Voice search and local SEO: your search strategy secret weapon

Alexa, when did you get so big?

After initially being dismissed as a bit of a fad and a gimmick that would eventually burn itself out, voice-enabled Smart Assistants have proven the critics wrong and broken into the mainstream. 

The popularity of Smart Assistants such as Alexa, Google Home and Siri, has grown exponentially in recent years. 22% of UK homes reportedly owned a Smart Assistant device in 2019 with 41% of UK households planning on owning one within the next 5 years. 

As a result of this surge in popularity, it’s predicted that half of all searches in 2020 will be voice-based.

So, it would seem that you really can’t tune out voice search any longer.

Hedgehog Digital Voice Search - echo dot

This rise in popularity of voice-enabled Smart Assistants has changed the way search queries are made, and the way that results are delivered, in two key ways. 

1. Voice searches with Smart Assistants are more conversational in nature. 

The clunky and robotic ‘Keyword-ese’ that we all use when using a search engine on desktop or mobile is replaced by full sentences in voice searches; usually in the form of a question.

Instead of (e.g.) ‘SEO Cornwall’, which we might type into a search bar for the most accurate results, a voice search with a Smart Assistant would likely be along the lines of ‘What SEO agencies are available in Cornwall?’.

These voice searches use longtail keywords, which are more like fully-formed phrases rather than a selection of individual words related to the need being expressed. 

2. Results are delivered as spoken answers 

When people make a web-based search engine query, it is answered with a list of links to external web pages which the search engine has decided best satisfies the need of the searcher. 

Depending on the query, Google has added features to the results pages such as featured snippets, shopping carousels and videos. But, no matter the extra features, the thing that remains a constant is the list of 10 links to websites per page of results. 

However, when a search is made by voice through a Smart Assistant, the result is delivered via a speaker as a verbal answer. This answer is often given in 29 words or less. 

With no list of 10 top results per page, a voice search delivers just one answer; the one that the search engine has decided is most relevant to the searcher’s needs. Meaning competition for this top spot is extremely high.

Hedgehog Digital Voice Search - Google Home

OK, Google, where do voice search results come from?

Users exhibit a particular intent whenever they make a search online.

From a commercial investigation to navigational needs, the words included in a search query convey the intent of the searcher.

The difference between voice and web-based searches is that, while web-based searches span the entire range of Search Intents, voice searches tend to be informational or location-based in nature.

Voice searches are often made in the moment, as a response to external stimuli. Answers to quick questions about (e.g.) the weather today, cinema showtimes or a country’s capital city are common voice searches with informational intent.

Location-based intents are shown most frequently through ‘X in Y location’ or ‘X near me’ requests. As people are planning a visit or are out and about they might be looking for a restaurant, train station or some other establishment or service.

The answers to voice searches will, generally, be taken from the featured snippet of a results page or the information stored in Google My Business profiles.

Featured snippets are the ‘Number 0’ result on a results page. They are a call-out box usually containing a paragraph or bullet point list of information that Google has deemed the most relevant answer to a user’s question. 

Because of their concise and simplistic nature, featured snippets are a common feature of the results pages of informational searches. They’re the most straightforward, relevant answer to the query posed to the search engine.

Google My Business:

A Google My Business profile is the information you’re shown when you click on a business’s pin on Google maps or the business listings feature on a results page.

These profiles usually contain basic information such as the name, address and phone number of the business. 

Google My Business profiles can also show things such as opening hours, reviews, links to a website and photos of the establishment.

When someone searches for (e.g.) ‘Chinese restaurants in Truro’, the search engine will pull information from the Google My Business profiles of relevant establishments in that location to give the searcher the most accurate information. 

The only real difference here between voice and web-based searches is that the answer will be delivered as a map with pins for relevant businesses on a mobile or desktop device, while a voice result will deliver the answer through the Smart Assistant’s speakers. 

Over half of smart speaker owners say they use their voice search devices daily to find local businesses. 

And, 75% of smart speaker users have reported using voice search to look for local businesses at least once a week.  

So, in short, if you’re a business serving a local client base then yes, you do need to include voice search in your local SEO strategy. 

Hedgehog Digital Voice Search - mini smart speakers

Hey Siri, so, how do you do that?

As with any local SEO strategy, optimising your Google My Business profile is vital. 

Ensuring you have consistent business name, address and phone number details across all platforms and pages of your site helps your business to look more authoritative to the search engines. 

Supporting this with business opening times, a menu if relevant, reviews and links to your website all work to create a comprehensive business profile that adds to your authority. 

With local SEO, you can’t control your proximity to the searcher. But, you can control the relevance of your content to make the most of your prominence within the search engines. 

To ensure you’re doing all you can to gain prominence for informational search intent requests, make sure your content satisfies the needs expressed by the searcher. 

This is achieved by in-depth research into the types of searches your target audience is making, and a thorough understanding of why they’re searching and what they’re hoping to be shown. 

Using longtail keywords that match the way people really talk in your content will help you to rank high for the keywords people use when making voice searches. 

And, when you produce content, ensure you’re answering the questions your audience are asking. If you give succinct answers, in 29 words or less, and write to a maximum of Year 10 reading level, you’ll set yourself up well for catering to voice searches. 

Hedgehog Digital Voice Search - Amazon Alexa

Hey Google, where does voice search fit in my local SEO strategy?

Including both web and voice-search strategies in your SEO plan will help you to achieve relevance and prominence across both web and voice platforms. Which can only be a good thing, right?

While voice search is on the rise, and 50% of queries are due to be voice searches this year, 50% are still going to be made via a desktop or mobile device. 

That’s why catering to voice search shouldn’t replace your current SEO strategy, it should support it; voice search and local SEO should go hand in hand.

Targeting both offers more chances for you to reach the potential customers that are searching for the goods, services and information that you can provide. 

It’s an additional string to the bow of your SEO strategy that provides even more reasons for the search engines to share your content with searchers ahead of your competition.

About the author...

FelipeInterrnational SEO and Content Marketer and our CSO (chief SEO officer). Since 2015 Felipe Bazon is listed as one the top 3 SEOs in Brazil, having won the title in the same year. With over 10 years of experience in SEO and Content Marketing, Felipe managed over 100 SEO projects for multinational companies in Brasil, UK and Europe.
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