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Local SEO: Optimizing for Search by Voice


Google has always rolled out its updates and algorithms to go one step further with user experience. One of my personal favourites is (and given my lazy nature, will always remain) Google voice search. Just five years back, asking something to a phone, car or any such hardware device (and of course getting sensible answers) was possible only in sci-fi movies.

But today, you can ask your phone anything and everything from “where can I get the best pizza in town” to “who is the president of Finland”. The best part is now you don’t have to stare at your small phone screen while driving! Convenient much?

May it be Siri, Google Now or Microsoft Cortana, people are starting to converse with their phones, seeking answers for all of their “near-me” searches. I truly believe this is just the beginning with the incursion of wearable devices around the corner.

So, what exactly is voice search?

Keeping in mind the level of convenience for users, researchers came up with a way to process voice queries. This included running a couple of voice-recognition algorithms that would return relevant and corresponding results to the users in a matter of seconds.

Voice search is an advanced facility where users can speak their queries aloud instead of typing them, thus conveniently getting results without even having to touch the keypad.

This new technology has enabled users to easily access information. Most smartphones are already equipped with voice search as an integral feature of the device software, which can be accessed at any time at the push of a button or touch of the screen.

Why is voice search gaining popularity now?

The shortest answer to this would be – “Technology”. Earlier, voice recognition technology was less than precise. Back then, if you would have spoken “Where can I get pita”, it could have displayed results for “Where can I get pizza”.

Though this update was rolled out by Google in 2011, it wasn’t very useful back then. People preferred to type their queries in order to avoid the errors associated with automated voice translation. However, with voice recognition technology becoming more accurate and pervasive, voice search has become much more popular and useful now.

The possibility to get answers for any possible queries on the web through “mobile search” is ingrained in our routine. Any day of not using a mobile phone is almost equivalent to a day lost. Additionally, mobile devices have teeny tiny keyboards, which contributes to difficulty in typing.

Moreover, let’s face it; speaking has always been more convenient and faster than typing. If you feel like having a dinner at some good place tonight, wouldn’t you prefer just saying “Where can I get the best Italian food in town”, rather than going on the keypad and actually typing these words?

How Is This Helpful For Local SEO?

Let us first talk about stats:

  1. We all know the majority of local searches are carried out through smartphones and 18% of these searches are converted within a day. That’s a big number to target. Now if we talk specifically about “local mobile searches”, studies have shown that mobile searches have a strong local intent (around 87%).
  2. Also, a sizeable share of voice search is conducted on mobile phones. Though there isn’t an actual survey that has studied this, it is more logical that people would use the facility on their phone rather than talking to the computer.

So, if we combine the above points, we can reasonably infer that a major share of voice searches have local intent.

As per the studies commissioned by Google,  55% of teens and 41% of adults use voice search at least once in a day. It also revealed that 38% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search for getting directions to a local business. This establishes the fact that more and more people are starting to rely on voice search to get the required information, which most of the times results in a purchase.

This was about numbers. Now, let’s get to more concrete reasons as to why voice search is important for local SEO:

“Find me a good Thai restaurant”, “Where is the nearest ice cream parlor?”, “Is there a good barber near my place?”. If you look at all these queries, they have one thing common in them: “sense of urgency”. Users conducting these type of searches are looking for some immediate and actionable information. They need answers at this very moment. Voice search can effectively complement these types of queries.

  1. On-the-go

If I am driving, I would anytime prefer to use voice based search in place of a typed query. Say, you are visiting a new place and you want to dine at an Indian restaurant. Being unaware of the surroundings, the first thought would be to use Google. Whenever people are looking for something in their vicinity, voice searches, again are very useful in such scenarios.

  1. Quick answer

Local searches want specific and to-the point answers. “Where can I get the best pizza in town”, “What are the movie timings for Spectre”. When people search by voice, they want specific answers too. So if your business can fulfil their needs, your conversion rate can go strikingly high.

