define 'Voice Search'

Voice search, or voice-activated search, is something most internet dwellers are already getting to grips with. In fact, 55 percent of teens and 41 percent of adults already use voice search multiple times per day, and that number is only set to grow, with Comscore forecasting that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches with be voice searches.

Juliana Pereira, Head of Marketing at NYC-based translation software vendor Smartling, told CMSWire that she was, "keeping a close eye on voice-assisted search and how that will evolve and transform over the next few years."

In the immediate future, voice search will impact consumer businesses the most, but over time, business buyers and [corporate] decision makers will start using it to search for answers to queries related to software, technology and data," Pereira continued.

Indeed, you only need to head over to Google.com to see the microphone icon staring you in the face, inviting you to give your keyboard a break and speak your request aloud.

Google-Voice-Search

And of course, nobody needs to be reminded that tech giants such as Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are all encouraging us to speak instead of type via the likes of Siri, Alexa and Cortana. Even Samsung now has their own virtual search assistant in the form of Bixby.

Now, you may see voice as a nominal addition to the search engine — after all, you’re just speaking the words aloud instead of typing them, right? Wrong. Voice search and typed searches have profound differences, and that’s because our everyday language doesn’t reflect the way we traditionally type our queries out.

Let's look at an example:

If you want to find a coffee shop near you, you may type "coffee shop central london". But if you're speaking to Siri, you'd say, "are there any coffee shops open right now near me?"

That simplified example highlights three important differences. First, mobile voice searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text, and so long as location services are enabled, that makes mobile and voice a perfect match. Secondly, our voice searches often contain more context, just because that context comes naturally to us when we speak. Finally, as a result of our natural inclination to speak with context, long-tail keywords become even more important than they already are.

But it gets even deeper. Go ahead and ask Google "Where is the Leaning Tower of Pisa?" and follow that up with "I want to see pictures of it" or "who built it." You may be pleasantly surprised to find that Google is able to interpret what "it" is based on your initial search. These subtleties are powerful, and they're already changing the way brands structure their audio marketing strategies.

3 Steps Towards Voice Search Optimization

Emerging voice-activated technologies and devices have made voice search optimization a very real endeavor for marketers and SEO enthusiasts.

"Voice search will soon require its own set of search engine optimizations and will also create new ad buying frameworks," says Pereira.

And while it's true that voice search is still in its infancy, there are already some solid strategies to help your content rank in the search engines when consumers utter their queries and demands. Here are three quick and dirty ways to get started with voice search optimization.

1. Write For Humans

With typed searches, we only punch in the most important keywords to find the content we want — because we know how Google works. But with voice search, it's easier to talk to Google as if it were a friend. As a result, voice searchers don't extract keywords from their mind's questions, they just speak queries aloud casually, and that results in a wealth of long-tail keywords being entered into the search engine.

As a content publisher trying to rank for those keywords, it's now more important than ever to write content with human voice queries in mind. That means thinking about how a human would typically ask about the content you're producing. The good news is, if you truly write with humans in mind, and with a conversational tone, you'll cover all the long-tail keywords you need without falling into the blameworthy practice of "keyword stuffing". It's just a lot more fluid, a lot more human.

In summary, the next time you're writing a blog post for example, base your headers, subheaders and the content in general around phrases that a human would casually ask — not just the short-tail keywords you think Google will pick out.

2. Build Quality FAQ Pages

After writing content with long-tail keywords and conversational questions in mind, you'll want to focus on creating a few FAQ pages that are closely linked to your product, service or industry. When humans ask a question, they often start with, "Who," "What," "Where," "When" and "Why," — and those questions are perfect for an FAQ page that you can use to directly address those long-tail voice-generated search terms that consumers will ask Siri, Alexa or Cortana.

And as mentioned, answer each of those questions in a conversational tone to further increase your chances of getting picked up for long-tail keywords.

3. Implement Schema Data

On the technical side of things is schema markup. Schema.org represents an initiative put together by Google, Microsoft, Yandex and Yahoo — a group of search engine competitors that came together to solve a common issue. Imagine a user asks a search engine about "hot chocolate". Are they requesting data about the drink, or the band?

Schema data seeks to avoid those confusions by providing webmasters with HTML tags to describe what their content is actually about. With schema data in place, search engines can correctly categorize your content using — that's right, the broader context brought by those juicy long-tail keywords — to show the end user the content they want. With voice search now in the picture, schema data will come in handy particularly when users pose follow up questions about a previous query.

"Hey Alexa, tell me about hot chocolate."

" — Not the band, the drink!"

It's Time to Talk The Talk

There's no doubt about it; voice search is changing the face of SEO. With that in mind are you implementing audio into your content strategy, or will voice search optimization be your first foray into the audio marketing space? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.