Voice search is here and it is increasing in popularity due to an upsurge in voice activated devices and the adoption of virtual assistants on mobile. Amazon Alexa, Cortana, Google Home, Google Voice Search, Siri and Viv are just some of the platforms driving this demand and encouraging businesses and consumers to adapt to a new wave of digital transformation.   


According to figures released by Google, 20% of queries on its mobile app and on Android devices were voice searches last year. Gartner forecasts that 30% of web browsing activity will be screen-less by 2020 and research from ComScore suggests that figure will be closer to 50% in three years’ time.


As mobile continues to become the dominant device for online searches, and queries initiated by voice become more ubiquitous, the implications for how we do business are huge. Websites will need to be optimised for this new method of search, traditional SEO models will have to change to accommodate speech and language nuances, and businesses will need to get smarter at collecting geo-data so they can provide more localised search results.


With this in mind we have outlined some of the ways you can prepare your business for voice search.


Create a mobile-first website


The large majority of voice searches are made on-the-go using smartphones, which means your website needs to be optimised for mobile search results. Thankfully there are a number of resources available online which can help you check your website against Google’s key ranking factors. From the search engine’s mobile-friendly testing tool to its page speed tester, you can run reliable assessments of your mobile pages in seconds and find out exactly what you need to fix.


The most common issues with mobile optimisation tend to involve page speed so it's always good practice to ensure image and video files are compressed and you consider minifying any bulky CSS or Javascript. Having a responsive design is also key, so make sure all your pages can adapt to different screen sizes and are all accessible under one URL.


amazon echo speaker on table


Prepare for transactional requests


Many of the voice activated devices are already being used for transactions. Amazon’s Alexa, for example, allows users to order a pizza from Domino’s or arrange a cab using Uber. Google also announced that it has already integrated a range of third-party transactional services into its Google Home device, including Uber, Pandora, OpenTable, Spotify, WhatsApp and Ticketmaster. So, if your business is in B2C sales, you’ll want to consider integrating this facility within the next year if you want to keep up or stay ahead of your competitors.


Provide localised information


Mobile voice search is three times more likely to be used for local-based queries than text searches. Veterans in the brick-and-mortar game know that local digital efforts lend a big hand in generating consistent foot traffic in store.


Also, ‘near landmark’ searches i.e. searches that say “find me the best coffee shops near The Tower of London”, have doubled since 2016 so websites need to be savvy about structuring their microdata in order to provide appropriate context to their products and services. If you haven’t done so already, start building out your Google My Business listing and provide Google with a better understanding of your company. From opening hours to parking information, try to be as comprehensive as possible with your submissions; this will give you a much better chance of broadening your visibility in local search results.


Tailor SEO


Voice-based queries have altered the conventional keyword targeting model for businesses, and SEO practitioners are now looking to incorporate longer and more conversational phrases and questions into their keyword research.


When searching on desktop, people tend to abbreviate or use shorthand phrases when entering their queries e.g. “weather London today”. However, when they speak, they are more likely to use the complete question such as: “What’s the weather going to be like in London today?”.  Because of this, it’s becoming more important to anticipate natural speech patterns with your on-page content. Many businesses have started to integrate Q&A style content and conversational answers to potential queries on key landing pages in order to enhance their chances of ranking for voice searches. It's also important for websites to include a robust FAQ page as well as having specific blog posts that address common questions too.


Introduce schema markup


Ensuring your site is easy for search bots to crawl will also give you a major advantage in the voice search results page. Schema markup is by far one of the best ways to do this and will allow you to markup various structured data types (logos, addresses, product types, reviews etc.) and provide search engines with a better contextual understanding of your pages. Thanks to a collaboration between Google, Yahoo and Bing, schema markup can be applied to all manner of content types and now over 10 million sites use items from schema.org to markup their webpages.


How voice search is being used in practice


Many consumer-facing brands have been quick to integrate voice search into their digital offering. Here are a few examples of it in action:


Financial services

  • American Express announced that it will be integrating with Amazon Echo, allowing customers to check their balance, make payments and view offers.
  • Capital One has integrated with Amazon’s Alexa to let its customers check their account balance, see their latest transactions and pay their credit card bill.
  • Santander was the first bank in the UK to provide its customers with voice-activated banking. Its smartphone app allows customers to make payments to existing payees, see their recent transactions and report a lost card.


Other brands and industries

  • Amazon has introduced voice assistance to British televisions with its £40 Fire TV stick, which turns almost any TV into a smart streaming box. The new Fire TV stick comes with a voice-enabled remote that allows users to search for movies, music and TV shows. It also lets users check their commute, get a weather forecast, and control smart home devices by speaking into the remote.
  • The BBC is developing voice recognition and artificial intelligence capabilities for its iPlayer video service, partnering with Microsoft on an internal prototype that lets users choose what show they want to watch by talking to their smart TV (or other device).
  • Campbell Soup Company has built a voice app that suggests what to make for dinner, including its own brands among the ingredients, such as its namesake soup, Pace salsa and Pepperidge Farm bread.