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Preparing your SEO strategy for voice searches

With voice queries set to become as prevalent as typed searches, will consumers be able to find you online?

Mario Lemieux can draw a big crowd. No, not that Mario Lemieux, but the one who’s President of DAC Group Canada.

Hundreds of people showed up in Toronto at the Retail Marketing Conference earlier this year to hear his take on a growing tech trend. Lemieux was there to talk about the explosive growth of voice search and its impact on the retail sector.

Unlike most conference speakers, Lemieux impressed the audience with how few words he said. Right off the top, he played a short video of himself ordering a pair of jeans from a retailer by uttering just a handful of commands to a smart speaker device. The entire transaction involved no typing or online browsing and only took about 45 seconds.

“This is a sign of things to come,” Lemieux said, hinting at the possible applications of such practical technology.

In particular, he and his DAC colleagues shared some exciting ways that voice search is revolutionizing the retail sector, and how companies in any industry can harness this new technology for their own businesses.

Voice search is booming

Prepare your SEO strategy for voice searches

According to a blog post by DAC’s Tzvi Grosman, Google has reported that as of May 2017, 20 per cent of all searches done on Android devices and Google’s mobile app were voice queries. Grosman also cited a comScore prediction that by 2020, 50 per cent of all searches — regardless of operating system or device — will be performed by voice.

In particular, people really like to use their voice when shopping, especially online.

“73 per cent of consumers want to do, or are interested in, voice shopping,” Lemieux told the conference audience.

A 2017 survey by National Public Radio and Edison Research suggests that just having access to a smart speaker (like an Amazon Echo or Google Home device) can drive consumers to shop more often. The poll of 1,620 U.S. adults also found that, among those who own smart speakers:

  • 57 per cent have used one to buy products
  • 31 per cent say they’ve spent more money shopping on Amazon or Google since getting a smart speaker
  • 58 per cent have used one to buy something they’ve never purchased before
  • 49 per cent have used their smart speaker to reorder previously purchased items

Listen up!

Prepare your SEO strategy for voice searches

To harness the power of voice search, businesses need to realize that it’s very different from typical text-based online searches.

As DAC Group’s Justin Teng points out, natural language processing (NPL) software must understand conversational speech rather than simply interpret the meaning of the individual words themselves. In addition, while typing in search terms online generates dozens of pages of results, a smart speaker is usually programmed to give just one (i.e. the most relevant) answer per query.

David Jowett, President of DAC Group Europe, notes that voice queries tend to be longer than those typed online. That’s because people use more words when asking a question out loud than they do when typing out an online search.

Taking all this into account, how can a business prepare its SEO strategy for voice searches?

Think local and location-based

In 2017, data collected by Google indicated nearly one-third of all mobile searches were related to location. Besides exact addresses, that also includes queries involving “near me” or “where is the nearest…?”

Other research cited by Jowett shows mobile voice search is three times more likely to be local-based (i.e. seeking results that are in close proximity to the user making the query) than typed searches. This is presumably because people do location-based searches while they’re on the go, venturing into neighbourhoods they aren’t familiar with.

“Where you are matters as much as who you are. You’re going to act very differently if you’re at home in front of an iPad than when you’re out on the street,” Lemieux said.

He advises businesses to make sure their address and other location data are correct and updated, not just on their own websites but also on external sites like Yelp, Apple Maps, Bing and Google My Business.

Furthermore, think of local landmarks, neighbourhoods and even slang terms customers might use to find your business during a voice search.

Are you “near Bell MTS Centre,” in “South St. Vital” or close to “the Exchange?” Be specific to differentiate similar local terms like “Fort Garry” (the area in south Winnipeg) and “Lower Fort Garry” (the historic site near the city of Selkirk).

Be conversational

Prepare your SEO strategy for voice searches

Tailor your voice search results to the way people speak and how they ask questions in everyday conversation. While someone might simply type in “Tim Hortons hours” for an online search, research shows they’re more likely to ask their voice assistant “when does Timmies open near me today?”

An easy way to incorporate natural language into your SEO strategy is to add a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page to your website. By listing common customer queries right on your site, you’re pointing voice search engines in a much straighter line to your company.

Don’t forget that customers from different cities or countries would use different words or phrases to search for your business. For example, if a business is located near a subway line, Montrealers might ask for directions near “the metro” and Brits may ask how far you are from the “tube” or “underground.”

Review your reviews

No business should underestimate the power of customer reviews when it comes to searches.

“Voice assistants will lean on the content of reviews to decide results,” says Lemieux. “Chances are, Google is going to give me four or five-star reviewed sushi restaurants first [in voice search results].”

Since most smart speakers only generate one search result, having positive reviews is crucial. If someone asks Siri, “What’s the best Mexican restaurant near me? ,” a couple of bad reviews could burn your burrito house badly enough to basically knock it right off the voice search radar.


Up Next: How have these major companies used AR to promote their businesses?

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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