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Voice Search Alters the Content Marketing Landscape
Companies need to change their content strategies to appear in voice search results
For the rest of the March 2016 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Roughly 56 percent of teenagers and 41 percent of adults are using voice search on their mobile phones every day, according to Northstar Research. Modern consumers in Boston, for example, are much more likely to ask Google Now, Siri, Cortana, or Amazon’s Alexa to find the nearest coffee shop than they are to type "coffee shops near Boylston Street in Boston" into a search bar on Google's homepage.

This truly creates a challenge for search engine providers and for the providers of those personal assistants. But as consumers increasingly turn to voice search on their mobile phones, those Boston coffee shops will now have to rethink their search engine optimization (SEO) strategies if they hope to show up in voice search results.

"Search is a science, and the rules are different for text and voice search," says wireless and technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan. "There are so many SEO rules it would be astounding to the average user. And the book keeps getting thicker over time."

For starters, it will only become more vital that business data—such as store locations, hours, and contact information—on company Web sites is accurate and up to date. Businesses will also need to make sure that they are portrayed accurately on local review sites like Yelp.

Companies also need to consider how and where consumers are conducting their voice-based searches. "When using computer-based search, it's assumed you are sitting at a computer, so there is more screen space and more time to search," Kagan says. "When using a mobile device, it's assumed you are out, time is short, and you need access to quick bits of information on a small screen."

Web sites, therefore, need to be designed so they dynamically adjust to fit whatever screen the consumer is using.

In fact, Google in April started using mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor in its SEO algorithms, and Microsoft's Bing is said to be working on a similar update to its algorithm.

Both Microsoft and Google now offer tools to help companies determine whether their sites are mobile-friendly. The tools look at factors like loading speed, the width of page content, the readability of text on the page, the spacing of links and other elements on the page, and the use of plug-ins.

When it comes to voice search, Web content that delivers the answers consumers want, in the quickest way possible, will ultimately win out. The information, therefore, should be concise and to the point, with more of an emphasis on usefulness than visual appeal, experts suggest.

Experts also suggest that Web content should be presented in more of a natural, conversational style and structured more like FAQs, answering the questions consumers might pose in voice search queries without requiring them to click on additional links or take other actions. After all, voice searches might be initiated in the car while someone is driving.

Companies also need to consider how consumers ask for information through voice search. More often than not, voice search queries are phrased using the same types of who, what, when, where, how, and why questions that are part of natural conversations. During these conversational, natural language search queries, consumers do not typically use the same keywords or metadata that are the hallmarks of text-based searches. For companies, using basic keywords to set SEO parameters alone is no longer enough.

Experts suggest instead that companies use long-tail keywords. Rather than relying on a single word or phrase, long-tail keywords involve multiple keyword phrases that are very specific to whatever the company is selling.

Along with that, "companies need to teach their systems [and the search engines] a very specialized lexicon that corresponds to their product and service names," says Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal at Beagle Research.

And when doing so, "phonics matters," Pombriant adds. "In English, our words are not pronounced exactly as we would spell them."

Voice search isn't universal just yet, but that day is coming. In the meantime, look for the technology involved to get better over time. "It is still brand new and not very usable yet," Kagan says. "There are often more mistakes, and they can be frustrating. But they will continue to get better year after year."

The search engines "are always tinkering to maximize performance," he adds. "One problem with this tinkering is companies find it difficult to use search engines to reach customers when the SEO rules keep changing." 

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