The impact of voice search on local SEO


Your new customer can be one block and one “OK, Google” search away from your business. Can you help them discover you faster? Providing exact directions to your storefront is relatively simple. But how do you get picked by a voice search assistant among other businesses nearby?

Technology has made instant gratification and impulsive actions oh-so-easy and delightful to perform. For local (and global companies) such consumer behaviours, powered by voice technology, present an uncharted territory of SEO opportunities and challenges.

Local businesses are in the voice search spotlight

People are increasingly using this technology to find goods, services and information in their area. According to a recent study by BrightLocal, 58% of consumers used voice search to obtain information on a local business in the past 12 months.

Unsurprisingly, younger demographics (aged 18-34) are the keenest on performing local searches using voice (76%). 64% of middle-aged buyers (aged 35-54) have used voice technology and just 37% of senior (55+) have tried speaking to their phone to search for local businesses.

What’s quite curious though is that certain industries are the prime candidates for local voice searches.

Clearly, we shop for food more often than we need to hire a new accountant, so restaurants and grocery store voice searches occur at a higher frequency. However, each business listed in the chart can benefit from higher voice search visibility, especially if you look further into voice searchers’ intentions:

Voice searches often come with a “right now” intent

Most voice searches occur on the go and assume that speakers need to get something done right now, in an area nearby. “Spur-of-the-moment” purchase decisions now prevail as well. According to Google, 50% of users are more likely to purchase something immediately via their smartphone than one year ago.

Of course, instant purchases also assume nearby availability. Google reported a massive increase in growth for all sort of searches containing a “___near me now” variation.

This means a few things for local businesses:

  • Standing out in a local search pack to get picked up by Google’s voice assistant will become even more important. While you cannot impact the user’s proximity to your business, you can optimise for two other factors: relevance and prominence. Your listing should provide accurate and truthful information. Use appropriate schema markups and make sure to take care of your reputation online.
  • Stellar mobile experience is non-negotiable. For every one second delay in mobile site load time, conversions decrease by 12%. Your mobile experience should be instant and nimble, serving the searcher with the information they need. Otherwise, they will merely drift towards another “venue near me”.

Voice search can become a new tool for branded storytelling

Storytelling has been an oral experience since the dawn of times. It seems that voice search technology is about to revive that tradition in the digital world. Instead of reading or watching content, more and more people are gravitating towards audio as a medium.

As web interactions become screenless, brands will need to come up with new avenues for interactions. So far, no advertising mechanisms have been proposed to appear higher in voice search results. Guidelines for voice optimisation are murky as well, with few tools being available.

Businesses face an interesting challenge of capturing organic voice leads and bringing them further down the sales funnel. This signifies the need for a new kind of experience – voice guided ones. Consumers are asking specific questions at an increasing pace. The business giving the first and the best answer becomes the winner in voice search. Toyota has already started exploring how voice interactions can become an organic extension of their customers’ web journey. Their demo voice app can answer different types of user questions about a range of car models and prompt users to take the conversation further by offering to follow-up with a text message.

Optimising for AI: Google Duplex

In May this year, Google unveiled their new, intelligent gizmo – Google Duplex. This clever conversationalist will dial up local businesses for consumers, make polite chit chat with the staff and perform simple actions such as ordering food or making appointments on the user’s behalf.

While this technology is still in the labs and far from reaching even the demo stage, it clearly signifies Google’s incredible progress in natural language processing. The company’s algorithms can effortlessly distinguish different user intents, pick up the essential information from voice conversations (or search results) and re-tell it to users.

Voice search is an emerging battlefield for local businesses, trying to capture customers in the closest vicinity with a strong intention to purchase or obtain a service. As well, voice search is a ripe opportunity ground for larger companies, interested in building new-gen omnichannel experiences and attaining undivided users’ attention through creative voice storytelling.

Lee Wilson, SEO, Vertical Leap

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