Marketing, PR & Advertising, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Voice search doesn’t matter

July 16, 2019
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But it matters that, as digital search marketers, we do our job right and, in turn, create a positive effect on voice search.

Recently, one of the search industry’s leading voices and pioneers voiced his opinion in an article on topics that don’t deserve much marketing attention in 2019 and 2020. The article was written as an “unpopulist opinion.” Early in January 2018, when asked about trends in the industry, I similarly vocalized the very same unpopulist opinion in a podcast. I was met with skepticism by the team; we had a good laugh about it, but agreed to patiently wait to see what happens — after all, we were still recognizing how people use voice search.

It’s also worth noting that we had just concluded a very aggressive 2017 holiday marketing season filled with very large campaigns from Google and Amazon to get us their devices so we could use voice search. In some cases, brands were even giving away these devices just to get them into our homes.

Introducing: voice assistants!

In late 2011, we were introduced to Siri and it was quickly realized that it wasn’t all that groundbreaking, really. The technology was quickly criticized for being ineffective and that it needed to develop more. It was soon set aside as a gimmick and Apple just didn’t provide us with enough advancements.

Then, in June 2015, Amazon gave us Alexa with Google following in November 2016 with Google Home. Suddenly there were competitive products that were exponentially better than Apple’s Siri. Consumers were excited and thirsty for ground breaking new advancements in our homes that hadn’t been seen since the introduction of the iPad. We wanted it to happen. We wanted it to succeed. So in 2017, when these virtual assistants were suddenly everywhere, we were all clamoring to get our hands on them. Marketers took hold and ran with it. There were now two types of marketing fronts going on.

First, digital marketing professionals were sold this “new” concept called “voice search,” which many took to be a whole new sort of category that SEOs needs to focus on — almost creating a whole new branch of the industry. Everyone with a website was asking, “Is my site voice-search friendly?” Services, articles, how-to’s, what ifs, best practices; everyone had an opinion on how to stay on top of your voice search while not discounting your standard SEO practices. Sadly, with a blind-but-thirsty eye, these marketers were heavily influenced by the cunning tactics of the second marketing group.

The second group targeted was select marketing agencies that had been hired by the manufacturers that had bottomless budgets and could produce inexpensive devices and deliver them to us for next to nothing. Google and Amazon created a feeding frenzy marketing war and the marketing agencies took it and ran. Let’s face it, home devices were the gift of the 2017 consumer holiday buying season.

Soon, voice assistants were everywhere. They were on TV, print, search, display, billboards — there was no penny spared in the way these devices were marketed to us. Consumers were forced to question if they needed these devices and we bought in, hard. Amazon claims that more than 100 million Alexa devices have been sold along with more than 5 million Echo devices. In the end, the marketing agencies won. They were hired to get these devices into our homes and they did just that — over 25% of American households have a smart speaker. The problem, however, is that no one in those agencies honestly took the time to ask, “then what?”

Sound SEO, good voice results

At our firm, we pride ourselves on digital marketing tactics that will hold the test of time. The tortoise and the hare; “white hat” SEO is the tortoise, “black hat” SEO is the hare. That’s obvious, but then there’s “gray hat” SEO that really doesn’t ever get discussed. We define it as the quick win that isn’t yet black hat but might become black any day. Industry insiders see it all too often.

Flash forward throughout the remainder of 2018 and trends further bolstered my predictions. As the year progressed, best practices for voice-search SEO essentially became best practices for traditional white hat SEO tactics: Human-centered, natural language content, above the fold technical SEO and good schema will win you higher search engine results page results (the pages displayed by search engines in response to a query by a searcher.) Creating quality lists and “how-to’s” are better suited for featured snippet results, and a featured snippet more often will be read out loud by Google when a voice search is completed. This is all achieved by traditional white hat, above the fold, tortoise-like tactics. The hare wearing the black hat has lost. There is 100% crossover with voice search and traditional “keyboard” search.

Humans doing human things

At the end of the day, effective successful SEO tactics are the ones that can stand the test of time through any iteration of the algorithm that gets thrown at us, be it traditional desktop searches, mobile searches or voice search. Through proactive measures based on a foundation of “doing it right the first time,” I can hang my hat on the work that we do at our firm. If you’re looking to hire an agency or improve your site yourself, here’s my advice to you:

  • No tricks. If you’re sold on getting results quick, it’s too good to be true.
  • Were guarantees and promises made to you? Nothing is guaranteed in this industry. It’s too good to be true.
  • Ask to see some examples of sites they’ve worked on. Better yet, ask to talk to previous clients.
  • Quite often, the simplest choice is the most effective long-term SEO tactic. Think it through, but don’t overthink it.
  • This isn’t a Ron Popeil “set it and forget it” industry. Set an annual schedule to go back and review your work, along with trending keyword phrases that could impact what it is you do.
  • When in doubt, read it out loud. Does it feel human or does it feel robotic? Don’t stuff words in where words aren’t needed.