Finding Your Local Voice: Showing Up For Local Voice Search
Mar 14, 2017
“What does the fox say?”
I’ll be honest, I have no idea. I suspect, though, that that’s the sort of thing either my Google Home or Amazon Echo Dot – that’s right, I have both – could answer.
We ask our devices a lot of questions. A study in 2014 showed that more than half of teens (55%) use voice search every day. The uses ranged from asking for directions (40%) to checking the weather (27%) – that was in 2014, before we had the voice devices we have today. Those numbers were slightly less for adults, with 41% using voice search every day.
By the end of this year, it’s estimated that there will be more than 30 million voice-first devices (like the Google Home and Amazon Echo) in US homes – and that doesn’t count mobile devices like phones and tablets that have other primary functions. That’s a lot of ways for potential customers to find out about your business.
But what are the challenges for local business trying to reach those potential customers? What do you need to do to overcome those challenges as a local business?
Obstacles are Just Opportunities Waiting to Happen
I’ve always thought the whole “obstacles are opportunities” thing to be kinda BS, but I’m trying to be more optimistic. In this case, the obstacles with voice search for your local business really are opportunities – opportunities to get ahead of the competition, and to make sure you’re taking the necessary SEO steps that, quite honestly, you should have already taken.
Some of these challenges are more easily surmountable than others, while others you’ll just have to live with for now (though probably not for long, if you ask me.)
The first obstacle to overcome is the lack of direct sales opportunities within voice search. Now, I know some of you are thinking, “I can order a pizza from Dominoes using Alexa!” That’s true, you can.
My counter argument is twofold: 1) That’s really through more of an app, one that I’m assuming you’re not planning on developing, and 2) You’re not Dominoes.
Also, I’m really trying to confine this discussion to local SEO and search, so quit derailing us.
Now, this particular obstacle probably won’t apply to most of you – restaurants and other small local businesses are typically more interested in having their customers actually come into their location than selling to customers via the web.
There have already been steps by Google and Amazon to allow users to purchase more items through their devices, but they still require businesses to have ecommerce capabilities, so this still won’t apply to most local businesses, but for those that do sell online – keep an eye out for changes this year.
The second obstacle, and one that you can actually work to overcome, is the lack of a results page.
When we think of SEO, we typically think of rankings, however erroneous that thinking is (see: very erroneous). Searching for an answer on your Amazon Echo or Google Home is different than on your computer or mobile device, because there’s no visual interaction – the device is going to give you the most relevant response to your question/request/command.
This means that being the most relevant is crucial for voice search – you can’t think that a user will scroll through several results to find you, because they aren’t getting several results. Being the most relevant involves ensuring that your site and its content is both well optimized and useful to your audience.
A site that answers the correct questions for their audience will be far more relevant than a site that’s trying to answer all of the questions.
The final obstacle is the user. Yep – users are an obstacle to their own local voice search.
Because they only want small, bite-sized answers to their questions. Nobody is going to ask their Google Home for a Wikipedia-length response to a question about the socio-economic ramifications of the Cold War on Eastern European citizens – I’m assuming. They want to know the weather, what time that new restaurant opens, and if there’s traffic on their route to work.
So, how does your local business go about overcoming these obstacles?
What You Need to Do Is…
Now I know that sounds like a lot to overcome – I just listed all kinds of problems you’re going to face – but to be honest, you’re probably already doing a lot of what you need to do to cut through the barriers.
Or at least you should be.
First up, you must optimize your site for mobile use.
You should be doing this anyway, as Google moves to a mobile-first algorithm, but it will also ensure that users doing voice search on mobile devices can consume your content.
Second, and again, you should be doing this already, make sure you’ve claimed and optimized your local listings.
That means having the correct business name, address, phone number, and business hours on Google Maps, Bing, Yahoo, and anywhere else you want a listing. You can do this manually, or use a service like Moz Local to make sure you have accurate, consistent listings across all sites.
Make Good Content
Next up, make sure your content is readable.
If a person can’t easily consume your content, you can bet that the AI won’t be able to serve it up to them. If you’re on WordPress, the Yoast plugin is great for grading the readability of your content before you hit that publish button.
Finally, be sure to answer the basic questions.
If you’ve ever taken a journalism class, you know the six questions any article should answer: who, what, where, when, why, and how. As voice-first search is primarily question focused, having readable, short content that answers at least one of those questions is important for having your content show up.
Also, as an addendum to the last two points, use long-tail keywords (ie: vegetarian tapas restaurants in Raleigh, NC vs restaurants in Raleigh, NC) in your copy – they’re more in line with natural speech patterns and better reflect user intent, which makes your content more likely to be returned as the most relevant result.
It’s a Start, But That’s Hardly All
There are, of course, other considerations when it comes to voice search, including how voice-first devices interact with your other mobile devices (phones and tablets), but that’s probably best saved for another time and post (which I promise to write at some point).
There are a lot of great resources online for finding out more about voice search optimization. Let us know what else you’d like to see and hit me up to talk more – I’m @DasJorge.
Following graduating from George Mason University with a degree in English/Creative Writing, I joined the world of SEO in 2007. First as a copywriter in the wild west days of press releases and article repositories (EzineArticles...am I right?), then as a strategist, developing long-term solutions for local clients that helped them address the needs of their audience in meaningful ways. After jumping around the SEO agency world of Richmond, VA for several years I decided to go out on my own, forming my own agency in 2014 that blended aspects of SEO, content strategy, data analytics, and content marketing. Following my wife to North Carolina I’ve worked as a bartender, in-house SEO for the largest hammock manufacturer in the country, and finally ended up as a content strategist at Centerline Digital, using my decade of experience to build strategies for companies like IBM.