Virtual voice assistants are about to go mainstream. Forty-two percent of U.S. consumers already say they’ve used voice assistants in the last three months, and industry forecasters are predicting that 20% of all user interactions with smartphones will take place through these assistants within the next three years. For local merchants who’ve been watching this shift in consumer search play out from the sidelines, the time has come to enter the fray.
“Given that the intent of voice is so strong, SMBs must pay attention,” says Eric Owen, CEO of Mono Solutions. “There are very technical things that SMBs should be doing, and then there are the business positioning and value proposition work that feeds the technical work.”
Here are six ways that local businesses can start preparing for the rise in local search, from industry veterans.
1. Update your web content. “When consumers engage with voice search, they do so in a very different manner than they would with a desktop or traditional mobile search. With a voice search, if they want to know the best Chinese restaurant in Chicago they would likely ask, ‘What’s the best Chinese restaurant in Chicago?’ Whereas with an online search it would be, ‘best chinese in Chicago.’ Consumers rely on natural language during voice searches and the website’s content should support that. Think of what questions your target consumer is most likely to ask a voice assistant or ask using voice search on their smartphone and build blogs and content around that natural language.” (Kelley Schultz, DialogTech)
2. Become an early adopter of new technologies. “Businesses that moved quickly to adopt mobile-responsive technologies early during the shift from desktop to mobile saw serious returns. I think the same will be true with businesses that pay attention to and choose marketing technology vendors that are innovating quickly in this area. One particular behavior we expect to see increase is consumers using voice to skip any touch interaction and simply call local businesses directly. Businesses already tracking calls and analyzing call recordings will likely notice this shift early and figure out how to optimize around it.” (Mark Sullivan, CallRail)
3. Add conversational keywords to websites. “Optimizing website content that focuses on conversational keywords is one of the most important things that SMBs can do. Specifically focusing on incorporating adverbs into website content that answers ‘Who, What, Where, When and Why’ is a very strong strategy. Meta data should be enhanced to incorporate natural language, as well.” (Eric Owen, Mono Solutions)
4. Have a clear call-to-action. “The natural path to conversion after a voice search on a smartphone is to continue using your voice. Make it easy for a consumer to contact your business after a voice search by having a clear and easy call-to-action like, ‘Call Now.’ Don’t forget to capture these call conversions within your analytics platforms and attribute them back to the new voice-friendly keywords that you are bidding on. As routine interactions with our devices continue to shift to voice commands, it’s only natural that customers will choose to use their voice to call businesses instead of using their computer or smartphone to fill out a form.” (Kelley Schultz, DialogTech)
5. Start using popular chat apps. “Local merchants should definitely get on to the chat apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Messenger. It’s much easier for the customer to place an order on the chat app than to call over the phone or order via website. Even if it’s not a bot, a generic voice message is simple to use for the customer. In India, many restaurants, even in rural areas, deliver order via WhatsApp. In China, on an average a smartphone user spends 90 minutes a day on WeChat, and hence many hyperlocal business thrive within WeChat there.” (Abishek Muthian, larynx)
6. Prioritize FAQ content. “Given that most natural language queries lend themselves to a trivia style interrogation, FAQ content is ideal. [I recommend] adding or improving website FAQ sections, but use JSON-LD to tell the search engines to prioritize that content. There are no specific tools to use that I know of, but platforms such as Mono Solutions are ideally suited to exploit the use of JSON-LD and schema mark-up.” (Eric Owen, Mono Solutions)
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.