As we see, voice search brings in more potential for local businesses than for anything else.

How Can You Optimize Your Local Business For Voice Search?

Though the algorithms for traditional keyword based queries and voice search remain the same, optimizing your website for both of them is  different. People conducting voice search and traditional search have different intentions. In a voice search, natural language is used. If you consider a keyword based search, people usually go for phrases like “pizza parlor New York”. If a person wants know this through a voice search, he will go with “where can I find pizza parlors that serve thin crust pizza”

As a result SEO’s focus has taken a shift from keywords to long tail search terms. Google is now looking for content that can answer specific questions. You need to tailor your SEO strategy keeping this mind. Here are a couple of tips to help you:

  1. Optimize for Longer queries

Get into the shoes of your users. You need to understand the way users might ask a question and accordingly choose keywords. If a user is looking for an eating joint near his place, he won’t ask “pizza store in New york”. He is more likely to go for something like “where can I find the best pizza place in town”. This is a long tail keyword (phrases which are likely to drive more targeted traffic).

To come up with ideas for long tail search phrases, introspect on what kind of questions your customers would ask. Look for some alternatives using UberSuggest which is a tool by Google for generating long tail keywords. Be a part of some forum, discussions or boards to understand how exactly people asks questions. Conduct surveys. Once you have created a list of them, check their search volumes and select the final ones.

  1. Use an FAQ strategy

It involves answering all the questions that your customers might have regarding the products or services that your business offers. If anything, you should go ahead and provide some extra information.

For example, if you have an electronics store, you can also provide information on where you can get the electronic appliance repaired etc. If you are helpful with your information, customers will always come back to you and even refer you to their friends and colleagues.

List out all the questions you receive every day and categorize them accordingly. Make sure each question and its respective answer is on a unique page so that users don’t get confused. The answer should be thoughtful, original and well written.

You can also add a forum to your website and encourage people to post their doubts and queries there. People might ask questions which you wouldn’t have thought about covering different levels of understanding of the topic – beginners to advanced. The questions posted on the forum can help you rank for voice search queries, especially if they have received quality answers.

  1. Make the content authoritative

The answers to the questions that you aim for should not necessarily be long, but should be thorough and complete. Make sure you cover all the aspects and angles and implicit followups that people will have. Be original, work towards crafting well researched content and try to keep your tone casual and conversing. The end goal is that your answer should be definitive. Also, make sure you share this with your targeted community. Get your content reviewed and commented upon.

  1. Get Listed at all possible website

Voice Search results are powered by various sources, they may be powered by an application already installed on your device, or from a search engine like Google or Bing.This is why you need to ensure you have business citations on all possible websites. For example, if I have installed Tripadvisor, Google Now shows results from Tripadvisor and if you own a hotel and it is not listed on Tripadvisor, your hotel will probably never show up as a result to me. Similarly, your business stands a higher chance of conversion if it shows up on Google Local Results, and to achieve this, you need to build citations and get more reviews on them.

We know that finding citations is not easy, nor is building them. It can be a tedious task which requires a lot resources and time. And if you are short on these two you can use a SaaS based platform like Local RankWatch which can help you by collecting all your citations from the entire web under one dashboard. It will also help you build new citations by analysing your profile, handpicking certain websites that you should have citations on and creating a personalized ToDo list for your business.

What Does The Future Of Voice Search Behold?

Voice search is definitely a big development in the SEO industry. It’s a different, but a very positive one. As I said, this is just the beginning. In the coming years, there will hopefully be an increased penetration and adoption of voice search technology. Integration of voice search with language understanding technology is another important evolution that is happening today.

Apple’s continuing development of Siri and even smaller mobile devices like the Apple Watch is a sign that hands-free integrated experience is the way of the future.

I suppose there will be more and more applications integrated not only with the web but also with our work or home environment. Phones will turn even more into our personal assistants.

Do you think ten years down the line, traditional keywords (typed) based searches will totally vanish? Share your insights in the comments!


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