Top of the SERPS
You could be forgiven if you’ve not spent time thinking through the impact of voice search on your enterprise – despite the success of Alexa, Siri, Echo and HomePod, most people haven’t truly connected to these systems and their impact, but that’s changing rather fast.
How quickly is this search segment growing?
Alpine. AI claims voice-based search already accounts for over one billion requests each month. This is climbing rapidly: 60 percent of people asking these questions only began using voice search in the last year. In other words, this is a fast-growing early adoption curve. (Cisco estimates there will be over 50 billion connected devices by 2020).
Evolving search for voice
Use of voice for search is driving a change in how people search for things using their voice. They are becoming used to using phrases like “where to buy”, “store hours”, and “near me”. (Google claims searches for the phrase “Where to buy fencing” climbed 180 percent in 2017).
The way people search is also changing. While before we’d write a search along the lines of ‘plumbers + gas engineers + in Michigan’, these days we’ll instruct Siri or Alexa to “find a plumber” and the search assistant will poll its sources to deliver you the top name it finds – users will assume those results will be local. When they search they’ll be told about the top result, usually this will be:
- The top search item on your chosen search engine
- The first ‘features snippet’ item the assistant finds on Google (or Bing)
- The closest or most hyper-local choice from third-party services such as Yelp or Trip Advisor.
This is great for consumer convenience, but business owners must reflect on the fact that consumers are only given one answer when using voice search, and if your business or service is not in the featured snippets or top of the search results, then it doesn’t exist. In future, smart search agents will become increasingly localized, delivering actionable responses to real time need.
You’ll be reliant on word-of-mouth or will need to invest in optimizing your online presence to maximize its discovery within the kind of localized search results your potential customers get when using voice assistants. That’s as true for a small restaurant as it is for a multi-site corporation offering multiple products and services.
That’s where local SEO techniques may help your business profit from the new breed of spoken search results, in which users do not look through lists.
Can you hack local search?
In a recent SEMRush discussion, experts recommended several strategies to help your business rank well when it comes to local SEO. Perhaps the most important thing (after ensuring you’ve optimized internal links) is to ensure search engines can find you and link your local outlets up to local places. Some ways to achieve this include:
- Ensure every page on your website visibly contains your name, address and telephone number and make that information visible in the header.
- Embed a Google Map with directions.
- Register your business on mapping services and social sites.
- Find those pages that may already list your business (such as those on Facebook, TripAdvisor or Yelp) and claim those pages. Doing so gives you more control of page content and also provides a direct conduit to your services from traffic on those pages.
- Work with other local firms.
- Get involved with local organisations may also help promote your local – and thus search – identity.
That’s not all: internal links, geo-location-focused and request-driven keyword optimization also helps. For example, if you are in the business of skirting ladder supplies, you may know that’s your businesses task, but you should also know that most people find you by searching for ‘short ladders’, so you make sure those keywords feature in content, titles and metadata.
Think deeply about this – verbal search will become extremely localized, so if your business or service has a specific name in a local vernacular, you should ensure to ‘own’ that somewhere on your site. For example, if you are based in Yorkshire, UK and sell handmade sweets you won’t just want to be found when people search for local sweets, but also for the phrase local “spice”, as the latter is Yorkshire slang for the same thing. A blog post about just that and some tactical use of SEO across your site may mean a person searching for sweets using Yorkshire slang may be more likely to find you simply because you thought about optimizing for that.
Enterprises with multiple sites and products will perform better on search results if they create separate landing pages for every product/location/service they offer, though they must be wary to remain within Google location guidelines.
Content still matters
Not everything has changed. You can score highly in hyperlocal search results, but if your destination pages are poorly-put together, lack local insight or otherwise fail to resonate, then visitors will seek out other service providers.
If you use keywords to help drive your content, try to focus on long-tail keywords that have low competition but high intent – SEMRush states this example: “A local bike store should target "bike accessories for kids" (2,400 searches per month) versus just "bike accessories" (42,000 searches).”
Google likes topic experts which is why it makes sense to publish stories that explain how what you do makes the places you do business in better. That’s the context that means uniquely-crafted content that speaks to the needs of residents of areas in which you do business can help your business succeed in spoken search, by pushing your results closer to the top of the results.
Search is becoming more localized and your online identity must move in the same direction if you want your business to succeed.
Jon Evans is highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men’s interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.