The world watched on in awe earlier this year when Google demonstrated one of their latest tools, a next-level virtual assistant called Google Duplex capable of engaging in conversation with a human to book a hair appointment for the user. 
Far from just another gimmick that will never really gain traction, voice search is slowly but surely growing in popularity, with Google announcing that as of 2016, 1/5 of all search queries on the platform are now made by voice.

While some may see the rise of voice search as another hurdle to navigate, it actually presents an exciting opportunity for businesses to make life easier for their customers while really owning their niche and local area.

Read on as we take a look at the buzz surrounding voice search and break down the steps to take as a business owner to optimize your website and help customers find you with ease.

Should You Optimize Your Website for Voice Search?

In short, yes. While more traditional methods of search still generate more web traffic, the move towards voice search is undeniable and will only increase as we move further into the digital age.

Let's break down the rise of voice search with some powerful stats.

  • 58% of consumers have used some form of voice search to find a business in the last 12 months
  • 46% of voice search users are hyper-engaged and use voice search to find information on a daily basis

More than a passing fad, this data makes it clear that voice search has moved past early adopters and is now being used by the wider population. While this is important for all businesses, voice search is even more widely used in particular industries.

  • 51% of consumers reported using voice search for restaurants and cafes
  • 41% of consumers reported using voice search for grocery stores

Using the data, we are also able to drill down and see the most common reasons for utilizing voice search.

  • 45% of consumers have used voice search to find a businesses address or to get directions
  • 44% of consumers have used voice search to find a businesses opening hours 

These are pretty compelling stats. Now that you know the extent of voice search, it's time to learn how to make sure your business is prepared to capture these customers.

How to Optimize your Website for Voice Search

So now you know why it's important to optimize your website for voice search, how do you do it? Read on as we break down the major steps to take to ensure your business appears in voice results.

Do your research

When optimizing your website for voice search, none of the below steps will be as effective as they could be unless you first do your research and ensure two things:

  • You really know your target customer
  • You understand what they want and what they are searching for

While it's likely you already have some idea on who your customer is and what they are searching for, what if there was a whole untapped market out there just waiting for a business like yours?

When researching customer patterns, a good place to start is by examining popular keywords and search terms on Google and other search engines. There are multiple tools to help with this process, but Google's Keyword Planner makes keyword research super easy.

Using this tool, search for terms relevant to your business and your industry and take note of any highly searched phrases and terms you haven't used previously to gain an insight into what your customers are really searching for.

Armed with this information, you will be better able to target your customers based on their search habits and position your business front and center to fulfill their needs.

Claim your Google My Business and Bing Places listings

Search data shows that 58% of consumers have used voice search to find local business information in the last year alone. That's huge!

If you're not already making sure your website is optimized to help these local customers find you, this should be the only push you need.

When people are searching locally, they tend to use phrases like "cafe near me" or "cafe in Minneapolis". These phrases trigger search engines to pull information from local business listings.

Both Google My Business and Bing Places listings operate similarly and are free for businesses to claim. If you haven't already, head to Google and Bing and set these up ASAP. While the process to do so is quick and simple, there are a couple of things to keep in mind to ensure your business soars to the top of local search results and doesn't sink into the digital abyss.

Update and Keep Your Address Current

This may seem simple, but it pays to double, even triple check to make sure you have entered the correct address for your business. This is the best way to ensure you appear in relevant results when people are searching for businesses in your area. Be extra careful with local cities and suburbs such as saying "Minneapolis" when you are actually located in "Bloomington". Yes, you might service Minneapolis, but you aren't physically located in that city, just nearby. The Twin Cities does not make it easy for us marketers and small business owners.

Contact Details

Your website URL, phone number and email address are all linked to your Google My Business page. Pay close attention when you are entering this information as it will impact your customers' ability to contact you and visit your website.

Choose Your Best Category for Your Customers

There are loads and loads of possible categories when setting up your page. Take a good look at the options available to you, put yourself in your clients' shoes and select the options that make the most sense.

Answer your Customer's Questions

By design, voice search results pull primarily from "structured snippets". These are the results at the very top of Google listings that are highlighted in a box. Structured snippets are the holy grail for all businesses as they drive the most traffic.

The way Google and other search engines decide which search results to include in snippets is by measuring search traffic for particular keywords and phrases and selecting the search result that answers the question best.

Based on your research into your customers and their search patterns, there are a few ways you can increase your chances of landing a structured snippet and appearing in voice search results.

One of the best ways to do this is by dedicating a blog post to commonly asked questions and search phrases. While many of the most commonly asked questions relating to a businesses' opening hours, location and contact info, some other commonly asked questions aren't so simple. If you notice a large amount of search traffic for a question or phrase, dedicate a page on your website to answering that to increase your chances of landing the top spot in search results.

Structure your Content 

While making an effort to structure the important content on your website can have a big impact on your visibility in search results, it's an under-utilized strategy by businesses. By getting into the nitty-gritty of your website's metadata, you can highlight the information you want your customers to find.

Here's how it works.

By utilizing a type of structure called "schema" into the underlying code on your website, you can help Google understand certain types of information e.g. your address. By incorporating schema into your website code, when someone searches for "Where is Mary's Pizza located?", Google is better able to read your business address and deliver it in the search results.

Go Mobile First

Because the majority of voice searches happen on mobile devices, it stands to reason that making your site mobile friendly is a priority. If you're unsure about the mobile responsiveness of your website, check out Google's free tool.

While mobile responsiveness is a major component of SEO and runs deep into the design of your website, there are a few simple changes you can make to make your site more mobile responsive. 

Reduce or Minimize Animation

If your page load time is lagging, consider limiting the use of javascript and any animation effects and stick to the basics.

Image Size Matters

High-resolution images are notorious for slowing down page load times. Depending on the location of the image on your site, you will likely be able to reduce the quality without having an impact on the experience of your customers. There are numerous plugins available on Wordpress and other content management systems that can automatically reduce image sizes for you.

Structure Your Content for Readability

As more web traffic comes via mobile, we know your customer's browsing habits are changing. Rather than using dense paragraphs of text, simplify the information you're including and structure your site for "skimmers". This means using bold, clear headings and subheadings, incorporating plenty of white space and using short, simple words that your customers will understand. 

Is Your Website Ready for Voice Search?

While all these opportunities to update your website for voice search are important, they shouldn't be seen as overwhelming; they are completely manageable with the right team of web developers and digital marketers. Following these steps and winning in voice search is not a guarantee, but they are the best practices that everyone is following in order to give themselves the best chance.

Every new website August Ash launches takes voice search into account, and we work with business owners to ensure that their offline activity matches the online goals, from knowing what type of content to research and create, to making sure their location listings are accurate. If voice search is a priority for your business, contact August Ash's Strategic Account Managers today, and let's see how we can best optimize your website for voice search.