The future of voice-related SEO for local business

Google’s recent developer event revealed details about how the search giant is thinking about the future. Columnist Chris Marentis shares tips on how local businesses can learn how to be found in the environment that’s taking shape.


On May 18, Google brought hundreds of developers together for Google I/O, its annual developer conference. Hot topics included artificial intelligence, natural language processing, voice recognition, translation and new product announcements — Google Home, Google assistant and Allo.

Maybe you’ve heard about some of these, but I’m going to share thoughts on how you should adapt your local marketing to these developments. But first, a brief recap of some of these announcements.

Google Home is Google’s answer to Amazon’s Echo. It’s a voice-activated speaker-like device that can intelligently listen to commands, return answers to queries from Google Search, control home automation, play music and set appointments using a new platform called Google assistant.

Allo is Google’s new messaging app. It uses integrated machine learning and continues to learn your style over time, making it more convenient for users to get things done — make reservations, list tasks, schedule meetings and so on. It also features Smart Reply, which offers suggested replies based on the message content. Allo integrates with the new Google assistant platform, allowing you to easily search for the information you need.

These new product announcements signify a change in the way information is sought and delivered. In a previous article, “No More Typing: How to Prepare for the Next Wave of Voice Search,” I mentioned that as of October 2014, 41 percent of adults and 55 percent of teens used Siri, Google Now or Cortana voice search at least once a day.

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, has revealed that half of the search engine’s queries are from mobile devices, and a fifth of those are made via voice search. Search is moving beyond typing into a white box to bringing Google to wherever you are — desktop, walking around your home, using your phone. Your voice is the new search tool.

Two important themes: machine learning and artificial intelligence

The future is voice-activated search driven by artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning.

Late last year, our company did an experiment with machine learning using our SurePulse platform and the IBM Watson API. We discovered that with machine learning, we can take the analysis of a website beyond the standard SEO elements — such as analyzing the content of a URL with text analysis and ascertaining the tone and emotion of the content.

These announcements from Google are good news for small business owners. In the past, we worried about writing copy that matched keywords, so that search engines could understand and serve up the content in response to the correct terms.

We can now write copy that is conversational, simple and contextual that our users can understand. Voice-activated search combined with machine learning and natural language processing will also be augmented by contextual information about users, including their locations, style and past behavior.

The three key ways to win in voice-activated search

  • Understand the customer’s conversational speech. Ask your team to collect phrases customers are using to describe their problems. Have the marketing team listen in on calls, and whenever sales or account managers meet with clients or prospects offline, have them make note of the commonly used phrases.

  • Interview customers by phone.

  • Ask simple questions to get the customers to give you answers in their own words.

Collecting and using this knowledge must be an effort across your whole company. Gather the intelligence from the front lines and aggregate it in a place where marketing can use it for web copy and sales and support can use it for scripts, FAQs and more.

Connecting the relationship between people, places & things

If you were planning a visit to a foreign country, you could already use Facebook’s Natural Language processing to make the query “Friends who have visited France” and get a result of your Facebook friends who have visited France. Today, a Google search is not likely to return the same results, but we hope it will in the Google assistant-powered world.

As consumers use more voice-activated search, businesses should prepare for contextual searches that may look like:

  • dishes my friends ordered at Toki Underground;

  • movies for kids near me;

  • order a gluten-free pizza with vegetarian toppings;

  • remodeling companies reviewed by my neighbors; or

  • restaurants my friends recommend in Kansas City.

All the products that use artificial intelligence, machine learning and voice search will need permission to observe and learn the consumer’s choice and style.

This will give rise to different kind of tools and data for marketers to get to know their audience.  Maybe a Google Trends-type tool for voice searches will be in the works soon. Until then, do your own experiments.

Amazon Echo already returns local business results from Yelp, so perform some test voice queries and see how you fare. Once Allo and Google Home are available, use them to see (or hear) how your business appears in search, and if it doesn’t, learn lessons from those businesses that are returned in search results.

As consumers use voice search with increasing frequency, the businesses that pay attention to customer conversations will win. In addition, a voice search world will favor marketers who are able to connect their websites with their local presence and provide search engines with as much information as possible using structured data.

Pretty soon, you’ll likely find consumers making queries like “Okay Google! There was a hail storm yesterday, who do I call?” Start preparing now so your company is the one that gets the business.


[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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