According to Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons, the future of mankind is looking bright. By 2062, we’ll all live in homes decorated with a mix of futuristic and seventies sensibilities, our every need attended to by various robotic butlers, maids, pets, and companions. Spaceships and jet packs will replace cars and bicycles, while various forms of energy beams supercede most household tools.
Of course, for most of us who grew up with The Jetsons, those visions seemed completely removed from realistic possibility; nothing more than comedic fodder. But it seems Jetsons tech may begin to have an increasing effect on SEO strategy for marketers, due to a seemingly simple development: voice-activated search.
From Apple’s Siri to Google Now to Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, voice-activated personal devices are becoming increasingly pervasive for everyday consumers. But instead of voice-activated robotic butlers, people are using this voice functionality to make searches happen with even more ease than typing them into mobile devices. So how does this affect the way marketers make their brand’s story discoverable online?
As Google discovered back in 2014, voice usage on mobile devices is already pervasive, with 55 percent of teens and 41 percent of adults using voice functionality at least once per day. While not always specifically for search (many voice users utilize the service to have their phone make calls or find directions, for instance) mobile voice usage is allowing people to interact with services that are typically offered through search engines in new ways and spaces. And as Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker reported this year, marketers should expect both an improvement in voice recognition accuracy over the next five years, and rapid growth in the number of users who utilize voice commands on their mobile devices.
According to Google’s “Mobile Voice Study,” 78 percent of teens and 76 percent of adults cited mobile voice search as being safer than traditional interaction with their mobile device—likely referring to using a mobile device while preoccupied with another activity, such as driving. In this, we have a great depiction of one of the key differences that marketers have to adjust for when thinking about voice search: users are more likely to be preoccupied with another task if they are opting to search with voice.
If this already seems to present some difficulty, it only gets tougher for marketers. Particularly on mobile, voice-related searches typically return in one of two ways with most services. Either the query returns a SERP with the top result highlighted in some way, or the device will scrape an answer from the first result and recite it to the user. In either case, the first result in search is frequently given emphasis that, presumably, a preoccupied user isn’t going to move past.
So what should brands do to keep themselves ahead of the voice search game?
For the most part, much of your brand’s SEO strategy will likely remain in place. You’ve already done the work to learn what your customers are interested in, what they’re searching for, and what sort of content motivates them to pull away from Google and instead engage with your brand. The key elements to consider are less about what voice search adds to the mix that you need to account for, and more about adjusting for a lot of the feedback that users lose when they aren’t directly looking at their screens.
First and foremost, paid search placements aren’t going to help you in the voice space. There doesn’t appear to be much if any preference by search engines to serve ad content for voice queries (at least for now), and this is further compounded by the chance that any given search is going to be returned with a single preferred result depending on the device making the search. Along this same vein, your user will likely neither see nor take advantage of suggested or auto-completed queries.
So to approach a voice strategy that complements your greater SEO presences, think in terms of both sides of the equation: the search itself, and the content it returns. Begin on the search side by asking yourself, “Is there anything about my brand that someone might be interested in while on the go?” If so, what does this content look like, and in what sort of on-the-go situation is a user likely to be considering it? The answers to these two questions will make the foundation of how you go about keyword research for your material—most likely, your voice-specific terms will serve as secondary keywords alongside the primary keywords you’ve already chosen to make your material visible in a traditional search.
Once you have some idea of the keywords you want to use or the situations in which your audience may utilize voice, it’s time to address the creation of content itself. Voice search has the potential to change the way your content is fundamentally constructed, not just how it’s found. Given your audience’s presumably preoccupied state, is it likely they’ll tuck into reading a long blog post, or is it more likely they’ll want some form of audio or video content? Will they expect short-form or long-form material? (Spoiler: shorter is better here.) Whichever type of content you end up going with, consider using a tool such as the Flesch-Kincaid scale to help gauge how complex your content is to access. As a general rule, people tend to casually speak in the range of a fifth to ninth grade vocabulary, so if your material or keywords push your score out of that range, adjusting might help keep your material accessible.
But perhaps the most powerful way to take advantage of voice right now is to keep an eye out for options to specifically integrate with platforms. For instance, Amazon’s Alexa right now supports any user who wants to create their own “skill” to be used with Alexa-supported devices. These skills present specific actions and uses for Alexa-enabled devices that allow your brand the opportunity to effectively carve out a niche in the same way that an app can. As other voice services begin to support integration of their own, early adoption can serve as a means of claiming territory quickly and, hopefully, for the long term.
Personally, I’m still disappointed we don’t have jet packs yet. But voice-activated technology is certainly a right step toward the future, and one that continues to grab the attention and interest of mobile users everywhere. How your brand takes advantage of this space effectively comes down to the same elements that all SEO does: understanding the space and behaviors that impact your audience, and then crafting material to specifically fill those needs. From small keyword tweaks to service-specific integration, it doesn’t take much to pull your brand’s content into a bright and beautiful future.