Voice Search is Coming – How Should Small Businesses Prepare?

voice search small business

We are currently at the dawn of a new era in how we use the internet.

Comscore estimates that by 2020 50% of all internet searches will be voice activated.

Previous technical difficulties which meant you got the number for your local plumber after inquiring Siri about the weather, are no longer a prevalent issue.

These initial teething problems are disappearing fast due to the recent rapid advancement of technologies such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Text To Speech (TTS).

Voice search is now much more accurate. According to KPCB, it is now over the 90% accuracy threshold:

 

voice search accuracy

Source: KPCB Internet Trends 2016

 
Add to this the rise in use of digital personal assistants such as Cortana, Siri and Alexa, it becomes clear why voice search is becoming increasingly popular.

According to a study by Thrive Analytics in October 2014, nearly 2/3s of respondents said they used their smartphone personal assistants at least once a week:

 

smart phone personal assistant use

Source: Thrive Analytics, October 2014, n=2,058

 

Who is Using Voice Search?

It will probably be no surprise to find that the early adopters of this technology are Millenials. Google recently surveyed 1400 Americans and found that 55% of teens and 41% of adults use voice search daily.

 

who uses voice search

Source

 

It seems that younger people have less hang ups about speaking to a computer than older people, who may not be able to get past the horrors of HAL; the AI computer that went slightly wrong in the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

Why Use Voice Search

Being from a generation that lived in a time before the internet (yes there was such a time!) I can understand why some are reluctant to start using voice search.

However, now that the technology has improved, I think there are some sensible reasons to use it if you can get past the initial awkwardness of talking to your phone or computer!

Here are a few voice search queries that might actually be preferable to a standard keyboard search.

 

  • You are driving and need to re-route due to a traffic jam
    • OK Google, please find me quickest route to X
  • You have arrived in an unfamiliar town for a meeting. You are a bit early and fancy a latte at your favourite coffee house
    • OK Google, where is nearest place to get good coffee
  • For people that are sight impaired
  • When searching whilst otherwise engaged such as watching the TV

 

Hound, a voice powered virtual assistant app, published its findings into what users are using their app for.

This gives us some insight into why people use voice search.

 

hound voice search categories

Source: KPCB Internet Trends 2016

 
We can see that search use can be broadly categorised into four reasons:

  • Local Information
  • Fun & Entertainment
  • Personal Assistant
  • General Information

 

What Can Small Businesses do to Prepare for Voice Search

Using this information we can make some educated guesses as to how small businesses might be able to prepare for the anticipated growth in voice search.

I would hazard a guess most businesses could gain advantages by thinking how best they can serve user queries that fall into the ‘Local Information’ and ‘General Information’ categories.

 

Local Information – Optimise for Local Search

It is clear from Hound’s research that voice search is popular for local based queries. Consider these ‘near me’ type searches:
 

  • Where is a good coffee shop near me
  • Nearest take away Chinese restaurant to me
  • Best B&Bs in Brighton

 
The following tactics will help ensure that your small business website is optimised for local search traffic:
 

  • Create local business listings on sites such as Yelp, Brownbook and Yahoo! Local.There are literally thousands of these sites and the key thing to remember is to keep your business information consistent across all listings.
  • Claim your Google My Business page
  • Optimise your web pages with local keywords eg Brighton removals company
  • Use schema.org markup with business details such as name and location. This is basically additional coding for your website that makes it easier for search engines to understand information such as where you are located and what type of business you are
  • Get as many local reviews as you can. Although Google reviews should be the priority, don’t discount other sites such as Yelp, which Apple maps use
  • Build links from other local websites such as local suppliers you do business with

 
These tactics will enhance your website’s visibility for location based search terms, whether they are typed or spoken.

 

General Information – Question Based Queries

Question based search queries are on the increase. According to Search Engine Watch there has been a 61% increase in question related queries in recent years.

Interestingly, the top question type keyword is ‘who’; perhaps people searching for information on famous people such as ‘who is Donald Trump’s current wife?’.

 

search question growth

Source

 

‘Who’ type questions aren’t really going to be relevant to businesses, but ‘how’ type phrases may well be.

Consider how these voice search queries may relate to your business:

 

How do I remove a hard drive from my computercomputer repair shop

How do I fix a leaking tapplumber

How do I repair a fuseelectrician

 

So when creating new content for your blog, make sure some of your content titles use question type keywords.

For the first example above, a video showing the steps required to remove a hard drive entitled ‘How do I remove a hard drive from my computer’ would be optimised for anyone searching for this information through voice and would show your business’s expertise in this area.


Final Word

It is still very early days for voice search so nobody can predict with absolute certainty how this technology will impact businesses in a few years from now.

However, current data suggests that voice search is here to stay and as more people start using new voice activated devices such as Alexa, business owners need to start thinking about how they can gain a competitive advantage over the slow adopters.

Today there are a few simple things that can be done to ensure your website is prepared for voice search such as ensuring your site is optimised for local SEO, if you serve local markets, and creating blog content titles that are optimised for voice queries.

Or you can do nothing, bury your head in the sand and hope that voice search is nothing but a passing fad. Just like author Clifford Stoll did when he predicted that the internet will fail back in 1995.