Rise in voice search for local businesses brings new opportunities and challenges

2018 has already been a big year for voice search and virtual assistants, with Alexa making its way into hotel rooms and Google Home racing ahead in sales. However, recent developments from Google suggest that what started off as a neat way to order milk, play music, and switch the lights on has become something that will soon be having real-world consequences for local businesses.

The current SEO landscape is already tricky for local businesses. Google Maps’ business listings have been trimmed from a maximum of seven listings to three in search results. Google My Business has evolved into a listing which features elements that take the place of social media (GMB Posts), forums (GMB Q&A), and includes many points of conversion, resulting in visitors no longer needing to visit your site for the information they need. On top of that, all that great work being done to create useful content is often swallowed up by Google featured snippets even when you do get a top ranking.

With the addition of voice search, we can expect things to shake up even more, presenting more challenges and opportunities for search marketers.

Of note is Google’s announcement of Google Duplex at their I/O conference in May. Google Duplex will call local businesses for you, replicating the human voice as closely as possible, and its artificial intelligence (AI) will have conversations with staff to make reservations and orders on your behalf. There are a lot of ethical implications of this technology, but for the purposes of this article we will focus on how this relates to consumers’ current use of voice assistants.

What do consumers want most from voice search and local business?

In recent research carried out by BrightLocal, consumers were asked how they used voice assistants and voice search for local business. One of the questions asked about future developments in voice search and showed that, of all the potential uses for local business, people just really want to be able to book restaurant tables and order food without talking to any humans.

The top three most demanded voice search functions involve finding restaurants, grocery stores, and food delivery, with clothing, accommodation, and medicine following closely behind. It’s interesting to note that food, housing, clothing, and medicine are pretty much ‘must-haves’ in the modern world, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that these come in first. (Infrequency of need also explains why business types like senior living facilities and accountants appear at the other end of the scale.)

These results firmly back up Google’s strategy on voice search. If Google Duplex is as powerful as it seems, businesses could soon be training staff how to recognize and speak to an AI assistant on the phone.

How often do people search for local businesses using voice search?

The Voice Search for Local Business Study also revealed that 46% of voice search users use voice search to find local businesses daily. That’s nearly half of all people with a voice assistant on their phone asking Alexa, Google, Cortana, Siri and friends for details on local businesses almost every single day.

What started off as a craze has quickly become a trend. Voice search has gained so much traction that its place in the search ecosystem is pretty much secured, and the ramifications of this for local businesses is huge.

What can local businesses do with voice search?

Though proliferation in homes is on the rise, voice search is still in its relative infancy so while local businesses can do a fair amount to boost the chances of appearing in voice search results, it’s important to see it as a growing technology and plan for the future as well as the present.

If your local business website isn’t fully marked up with structured data, its content is not as likely to show up in voice search for non-business-related queries. Google has said that structured data is only going to play a bigger part in ranking for rich results and featured snippets, so it makes sense to future-proof your website by including all the relevant structured markup you can.

Once your structured markup is in place, it’s back to good old-fashioned local SEO. When searchers use voice search to find a local business, they’re most likely to be given results from the Google Local 3-Pack. Ranking here is dependent on a variety of factors, but the key areas to consider are:

  • Relevance to the query and connections to other sites relevant to the business
  • Prominence: review ratings, mentions on social media and in the press
  • Proximity: how close the business is to the searcher.

When voice search is used ‘on the go’, proximity plays a much larger factor in rankings as Google knows that people moving around are more likely to want something near to them than someone stationary, at home or at work, who may be planning their journey and for whom proximity isn’t such a key factor.

These are the things you need to keep in mind when trying to capture voice search users:

  • Create content relevant to their needs
  • Tailor your Google My Business listing details, description, and category to suit what people on the go are most likely to search for.
  • always keep an ear out for your competitors in voice search results. If they’re capturing that critical first place in rankings, it’s time to take a look at what they’re up to.

Conclusions

Voice search is growing exponentially, and when something becomes this prominent it behoves the major search engines to make changes to the ways they work to make these experiences more fluid and enjoyable for the end user. Your part in this is to be prepared by future-proofing your website with schema, by ensuring it’s fully mobile-responsive (for when voice search results bring up website snippets on mobile), and by always keeping the changing nature of consumers in mind.

Many local business owners suffered by failing to prepare when Mobilegeddon first rolled around, so I encourage you not to make the same mistake when it comes to voice search.

 

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